Originally published on GameInformer.com April 24, 2013, at 8:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 5/2/13.
4,367 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
I'm a big fan of Dead Island, warts and all. The well-conceived zombie apocalypse, impressive open world, satisfying melee combat, diverse custom arsenal and effective drop-in/drop-out co-op gameplay overcame considerable technical glitches to secure its place among the most fun video games I've played.
Dead Island: Riptide looks to continue in its bloody footsteps for better and for worse. My initial impressions of the sequel, based on less than an hour of the campaign, confirms that it's an entertaining follow up still plagued by design flaws. For the record, I played the PS3 version in single-player just to get a feel for the game.
Despite having the opportunity to import my Sam B character from the first game, I decided to try out the new melee-based John Morgan character. An Aussie with claws (apparently), the resemblance to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is unmistakeable, and too strong a temptation to resist when going up against undead hordes.
The opening video not only summarizes the threadbare story of the previous game, but also events that transpire during the brief period in between the two titles. As before, the narrative provides just enough context for the setting and your actions without troubling gamers with drama or emotional investment.
Riptide has been criticized for lag during gameplay, and while I noticed some framerate drops just navigating the world, the worst lag at the beginning of the game occurred during the opening video. I can't remember the last time that any video regularly chugged along in such an ignominious fashion.
John is given a backstory like any of the other characters, though his suggests a more direct involvement in the goings on than anyone else. Whether this plays out in the overall story is up for speculation, but it would certainly add an interesting twist and introduce an opportunity for character development.
The dialog is standard though John's incredulity at his predicament at times made me laugh, which got me thinking that the writers could improve the experience with more wisecracks and banter a la Battlefield: Bad Company's squad exchanges. It might undermine the suspense, though handled properly it could relieve tension at times.
That said, the voice acting as before is decent and spotlights how a more effective script could go a long way to making a compelling story.
Ships are underutilized in survival horror games. Last gen's Cold Fear was one of the first to effectively employ the setting, so I was glad to see that gameplay begins in this environment. The camera mimics the to and fro swaying of a boat on the ocean, which helps immerse one in their surroundings but can likewise instill motion sickness.
Skill trees return to add a welcome role-playing element. Each character begins with 15 available upgrades that can be automatically assigned based on preset character types or can be customized by the player. I tend to favor survival skills given my overall lack of them in general, though combat and fury skills have a definite appeal.
Another criticism has been the graphics and there are instances, such as the knobs and dials above right, where textures are bland and edges jaggy. That said, there are many more examples of detailed textures that show variety and real depth, such as the pipe and valve control above left (this is in stark contrast to even AAA titles like BioShock Infinite).
The overall design of ship interiors not only feels authentic but demonstrates a commitment to a dynamic setting. The scene above, for example, not only benefits from camera sway, but an operational fan (above right) and turbine (left), not to mention the light cast by a door swinging back and forth (left).
Developer Techland did a superior job establishing a creepy atmosphere in Riptide's predecessor, and this game likewise invokes a palpable sense of dread with every dimly lit, debris-strewn, blood-soaked area. Within the cramped confines of a ship, such a treatment effectively ratchets up the suspense.
Impeccable sound design reminiscent of Dead Space contributes to the sometimes oppressive survival horror theme. Creaking walls, clanging pipes and ambiguous metallic or mechanical noises combine with wailing zombies to raise the hair on the back of your neck. Indeed, one pipe scared the heck out of me as it loudly clanged while I passed.
Loot grinding is another role playing element that has become an essential component of the Dead Island formula. Mostly consisting of weapons or potential weapon components, loot at the beginning is fairly standard though providing a variety of options such as this crowbar (above), wrenches, pipes, hanbos, batons, knives, brass knuckles, etc.
As with the first game, lighting plays an important role and is well implemented whether in partially lit scenes or dark corridors requiring a flashlight. Objects are convincingly illuminated and shadows are believably cast. It's all in service of the post apocalyptic scenario and happily adds an extra layer or discomfort.
The level of detail constantly impresses me. The flyers posted (above, top) not only show particulars that many games eschew, but even appear wrinkled and otherwise worn. Some machines or monitors (above, bottom) likewise display detailed numbers or diagrams. Admittedly, such treatment is inconsistent, but much better than many other titles.
Workbenches return to allow players to repair, upgrade or create weapons for a cost, nevermind that paying for yourself to do so alone at a nonautomated bench seems arbitrary. However, as in the past game it should allow for the creation of some formidable weapons when combined with items like nails, batteries, etc.
Technical glitches likewise make a return in Riptide. Up to this point the only thing I noticed regularly was collision detection issues where my crowbar would phase through objects like doors. But the above issue, where a substance like water appears to flow through this engineering deck, is a unique problem triggered only when standing in one spot.
Finally I'm able to engage the undead in some satisfying combat. At least this early in the game, it still plays much like the original game. In fact I kind of regret not using my initial upgrades to complete my Fury skill tree or mostly finish the Combat skill tree and thereby try out John's uppercut, run kick or area attacks.
In any event, the standard kick or weapon attacks prove as reliable as ever in combating the low level zombies players face in the beginning of the campaign. Context sensitive damage and rag doll physics once again make fighting intense, and still remind me of the exceptional melee combat in the Condemned series.
This dead undead made me laugh by still looking around despite being permanently felled by my boot. Another more significant glitch involving zombies occurred when I stomped a foe who had fallen. Despite having practically full health, he fell through the floor and died immediately. I'll take the TKO.
I took off this zombie's arm (above) with a lucky kick. Depending on equipped weapons, there are myriad ways for the undead to be dispatched. As with the previous title, I assume some strategy will be involved, such as lopping off the powerful arms of thug zombies.
Graphical glitches like the one described earlier or the one above involving a letter stenciled in the air are not uncommon. Unfortunately collision detection problems like that involving my crowbar or the felled zombie are more common. Others such as disappearing weapons are recurring as well; indeed one I picked up never appeared in my inventory.
Injury is context sensitive so a blow to the head with a wrench can split open a zombie's noggin (above). What impressed me is that this wounded zombie lifted his arms and charged me nonetheless before falling for the last time. I'd seen such behavior in the first game but it still is a pleasant surprise.
Another humorous glitch can involve floating zombies. Once felled for good, the one above bobbed up and down lower and lower until shooting up out of the water like a whale breaching the surface before repeating the process over and over. It's an odd display to be sure but amusing nonetheless.
The glitches, however, have not undermined the fun I've had playing Riptide. Frankly, I have not experienced much new that the game has to offer though I wouldn't expect to this early (unless I had maxed out the Fury or Combat skill trees). However, I enjoy the ship setting, which also includes multiple paths in some instances.
Indeed, art design and level design thus far have impressed me, and the gameplay maintains the same intuitive control as the first game. QTEs likewise return when overcome by a zombie, but they're simple exercises. If the beginning is any indication, gamers will love or hate this game depending on how they felt about its predecessor.
For my money, I can't wait to continue the campaign, especially online with friends (you reading this, mojomonkey12?).
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