It’s tempting to simply paste the original Dead Island review here and call it a day. A sequel to 2011’s first-person zombie-dismembering co-op role-playing game, Dead Island Riptide adds a new character, some additional zombies, and boats, but otherwise largely reanimates the same hours of gory decapitations and corpse looting. The action is here in spades, but Riptide doesn't lift a finger to address the original Dead Island's failures.
That's not a terrible thing, because for my money Dead Island – and by extensionRiptide – nails what a zombie RPG should be. Loot the island, upgrade machetes from flimsy metal to powerful electrified killing machines, and level up your character with a seemingly endless supply of experience points. The “DING” of hitting that next level is a hypnotic device – a Pavlovian trigger – that had me popping open my skill tree and hemming and hawing over whether I wanted more bleeding damage or more inventory slots.
Meanwhile, the story is an afterthought (now officially a Dead Island tradition), supported with shoddy cutscenes that bring little motivation and a few laughs at the inconsistent voice acting, which runs the gamut from excellent all the way to terrible. Picking up where the original game left off, our group of four survivors meet the new guy and are immediately shipwrecked on a new island overrun with zombies. How creative.
Yes, once again, Riptide is packing four-player co-op, and this is where those characters you pick from in the beginning (or import from a Dead Island save) complement eachother. Xian’s knives were all I wanted to use, but my roomie’s adoption of the new Brawler, John Morgan, meant he could hilariously punt zombies out of the way while I focused on sneaking by baddies on my way to the objective.
Brilliantly, the enemies scale to the appropriate level in co-op, so even if I took my Level 61 character and joined you on Chapter 1, I’d be fighting zombies on my level and you’d be fighting zombies on yours. (This is something the original Dead Island added in a patch after launch.) We’d share money and XP, so it’s an awesome setup to keep people totally engaged as they play one character to the level cap.
Riptide is a smorgasbord of content, and even now, with more than 20 hours played and the completely flat and goofy boss-fight ending behind me, I’m still playing because hacking off limbs and leveling up is so satisfying. There are new zombies such as the screamer (her yell freezes you in place) and the drowner (he plays possum in the water) that make you change up how you tackle similar undead situations. In the same vein, Dead Zones are cool monster dungeons packing named bosses; I’m still scouring the island and clearing those.
This is why you play this game: it’s great gory fun. When I was playing co-op with my roommate, I didn’t care that we were talking over a random questgiver’s monologue; that person’s story didn’t matter, but our plan for getting an engine back as quickly as possible certainly did. It’s through these successes that the impact of Dead Island Riptide’s failures is lessened.
One failure that can't be ignored is that the world still doesn’t look that hot. Textures pop in, screen tearing persists, and missing frames aren’t uncommon. Performance is worst on the PS3 and best on the PC, but no version is unplayable or perfect. But what’s so crazy is that once again, this stuff really doesn’t matter. Your quest log brims with story missions, you run into side quests wandering the sun-splashed island locales, and Techland tosses in new team missions that make the survivors at your bases more helpful in battle. Just like the original Dead Island (that's a phrase I'm saying a lot today), RPG gameplay saves Riptide from its narrative mistakes and lackluster graphics.
Although, it does suck that once you complete the campaign you can’t run around the island and clean up quests -- so make sure you have everything done before heading into the endgame.
I seriously love Dead Island Riptide for its satisfying zombie dismemberment and co-op, but technically, it's done nothing to build itself into a great game. Rather than fix the graphics and the performance problems that plagued the original two years ago, Techland slightly modified the setting and delivered a new character and more content. It’s a fun time, but there are no surprises or killer new features to make it an impressive package.