Dead Island Riptide review: DNR

Dead Island was a bit strange. A showy, standout marketing campaign belied a familiar zombie game, its roots in Dead Rising and weapon-heavy looters like Borderlands obvious. For all the modesty of its combat, for all the bugs and rough edges, it was satisfying. The endless array of swipes, kicks, bashes, decapitations and dismemberment got repetitive fast, that's true. But when it was fresh, that shaky first-person melee offered an adrenaline rush that remains vivid.

The reason it's so vivid is because I'm playing the same game all over again in Dead Island Riptide, an uninspired and unashamed rehash. Not only is it less satisfying, but any satisfaction gained is done so begrudgingly, because the game plainly doesn't deserve it.%Gallery-185099%

Doing away with Dead Island's closure like a machete to the neck, Riptide picks up with the four ragtag survivors of Banoi flung onto the sister, similarly zombie-stricken island of Palanoi. The immune ensemble is joined by Aussie tough guy John Morgan, a character only memorable thanks to his fondness for fisticuffs. As for the story, if you've watched any cheesy zombie movie where the military get involved, then you roughly know how Riptide shakes out. This would be fine if Riptide was striving for parody, or homage, or something. Sadly, it's simply characteristic of Techland's feckless approach to this semi-sequel.

What little that's new is insubstantial. Swampy waterways can now be negotiated by an engine-powered rowboat, which is more or less the car but on water, and with a turbo button. It's fine for what it is in single-player, which is another way of ramming the undead. In co-op, however, when it takes a while to load everyone on board, the ability of both zombie and player to sprint through shallow waters makes using the boat a chore.

A smattering of hub defense missions offers more of a shake-up, but it's still basic. Swarms of undead attack the fort in all directions, while survivors (human and AI) run around, bashing heads in as normal. The distractions are putting up electric fences to block entry, laying explosives, and manning machine gun turrets. Again, these missions aren't poor, but there's no variation beyond the first two or so. More importantly, in any other sequel they'd be glossed over in the 'What's New' checklist. They're the kind of afternote I'd expect in DLC, or maybe even just a patch. In Riptide, they're arguably the biggest additions.

The island strives to imbue rhythm by mixing up its backdrops, but it lacks the personality of Banoi. Like the rest of Dead Island, Banoi was repetitive, but its picturesque, decadence-turned-disaster motif tied into the story and style. In contrast, Palanoi has variety, but it's just 50 Shades of Grenada; explicitly tropical, but without substance.

If the aim is to make me feel like I'm picking up where Dead Island left off, then Riptide succeeds. After importing my character, the blade-brandishing Xian, I'm soon swiping and lopping to my heart's content, and the return to the chaos is fun. Yet soon enough, even beyond the identical zombie-slashing, I'm noticing the exact same issues I did before.

Xian's skirt, for example, is ripped at the bottom, as you can see whenever she jumps. It always looked a bit weird in Dead Island, more like wire mesh than damaged clothing. Similarly, her shoes exhibited a curious double heel that looked very wrong. You'd think in the two years between Dead Island and Riptide that someone would've spruced up her character model - maybe even provide new clothes - especially considering jumping and kicking are big parts of her game. You'd think, but you'd be wrong.

The laziness in Riptide is pervasive. I can't sell multiple items. The character models stare glassily. The voice acting fails to sync with mouth movements. I could go on, but I'd be in danger of being hypocritical by simply rehashing our Dead Island review.

It goes beyond what hasn't been changed. The original Dead Island managed not to stink of its traditional gaming systems like XP, weapon upgrades, skill trees and so on. Riptide, on the other hand, embraces its gameyness. A waterlogged market area is full of identikit ladders that lead up to the same room with the same crafting table in the same damn spot. So many locations are rinse-and-repeat, in fact, and so many side missions are near-identical. The people you meet aren't defined beyond one or two throwaway lines, and you're only after their XP and money, really. The whole thing resembles a lo-fi MMO.

Then there are the bugs. The game crashed several times throughout my 30 or so hours of game-time. More than a few oddities emerged, like aerial kicks that took me through the ceiling, or severe slowdown in certain areas. Co-op, which is when the game is most enjoyable, apparently comes with the added risk of reverting some of your side missions. Again, this is nothing new to Dead Island players.

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This is where's where the begrudging acknowledgement comes in, because the laziness doesn't warrant it: Riptide is still, as its basest of levels, enjoyable. Like Dead Island before it, there's a satisfaction provided by the perspective and the constant, groaning chaos; things like strafing a giant thug while he convulses to the swipes of your shock-enhanced machete remain, in a very pure way, satisfying.

Those gamey systems that Riptide embraces still make it moreish, albeit in a mind-numbing kind of way. Much like an MMO, it's easy to switch off as you take out hundreds upon hundreds of undead, all the while leveling up and gaining more powerful, perk-enhanced weaponry. It's robotic and it's dumb, but it's still satisfying.

At least, to a point, and that's the problem. There's no getting away from how Riptide feels like Dead Island's long lost twin, the one that should've stayed lost. The game carries the same genes and the same defects, albeit with slight differences. That these defects include bugs and such basic issues as hearing the same, poorly delivered dialogue repeated ad nauseam when you hand over quest items - try doing that for three minutes straight - is astounding.

If, like a zombie on Banoi, you've been absolutely starved for fresh meat, then Riptide might be for you. In my case, it left me with a familiar heartburn and a bad taste in my gullet.

This review is based on a Xbox 360 copy of Dead Island Riptide, provided by Deep Silver.

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