Dead Island: Riptide Hands-on Preview - Treading Water
Written Sunday, March 17, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
While the original Dead Island opened during the eerily quiet aftermath of a raucous night out and a catastrophic zombie outbreak, Riptide doesn’t mess around, throwing players straight into the middle of an unfolding disaster.
The prologue opens aboard a military vessel that has run into difficulties amidst a massive storm. The ship is infested with zombies, taking on water by the gallon and listing badly. WIth all this chaos unfolding around him, new character John Morgan scrambles his way through to the upper decks, fighting off lunging undead and wading through rising water levels. Already the stakes are high.
As far as statements of intent go, it’s about as subtle as a nail-encrusted baseball bat to the head. Dead Island: Riptide is all about tension, action and devastation. Our protagonists are no longer bewildered holiday-goers desperately trying to survive, they’re seasoned killers wading through walls of meat and waves of the red stuff.
Away from the sinking ship, the game proper takes place on Palanai, an island that forms part of the Banoi archipelago. It too is infested with zombies and partially submerged following a major flood. Indeed, water is an important force throughout, as the game features a new dynamic weather system can unleash lashing rain at a moment’s notice.
Stranded in this drenched, undead-filled island of horrors, our heroes have a number of new tricks up their brain-splattered sleeves. Players can now leap down from elevated positions and force steel through the heads of their victims, while there’s a Duke Nukem-esque charged kick that can send zombies flailing backwards, allowing you to swoop in and speed up the decomposition process with whatever comes to hand.
In this way the majority of combat is melee-based, yet developers Techland are keen to stress that gunplay will play a larger part in the action. To this end we’re promised a revamped targeting system, more durable weapons and more plentiful ammo. New character John is a soldier and the existing survivors are now better versed in combat, all of which lends itself to the sense of ramped up violence of the game.
Despite this, however, our short demo had little in the way of gunplay. Indeed, the nearest we got was using a flare gun to explode some oil barrels, destroying a bridge from which hordes of zombies were flooding into the survivor’s camp.
This explosive set-piece came towards the end of a section in which we were asked to hold off against waves of attackers; fighting off enemies, rescuing friends and patching up the camp’s defences. These ‘hub defence’ sections promise to be scattered throughout the game, an attempt to offer a little gameplay variation.
This is evident too in the new zombie types you’ll encounter, including acid-spitters and Drowners, the latter of which will try and drag you underwater. The truth, however, is that most of your missions see you scampering from one location to the next, battering everything in sight with an emphasis on brute force rather than skill or style.
It’s a indelicate game, for the most part, one gives you the tools and the victims and hopes you have fun along the way. With a few mates in four-player co-op, that looks likely. Having friends along for the ride always helps. But in single-player it’s far less entertaining. We’re pretty much in the same territory as the first game, then.
Indeed, even the game’s engine shows little sign of improvement. Though Riptide takes place on another beautiful island, he visuals themselves are pretty ugly, with crappy textures, clipping and general jankiness.
Techland, for their part, are not hiding the fact that this is essentially more of the same, with a bit of tinkering thrown in for good measure. Not intended as a proper sequel, it’s a game that even internally they’re referring to as Dead Island 1.5. For fans of the first game that may be enough, but time will tell whether it’s enough to win over players that found the original clumsy and poorly made.
Not a horror show by any means, it’s probably sensible to keep your expectations at a minimum. Dead Island: RIptide is out on April 23rd in North America and April 26th in Europe.