Let’s say that the first Dead Island was a survivor of a zombie apocalypse. He wasn’t the ideal survivor, but he had his quirks. You may not have wanted to stay around him for too long, so after you worked together for about 15-20 hours you left to go find your friend named Skyrim. Two years after leaving him, you decide to go back and find Dead Island, but all that is left of him is a shambling corpse that goes by Riptide.
Riptide immediately starts off on the wrong foot. The opening cutscene is rough all around, the in-engine models don’t lend themselves well to dramatic acting, the lip sync is awful, and the voice acting is borderline offensive for any character that happens to be a minority. Once control over the chosen character is given, you are forced down the narrow flooded hallways of a sinking ship. As we learned from the resort area of the original Dead Island, these games are at their best when placed in open areas that are different than anything we have seen in the numerous zombie games on the market. Sadly, the sinking ship is filled with the drab color palette we have seen over and over again, and while the environments get more colorful after the boat, all they really do is replace the grungy grey with grimy green and call it a jungle.
After washing up onto a beach, you are given free reign to explore a flooded jungle and later in the game you will find yourself running down the narrow flooded streets and alleys of a small town on an island. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, there is a lot of water traversal elements in the game — large, long, poorly designed water traversal elements. When in deeper water, walking speed is cut down by what feels like more than half and it is impossible to sprint, zombies don’t seem to have this problem though since they will flock to you at mach speed if you are within 100 yards of them. The presented answer to the water problem is the ability to use boats as a vehicles, but rough handling and poor design make for a maze of flooded zombies and islands that you have to fight your way through.
Riptide suffers from numerous performance issues that results in the game being borderline unplayable at points. Early on, it is apparent that the framerate runs at a consistent rate below 20 frames per second, dipping down to single digits when flares are lit, water splashes, or when there are more than ten zombies on screen. The framerate issues only get worse in co-op. As I was playing with my co-editor Clint, we entered a side dungeon that ran at around 5 fps. While still playing with Clint, I tried to accept a mission and his system froze. We then jumped to his game and tried to accept the same mission and my system froze. We ended up having to play about three main story mission by ourselves to avoid our systems hard locking. Audio also has its issues, sometimes characters will talk over each other, sometimes my audio would cut out completely.
While these performance issues are a big problem, the biggest problem is that the game is just not fun to play. Combat feels too slow for how many zombies are thrown at the player. The random and continuous zombie spawner results in cheap deaths by spawning zombies directly behind you after just clearing an area out. During co-op we found that it was better to die and come back to life with full health than pick each other up and have minimal health, resulting in using at least two med kits to just get back to full health.
Special enemies were a big deal in the first game, but they don’t feel special here. These enemies are not introduced in any meaningful way. I found a new enemy type when I was clearing out an area of regular enemies and was inexplicably one hit killed. After returning to the area I noticed that a Ram, a special enemy that charges players like a bull, was just roaming the area.
I could go on and on about the problems that Riptide suffers from and the glitches that I ran into, but we don’t have that kind of time. After I finished Dead Island: Riptide I felt more like I had just played an expansion to the first game, an unfinished expansion. My feelings toward the game can be summarized by something I said to Clint after we had both completed the game. “Dead Island: Riptide is bad at its best, broken and borderline unplayable at its worst.”
Second Opinion by Clint Prentice
I really liked the first Dead Island. It was quirky and stupid — flawed in most places — but it had a certain level of charm I enjoyed. Most zombie stories are told in large cities or countrysides. But Dead Island was different because you were on a peaceful, tropical resort where most people think nothing bad can ever happen. Dead Island: Riptide is a quasi-sequel-but-not-a-sequel because everything is exactly the same, only way worse. It’s as if they knew people really liked the first Dead Island but had no context for what it was they liked about it.
Of course, none of that really matters because of how technically broken Dead Island: Riptide actually is. There’s this moment in the game where you throw gas cans on a bulldozer and blow up a whole bunch of zombies to get to your objective — which is stupid on its own, but that’s not the part I’m talking about. There’s this alleyway you walk through right past this bulldozer where there are about fifteen zombies. I died there once. The game, in its infinite wisdom, spawned me in a small closed-off area right next to this alleyway. I tried to find an exit for close to five minutes but I couldn’t escape.
Turns out, the game spawned me where it spawns zombies and I was stuck in this small gated pit with a bunch of invisible walls that only the zombies can pass through. So I restarted my Xbox and continued from the last checkpoint. This time I killed all fifteen of these zombies as quickly as possible (in sub-15 FPS) so I wouldn’t be sent to this pit again. As soon as my electric machete sliced through the final zombie, I did a full 360 to survey the damage. Immediately, another fifteen zombies spawned in their place. They swarmed me and I died all too quickly. The game spawned me in that gated zombie spawn pit again.