Dead Island has been a victim of its own success, some would say. An incredibly enjoyable videogame experience marred by a few unsightly flaws, hindsight has lead to harsher criticism of the original release than most titles. The second title, then – forcibly noted as not being a sequel by Deep Silver – was only ever likely to be held up to the belief of what the first title should have been, rather than that which it actually was. Some would say that this is as it should be, others might suggest that holding any videogame to such lofty heights will only ever end badly, whilst others still would recognise that Dead Island: Riptide has enough merit to stand on its own.
Before jumping headfirst into the gameplay Electronic Theatre feels it pertinent to discuss this ‘sequel’ situation. Dead Island: Riptide is not an expansion pack, it’s not downloadable content (DLC) and it’s not a wallet friendly digital spin-off akin to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It’s an improvement over the original in many ways and is even a direct continuation of the story. The only manner in which Dead Island: Riptide is not what you might consider a ‘sequel’ is in that of the numerical affix, i.e. it has none. In Electronic Theatre’s opinion – and most likely that of anyone with authority on the English language – this would make Dead Island: Riptide a sequel regardless of whatever the publisher may want you to believe. However, exactly why this has become such an issue is not known, as Dead Island: Riptide does do much of what you would expect from a modern sequel.
This is a videogame that patches over many of the cracks, adds in some brand new gameplay elements, bumps up all the numbers (weapons, skills, characters etc.) and improves the visual quality to a significant enough degree. In modern times any more significant an overhaul is typically expected to be reserved for the inevitable reboot of an important franchise – which arguably we have Resident Evil 4 to thank for – so exactly what more Deep Silver feel we should been expecting of the second major release in a new series eludes Electronic Theatre: built on the foundations of the original Dead Island, Dead Island: Riptide is every bit the sequel fans will be hoping for.
Beginning at the very start of the videogame, a quick recap video narrated by Purna brings you up-to-speed with the story and the characters before placing you into the unwelcoming arms of a military operation aboard an air craft carrier. After being thrown into a rather unpleasant prison bunk and meeting new arrival John Morgan for the first time, it’s all hands on deck when things take a sudden turn for the worse.
Dead Island: Riptide suffers from the same slow introduction that many modern videogames painstakingly craft, given newcomers the chance to catch-up but not allowing experienced players to skip ahead. This is an odd design decision in a videogame that allows you to import character data from its predecessor, but one presumably made to ensure that co-operative players aren’t left with a weak link or two. The opening sequence does give you a chance to sample much of what Dead Island: Riptide has to offer; lead down a linear path you’ll be taught movement, exploration, interaction and combat. You’ll get your first taste of firearms – something which Dead Island: Riptide has made a conscious effort to afford its players more freely than the original title – and face bigger, tougher enemies. The climax is a boss fight; a slow and dim-witted boss, but packing a hefty lunch nonetheless. This is your introduction to Dead Island: Riptide, and a microcosm of the wider ranging experiences the videogame offers.
Of course, the headline addition is that of the defensive missions. Players are given an area in which they are strong, equipped with plentiful supplies or ammo, mounted turrets, explosive weapons and moveable fences, players must refuel and establish the barricades prior to an onslaught of enemy units. It’s a simple design that actively encourages players to utilise their best weapons without penalty, and given that better weapons degrade much slower this time around it’s regularly tempting to go nuts and spray the entire area with bullets. Quite a contradiction to the first title, then, and yet it still feels like a perfectly place new addition to the formula.
A lot of noise has also been made about the fact that Dead Island: Riptide features water as an integral part of the experience and it’s true that it’s of greater effect than in the original videogame. However, it must be said that – while technically far superior – Palani is less interesting than Banoi. It has pockets of intrigue and significantly more verticality, but as a whole it presents less of a memorable locale. All other aspects of the visual presentation, however, are undeniably superior to the original Dead Island; from character models to animation, Dead Island: Riptide is every bit the modernisation of a reasonable looking title.
Launched as a retail product, Dead Island: Riptide is likely to benefit from a parade of downloadable content just like its predecessor. And rightly so, as Deep Silver have created a product substantial enough to sustain further interest. Debates about the meaning of the word ‘sequel’ aside, Dead Island: Riptide is more of Dead Island more impressively presented and equally immersive. Returning to the youthful franchise is a joy, and if Deep Silver has something more significant up-their-sleeve for the magic number two, Electronic Theatre simply can’t wait for that trick to be revealed.