Despite having been in the public eye for a considerable amount of time, Dead Island: Riptide has remained a strictly hands-off affair since its official unveiling. Choosing instead to showcase the same gameplay feature in a number of different ways across many different events, the merits of Dead Island: Riptide weren’t being bidden but had been kept frustratingly out of reach. That finally changed this week as Deep Silver invited Electronic Theatre to get hands on with the latest iteration of what it considers to be one of its most important franchises for the very first time.
The showcase began with a hands-off walkthrough of the Prologue, demonstrating the tension of the opening chapter and revealing more of John Morgan’s character than any fact sheet ever could. An patriotic naval officer who succumbs to his own passion for duty, Morgan is an aggressive addition to the line-up both in personality and ability. A close combat specialist, he works his way through the enemy hordes aboard his vessel with a tri-pronged wrist-blade – one of the first of many new weapons showcased in this build – and eventually finds himself stranded upon the shore of Palani, This is where Electronic Theatre comes in.
Starting at the true beginning of the videogame Morgan was the obvious choice for this hands-on experience. While all of the original characters were available and the much discussed import feature is already present Morgan offered something new, which is of course why we are here. Offering a series of statistical character traits (presumably to create a balance for new characters when playing with friends who import from a much higher level) Electronic Theatre opted for the ‘combat’ pre-distribution and heading out into the field. Or rather, on to the beach.
Dead Island: Riptide begins true as you awake from your ill-fated sea voyage with a young woman informing you that the infection has spread, and that you may not like what you are about to become involved in. Your first mission is to make your way to a local village that is under attack and aid the survivors, if there is any. The development team at Techland have suggested that, this time around, survivors are more capable of taking care of themselves but are far from invincible. Without greater testing Electronic Theatre can’t be sure exactly how true this is – one might question the potential for roadblocks occurring should an important mission giver die during combat – but even during this short preview build they were occasionally of assistance.
Upon arriving at the village, crossing a bridge to gain entry and acquiring the videogame’s first weapon mod along the way, Dead Island: Riptide presented its first defence mission. Granted use of a flare gun (with one given to each of the four members of out party) the mission is simple: defend the area from overwhelming enemy numbers. Guns will feature heavily in Dead Island: Riptide, with Techland suggesting that those who wanted to may be able to play for most of the campaign while using only firearms, but at this point it was a decidedly limited asset. After placing a number of gates in areas that allowed for open access, repairing and upgrading weapons, searching for health items and a little cash, it was time to move to the highlighted area and let the mission begin.
Across the bridge cam the biggest wave, numbers far in excess of that for which the ammunition supplies would allow, so the flare gun was kept in reserves while the enemy was beaten back. At the some time, across the other side of the village, the barricades were taking a beating; the may slow the zombie hordes down, but they won’t stop them. Dividing into two groups to cover each assault it wasn’t long til the team of experienced players regained the upper hand, but perhaps therein lies Dead Island: Riptide’s biggest problem: this isn’t an experience that’s designed for newcomers, you are expected to know how the mechanics of Dead Island work.
Without playing the Prologue it would be impossible to say just how well Dead Island: Riptide trains newcomers, but at this point in time it would be hard to suggest that anyone not already enamoured with the zombie hunting adventure will find this second outing appealing. It’s very true that many of the bugs from the first title have been dealt with and the whole experience is much more polished, but in essence it retains that same Dead Island gameplay. This is not necessarily a bad thing of course, as Electronic Theatre praised the first outing heavily, but this more-of-the-same design ethos is unlikely to win any new fans.
Once the defence mission had been completed it was decided that the bridge was a liability, and so should be destroyed. Cutting off the rear entrance so boldly established this village as Dead Island: Riptide’s first safe house, complete with work bench and non-player characters awaiting your assistance. One such survivor offered the next mission: find a boat. Setting off in search of the marina, a fairly sizable journey that involved driving a 4×4, climbing a step cliff face and meeting a brand new enemy – the bile spewing Floater – the mission indicator is far more vague than many players may be expecting. Simply offering the general area rather than the exact location, this new mechanic is designed to both encourage exploration and keep the players on their toes; the marina is overrun with zombies, so while exploring you must always be aware of what may be approaching from all sides.
Upon finding the boat a discovery of note is made: a vital ingredient is missing. Namely the engine. The next phase of the mission then, is to find one. Moving swiftly across the marina the engine is revealed to be more than a simple item pick-up: it’s a huge hunk of metal that one player must carry at the expense of not being able to attack. They can of course out the engine down, but with the appropriate amount of team work there is no need; move swiftly and precisely, taking down any enemies that may approach the player before they get too close, and you’ll make it with ease.
Sadly however, the team with which Electronic Theatre was fighting for survival did not make it. Not for lack of skill, but because the time constraints placed upon the demo exceeded the limitation. Outside of this playable there were a number of other features that the team from Techland were keen to show off – the radio transmitter that causes zombie beads to explode, the Drowner enemies that lie facedown in the water until approached and the verticality of Henderson, the videogame’s city, that lends itself perfectly to careful exploration – but none of these were available to experience first hand. For now then, Dead Island: Riptide is a carefully constructed successor that fixes many issues from the first videogame and ignores others, all the while playing a stern hand for fans that leaves us wanting more.