Dead Island Riptide review: uninspired and boring
I was not a fan of the first Dead Island. I thought Deep Silver's zombie-killing adventure was filled with uninspired tasks, ridiculous characters, and more technical glitches than you could shake a barbed wire stick at. That's not to say I found the game to be an irredeemable mess, because it did have some interesting ideas--ideas I had hoped to see shine through in a more-polished sequel. Dead Island Riptide is not that sequel. Rather, it's hopelessly crushed under the weight of the same problems that bogged down its predecessor.
Riptide picks up right where the first Dead Island left off. The main characters from the first game have gone from the island of Banoi to a naval carrier, where the army is looking into what makes them immune to the zombie outbreak. The zombie outbreak, however, quickly overtakes the carrier somehow and the party winds up on a whole new island of Palanai--an island that also happens to be experiencing a zombie outbreak. What are the odds? The plot's paper-thin, but it's almost redeemed by acting and dialogue so terrible that it nearly comes all the way back around to becoming an entertaining B-movie.
Unfortunately, any fun from the Riptide's "so bad, it's almost good" story is lost amid another round of uninspired missions and fetch quests. Just like the first game, the bulk of the game requires players to traverse the area and either kill a horde of zombies or, more frequently, search for something and bring it back. Inevitably, players will encounter zombie resistance and have to fight their way through to complete their task. Once one quest ends, it's time to do it all again. The repetitive mission structure of the first game is fully intact.
I could forgive the dull tasks if fighting the zombies was fun, but, often times, it's not. Taking down zombies is usually a matter of hacking at them with melee weapons and hoping you can either dismember them or score a lucky decapitation. Otherwise, zombies will withstand a lot of punishment, especially as weapons tend to dull over time. It isn't a difficult endeavor--it's a tedious one.
Just because zombies are easy to beat doesn't mean that you won't die, though. You will die a lot in Riptide and it's often because of several inherent disadvantages. Zombies will often travel in packs and if they outnumber you, it's almost assured death. You can try and fight them off, but one of the biggest issues from the first Dead Island will rear its ugly head again--it's almost impossible to judge where you're swinging or how far your weapon can reach. I constantly felt like enemies had a longer reach than any of my weapons, so while my swings would miss, they would always find their target--usually, my head.
Distance perception issues are not just limited to melee weapons. Just like in the first Dead Island, there are objects that can be thrown, like propane tanks. The downside to this is that bulkier objects will obstruct your first-person view and it's impossible to aim them with any sort of accuracy. In one instance, I tried to inch closer to my target before throwing a propane tank, but that only resulted in an explosion that killed me instantly. To add insult to injury, the Thug-class zombie that was also caught in the explosion was still alive. That's Riptide in a nutshell. Whether it's a misjudged explosion, a horde of zombies that suddenly swarm you, or a Suicider-class zombie that always manages to kill in one hit, cheap deaths run rampant in this game.
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Palanai's jungle feels just as expansive as Banoi's tropical island setting and can be fully explored with nearby vehicles. That would be great, except the driving mechanics have not improved from the first game. Driving still feels clumsy, there's still no rear-view button (which is a major issue in a game where zombies constantly sneak up from behind), and it takes far too long to enter and exit vehicles, leaving players open to attack. Clumsy driving mechanics haven't stopped Riptide from expanding this concept to motorboats. Operating a boat features all the limitations of driving a car, only here you can't run over zombies and new Drowner-class zombies (who can run at full speed through water, while you can't even sprint in waters as deep as a wading pool) will often climb onto your boat, triggering a hasty quick-time event. Miss this QTE and you'll get tossed overboard, where numerous zombies will munch on you like undead piranhas.
Exploration should be one of the pleasures of Palanai, but the minimap often proves to be a major burden. Quest markers are haphazardly placed on the minimap and waypoint paths will only appear when nearby. Players will have to blindly journey towards their destination and will wind up running into a dead end or going down the wrong path, which becomes problematic when zombies can pop up in numbers at any time. Getting lost and subsequently having to fight off seven or eight zombies ranks up there as one of my more frustrating Riptide experiences.
I still won't go so far as to say that Riptide's a complete waste. Collecting components and using them to build outlandish weapons is still a lot of fun and an idea I wish more games would use. Even if an electric sword doesn't always find its mark, it's still an electric sword! Its mere existence helps up Riptide's cool factor and there are dozens of other weapons just like it. Even if firearms (which remain a scarce resource) are more effective, they aren't as fun to use as some of the more outrageous melee weapons.
The first Dead Island had quite a fan following and those fans will be happy to learn that their characters can be imported seamlessly into Riptide. This will make the early parts of the game easier, since imported characters can take advantage of their unlocked skills. It's a nice incentive to lure in veterans looking for an early boost, but won't help newcomers at all.
I went into Dead Island Riptide hoping to see some marked improvement from the original. Instead, I feel like I got more of the same game, for better or worse. Beyond its iffy design choices, Riptide still feels like a buggy mess, whether it's because of zombies getting stuck in pieces of the environment, clunky animations, framerate drops, or the game's sound outright dying on me--twice! Riptide is a zombie nightmare, but not the one I was hoping to see. 
It's easy to get lost on the island
This Dead Island Riptide review was based on an Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher. The game will also be available on PC and PlayStation 3 when it comes out tomorrow, April 23.