Dead Island: Riptide is presented as a spin-off to 2011’s Dead Island, an interesting-yet-flawed open world zombie killing RPG that put you in the interesting resort island of Banoi. Riptide adds a new story, a new character, and a new island, but leaves everything else (including its flaws) intact.
If you’ve played Borderlands (or its sequel), you should feel right at home. Choosing one of several characters (including ones that focus on things like melee, gunplay, and a new character focused on hand-to-hand combat), what you play is a loot-focused first-person RPG with a reliance on co-op. You can complete the skeleton of a story that gives you a reason to be there (which boils down to you being shipwrecked on an island and having a very good reason to want to leave), or you can aimlessly wander around completing missions, getting better weapons (that you can craft or earn), and leveling up to get better abilities from a skill tree (like improved damage and more inventory slots). The main difference, of course, is that the main enemy of the game is zombies.
Like Borderlands, the game is really only at maximum fun in co-op. I had a total blast doing missions with friends and earning better weapons with other players. When you play by yourself, it’s still very rewarding to drive around aimlessly and kill zombies with an array of weaponry, but so much less so when many of the missions devolve into “go here” or “kill this” and you don’t have any buddies on chat to talk to. It pulls mostly everything off competently, but no better than it did in the original.
Making it feel more like an expansion than a new iteration in a franchise is that every issue in the first Dead Island returns in spades. On the PS3 version I played, there is all the screen tearing, graphical issues, and unimpressive visuals you have seen all too well before. Furthermore, otherwise great combat is once again marred by zombies knocking you over or requiring quick time events every 30 seconds. I don’t mind that Riptide is a spin-off of the original, but it’s somewhat irking that this is somehow an excuse to leave the plentiful flaws intact.
But my biggest issue with the game is Palanai, the tropical island to explore. Despite allegedly being an open world, the map feels too linear. There are plenty of dead ends to find with nothing at the end, and the map mostly consists of open-looking corridors that go in every direction leading towards other missions to complete. What’s more is that the interesting resort, town, and prison area of the first game has been replaced with a never-changing jungle and a town-ish area that you get later in the game. The island does make home for some new siege-like battles and a reliance on water travel, but it really just amounts to more zombie killing.
Dead Island: Riptide isn’t a bad game. Most of what you liked or even loved from the last Dead Island is back in full force, with all the loot and visceral zombie-slaying you could ask for. However, Riptide doesn’t once do anything that suggests it wishes to improve on the old game (and even does some things worse), which makes this otherwise competent game hard to recommend to anyone except those who have already played the superior original.