Dead Island: Riptide brings you back to the unfortunate backdrop of the Banoi archipelago where 2011’s flawed Dead Island left off. The infection has spread to a neighbouring island, forcing the four survivors of the previous game and one newcomer (John, a rude ex-soldier) to try and make it through another tropical apocalypse.
As with the previous release, playable characters are defined by their unique proficiencies, such as hand-to-hand combat or guns, so it's important that you pick a protagonist that suits your zombie slaying style. Once partnered with your survivor, you’re brought up to speed with the narrative via a concise cut scene, a nice touch that should jog veterans' memories and welcome newcomers into the series' undead embrace. In short, the ship that was supposed to act as the survivors’ salvation swiftly descends into anarchy when the crew becomes infected, prompting the cruise liner to crash upon the sandy shores of Palanai.
Palanai is an idyllic tropical paradise that contrasts perfectly with the incessant gore of the zombie infection that it hosts. The game's visuals are solid, the lighting is atmospheric, and some of the distant scenery can be gorgeous at times. Unfortunately, there's very little progression over the previous title, which leads to the adventure looking dated compared to more recent releases such as BioShock Infinite and Crysis 3.
There are a range of weapons to discover all over Palanai, all of which can be upgraded to improve their stats. As with Dead Island, your weapons degrade with use, and need to be repaired frequently. This becomes a frustration, as you find yourself burning hours at repair stations trying to get your artillery up to scratch. Modifying materials to create incredibly barbaric anti-zombie tools is fun, though. After all, who doesn't want to own a baseball bat covered in rusty barbed wire?
Sadly, these delicious meat crunchers are more satisfying in principle than practice. Combat can be incredibly cumbersome at times, constantly limited by your stamina bar. You'll often find yourself needing to run away every five or so hits to get your breath back, which leaves some battles laughably lacking in fluidity. It's made all the more frustrating by the fact that there are glimpses of entertainment in the game – chopping a corpse's head off in slow motion is a particular highlight – but these moments are rare.
In addition to your own survival, there are many other quests that the residents of Palanai will issue you with, as you'd expect from an open world RPG. Sadly, many of these objectives succumb to gathering exercises that get really monotonous quickly. The reward of more XP will keep you playing, though, and the missions do a decent job of encouraging you to explore the island. As you progress, you'll be able to invest in a simple but effective skill tree, which prompts you to pick a set to specialise in (we opted for survival), and invest in various perks that improve your character's effectiveness along the way.
Throughout all of this, the game will relay its plot, which does very little to deviate from the tried and tested structure of previous zombie survival games. Characters often repeat the same quotes at the end of a quest, or repeat irrelevant exclamations when not in communication. For example, in one mission we were tasked with saving a character from atop his caravan, but all he could seem to say before we beheaded his assailants was, "Help me". We wanted to lop his noggin off after we'd heard the same speech sample at least a hundred times. In truth, little effort seems to have gone into the story and script, which is particularly disappointing when you consider just how important these elements are to an immersive RPG.
While the core experience is tighter than the previous release, the game's still saddled with bugs. When attempting to connect to the co-operative component – which allows you to quest with up to three other players – we were forced to reboot our system four times. However, when we finally got paired with some other adventurers, things definitely picked up, as the game feels much more immersive and meaningful when you have teammates to support.
Despite this, though, it's incredible that developer Techland's still failed to fix many of the fundamental issues that featured in the original game. For example, the framerate is woeful, and the pesky pistol bug is still present, making it impossible to aim at times. Meanwhile, the combat is sluggish, and is hindered by pesky stamina limitations and the frustrating weapon condition mechanic. Perhaps worst of all, though, the quests are disappointingly repetitive, with meaningless objectives and very little enemy variety.
If you liked the original, then you'll probably enjoy Dead Island: Riptide – but this feels more like a big expansion pack than a standalone sequel. Newcomers will be frustrated by the buggy gameplay, while long term fans will be baffled by the unfixed glitches. The game is at its best in co-op, but, despite some decent presentation, it's still not really worth the admission fee.