PAX East 2013: Dead Island: Riptide Hands-On

Developer: Techland / Publisher: Deep Silver / Release Date: TBA / Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC / ESRB: Mature [Not Yet Rated]

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In the past few years, we’ve been treated to no less than a tidal wave of zombies in our video games. We’ve beaten our way through their undead crowds with bats, chainsaws and shotguns, and we’ve even experienced the horde in some of the most unlikely of places.

Developer Techland was quick to embrace the theme of the horde in 2011 with the release of Dead Island, and following its success, they’re doing it again with the sequel: Dead Island: Riptide.

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The beefy demo I played of the game at PAX East 2013 was filled with just as much inward zombie head bashing as you’d likely expect if you played the original, but contains new elements to attempt some level of differentiation from it. Mainly, it maintains the same melee-focused control mechanics that Dead Island experimented with, but explores minor implementation of elements from other genres like tower defense. That’s in addition to new weapons like the nail gun (which is exactly what it sounds like), which allows you to retrieve your ammo from the bodies of the dead when you’re done pumping them full of sharper-than-normal ammunition.

The demo kicked off with a washed up co-op crew (myself and other media folk) on the beach, nearly weapon-less and low on upgrades, only small knives in-hand. On the way inland, we came across a village wrought with a zombie problem they clearly weren’t qualified to handle. Amongst all their screaming and helpless flailing, we were able to assist. It took a drawn-out, merciless stabbing and beating on their behalf, but the undead were eventually reduced to nothing more than bloody carcasses of their former selves (even if they were already bloody carcasses of their former selves). It’s much like the experience of the original Dead Island. Almost to a tee. For many that’s great to hear — for others that might come across as disappointing.

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As for the way we handled the undead mess, the control mechanics for Riptide haven’t changed by and large – you still beat, stab, smack and burst open heads of drooling zombie freaks until they stop shuffling toward you. Unfortunately, controls were currently clunky, slow, and have that “I’m clicking sprint and it’s totally not making me sprint” issue that some first person games suffer from. Four player co-op is still in full swing in Riptide, and LAN worked as well as it should, even with the occasional clipping glitch or animation bug rearing its ugly head. However, where Riptide adds more ingredients to the pot is in its protect-and-defend segments. Remember when I mentioned tower defense?

Around the previously mentioned village, there were rolls of fencing wire and a pair of flair guns. The former is placed in predetermined “holes” in walling around the camp. Essentially, you’re given the wall repair tools in the form of fencing (similar to Call of Duty: Black Op’s zombie mode) and tasked with placing them on the defensive before the impending crowd of flesh-eaters attack your camp. While the ability to strategically place fencing wherever you like would be a welcome addition, it no doubt helps with pacing between zombie skull-bashing sessions.

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Once the fencing was placed and the wave begun, it took about five minutes before the undead were vanquished and order was restored, but not without a full-blown ending (literally). Remember that pair of flare guns I mentioned? Well it just so happens that you come across a wooden bridge where zombies are entering your village en masse. And it just so happens that you use said pair of flare guns to blow up a stack of red barrels in the middle of the bridge (if you’ve played any video game ever, you know what kind of red barrels). And it just so happens that the bridge blows up (along with its zombie passers), cutting off any opposition from your position.

It was a satisfying end to a relatively short mission, but ultimately left me feeling sort of empty. It didn’t feel like I was playing the next Dead Island, and while that may be alright for some, it very well might not sit well with others — others looking for an evolution in the Dead Island lets-beat-the-snot-out-of-some-zombies experience. Since co-op is still present in its working glory, Riptide may provide many of the lengthy zombie bashing sessions with friends that Dead Island provided in 2011.

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Riptide has its perks in a new defend-and-protect mechanic (and new weapons, of course), it’s immensely similar to the original, and may not provide enough new and flavorful content to appease its buyers (though it may for some). Its issues (mostly technical in nature) have the opportunity to be fixed before the game’s to-be-announced launch date (predictably this year), but it still may take a fair amount of convincing to get anyone other than hardcore Dead Island fans to give it a try.

But hey, at least it’s not trying to trick you with trailers.

  1. My problem with the original game was that, it felt way too MMO’ish, too much fetch this, kill that sort of missions, not to mention that terrible, terrible ending…

    But since I have absolutely no expectations with this one, well, see you in steam summer sale 2014.

  2. The first one was one of the biggest disappointments ever. Dull, boring, bug-ridden. More importantly, it offended players’ intelligence.

    Sorry guys, not this time!

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