In late 2011, Dead Island launched to a relatively positive reception, receiving particular praise for a glut of good ideas but tarnished by a sloppy execution. Featuring an island full of zombies to bludgeon, beat and shoot (it is what it is), Dead Island had the potential to be the explosive bastard child of George A. Romero and Michael Bay. Dead Island: Riptide should have had a lot to build on; a decent, exciting premise, backed by an intriguing RPG-style development system just needed tightening up with a solid engine and tight narrative structure to create something special. Unfortunately, Riptide is a mess; none of the series’ promise is delivered, none of the great ideas realised, and the player is left wondering why exactly they want any of these hollow monstrosities to survive anyway.
Things start innocuously enough; the heroes are held hostage on an evacuation ship that then sinks, leaving them stranded on a new island – a DEAD ISLAND! That’s about as good as the story gets. In theory, the four different hideous racial stereotypes (sorry, characters) offer different perspectives on the action, but each character is so poorly acted and the individuals so devoid of character, charm, humanity that it is very, very hard to care what happens about them. The narrative does not help to remove this major niggle; the story is so flat and insipid that one could confidently state that all Ripide really involves is fetching things for cardboard NPCs.
All Riptide really involves is fetching things for cardboard NPCSs, with zombie killing in-between. The fetching, unsurprisingly, is coma-inducing; fetch fuel/guns/food/water/camera for the local/film-maker/racial stereotype/cardboard human via the water/water/water/water filled area – but make sure to avoid those pesky zombies! As a first-person shooter in spirit, one would expect a brutal, thrilling running battle against the un-dead swarms. Like much of Riptide, the combat is inconsistent and messy. Melee weapons crunch into enemies with macabre satisfaction before the next three hits inexplicably miss their target, resulting in your quick and gory death. If this was a minor inconsistency, then it could be forgiven, but it happens pretty much every sortie. When it works, it works; zombies are frantically dispersed with limbs flying everywhere, yours and their own. However, this is rare. Riptide is open-world, but barely offers the same incentives for exploration or wonder as Far Cry 3. The landscape is flaccid, lacking any character or spark that suggests this is a living, breathing (or not breathing) world.
Perhaps the most damning indictment against Riptide is that despite setting itself up as a high octane thrill-ride it is absolutely no fun to play. There is driving, but is so limited it is just an exaggerated way of getting from A-B and offers nothing in game-play. There is character progression in the form of an RPG-style development of skills, but most of these are superficial and lack any excitement. There are some horror staples, such as a chronic shortage of ammunition and a few cheap jumps, but this is no horror; it is too easy, too violent for that. It is hard not to become repetitive; there are good ideas here, which if fully fleshed could have become excellent parts of a superb game. But they have been implemented so haphazardly, so hard-handedly, that Riptide not only feels cheap but it feels half-arsed, as if the developers did not believe in the project either.
Is there any reason, then, to play a violent game of fetch without feeling or purpose? To develop characters without character, to save those with barely more life than the zombies they massacre? Sure, the four player jump-in co-op is neat, and the combat at times can be silly and macabre, but is this enough to persevere with? Like the original, Riptide will provoke either glee or annoyance. Unlike the original, Riptide has no potential, no second chance. If Dead Island was an opportunity missed, Riptide is an opportunity blown. What should have been a joyously silly adventure is instead a conflict of ideas half-baked into a sloppy shooter devoid of charm or personality. Worse, it’s not even fun; that is the most damning thing of all.