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Dead Island Riptide hands-on: Something borrowed, something bruised

New installment is samey, repetitive, dumb fun

Ploughing through zombies in a jeep is still the best fun you can have with Dead Island: Riptide.

It's the most fun way to kill because like its predecessor, this is a game where four human players can spend upwards of ten minutes felling a single horde of undead by hand. You kick, smash with a weapon, and back away. You do this constantly. Once you've felled one horde you'd better suck it up, because there's going to be another. It's liable to become boring (and it does!) until you spot a jeep parked nearby and you drive it straight into the thronging crowd of death with nary a concern for your co-op partners. Then the game feels good. Things die quicker.

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Riptide's predecessor was a ropey game and not much has changed. During my hands-on session I played as Purna, the mouthy security professional with the pen-up-nose Australian accent. As with Dead Island, the game sticks you on an open tropical island and tasks you with surviving and escaping. You pick up missions, level-up, upgrade weapons, and brain zombies. Neither the environment nor what you're doing in it has changed since Dead Island, and the game makes no apologies about that.

After a few minutes of cursory exposition we're tasked with protecting a survivor outpost, situated about a hundred metres from where the protagonists have washed up en route to civilisation. Cue a demonstration of Riptide's new Horde mode, and as the name suggests, it involves you and your co-op partners fending off zombies in an enclosed space. The problem here is that fending off zombies just for the sake of it is not particularly fun.

Because out in the wild, eventually you'll do everything you can to avoid them. My co-op partners' determination to kill every single foe they encountered was - ultimately - annoying. Run them over! Run away from them! Kick them once and then scram! But please never take on a whole convention of undead until they're gone because boy does that become dull. It's the same wearingly repetitive problem the original Dead Island had, and no amount of reduced weapon deterioration can hold that bored-in-a-videogame ennui at bay. Problem is, the melee combat is still mindless. You just mash away: kick, hack, avert. Kick, hack, avert.

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But it's well known that Dead Island is dumb, and if you play it in the same manner as you watch, say, a Troma film, you'll find it's good for a laugh. The poor accents, cheap character stereotypes and hilariously inane player-character dialogue is so bad it's good. The addition of boats is nice, and the fact that zombies can tear you out of them means you won't be using them as full-body weapons like you can with land vehicles.

But overall, this isn't a new game: the melee combat is still too imprecise, and the combat mechanics need to be better than this if you're expected to spend 20 hours using them. This feels like an expansion pack. Mindless and hilarious fun in short bursts, it's an absolute bloody chore after an hour or so. Unless you find a jeep.

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