Wot I Think: Dead Island: Riptide

By Jim Rossignol on April 24th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.


Dead Island: Riptide isn’t just one of the most tastefully marketed games of 2013, it’s also the semi-sequel to one of the best-selling games of the last couple of years. Yes, Dead Island was an absolute smash hit, because everyone wants an open-world zombie survival game. Or wanted, at least. Hmm.

Here’s wot I think.

Dead Island: Riptide is some more Dead Island. How much more? About the same again. It gives you another character (and the characters from the original), and plays out the whole silly drama again on the next-door island. After the obligatory linear tutorial bit, which is set on a sinking ship this time, you head off into a tropical paradise full of reanimated rotting cadavers. Videogames!

I had a lot of fun with the original Dead Island, even though the entire thing was clearly ridiculous, and did little to shore up its own credibility. There are plenty of commendable notions in there, giving us the kind of game that we’ve come to demand over the years: a great big open-world structure, broken up into various levels, upgradeable equipment, lots of melee-heavy work, exploration, gathering of all kinds of junk to survive, and a mix of linear mission stuff with the general open-ended questing of the rest of the game. While there are issues with all aspects of that, as a loose skeleton for a game, it’s a broad and handsome one. Techland’s Chrome engine handles it all with some fancy visuals, too.

The issues with the original game came along two lines: firstly there were the bugs. It was riddled with broken things, some of which were patched up later, but many of which were left hanging out, like the intestines of an unfortunate tourist. Then there was the mad lack of logic with regards to anything in the game systems. If you paid thousands of dollars to fix a baseball bat, you’ll recall the sort of thing I mean.

Riptide seems to address the first of these issues fairly well. Aside from a couple of odd glitches, I found the game to be in a fairly polished state. I imagine this is because it was so heavily scaffolded by work on the original game that they had little trouble in putting a few extra lines of code in there to fix the creaky bits. So that’s reassuring.


As for the logic of the rest of the game, well, it remains in the realm of design that does not seem to give a damn about consistency. And okay, I get it, this game is really an excuse to indulge your desire to explore an island and club undead things to death – preferably with a bunch of friends – and this provides that (I want to stress that I REALLY like the overall island design, and exploring it on foot, in a car, or on a boat, is a pleasure). But there’s still the nagging feeling that the designers probably could have got around that thing were you need a blueprint to “upgrade” a baseball bat by putting nails through it. Or that thing were an NPC wants to sell you an energy drink for $3534. Or, indeed, the reality-warping discomfort of you selling them a stick you found in the same room for $100. It’s all artifice, I know. We don’t have walking magic shop people in the real world, we don’t have zombie invasions in the real world… but there must have been a better way to do this.

Then there’s the lack of flair in character design, quest design and, well, pretty much everything outside the environmental work. The game just doesn’t have enough life or colour to keep you interested in its setting. Even the capacity of the new guy to kick baddies as if he had a third leg made of pneumatic donkey doesn’t do it for me.

It’s better with other people in the game, yes. It goes from being a grim solitary skull-thumper to something entirely more manic, something with possibilities for working together against groups of zombies in a way that I can’t recollect in other games. But it still didn’t keep me bobbing up over the threshold of the truly interested.


The fundamental, bone-breaking problem I have with Riptide, then, is that while it’s arguably more polished than its progenitor, it does nothing to fix the shambling design issues that gnawed at our ankles the first time round. I’ve outlined some of those, but there’s also the issue of the poor writing, and the general lack of imagination. Technically it’s very close to be one of the great. Conceptually it’s very close to being one of the greats. The design really only falls a few yards outside the great Venn Diagram circle of greatness. But that’s far enough. The net result of all this is a game that cannot win on any front. Even the combat makes me wonder about how much better it could have been. Does it really make sense to take that long to get up? Should upgraded cleavers really better than shotguns? Hmm.

Dead Island: Riptide carries a mysterious virus that it is tough to cure: boringness. It’s a virus that it and its predecessor will no doubt transmit to other games, thanks to being so successful. Game designers will assume that This Is What They Want, and make more of its like. But I’ve killed a lot of zombies in my time, and this was no highlight in the struggle against the digital dead. I could say this in more flowery ways, and I could spend more time glossing over the bones of it, but in all honesty I feel like there’s so much else humankind needs to play. There’s so much else you could spend your money on. Yes, zombie slaughter is quite funny, and better with friends, but this game is not enough. Perhaps it never was.

And a score? I give this expandalone One Flimsy Hacksaw Blade Out A Decomposing Human Nostril. And not a micro-percentage point more.

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105 Comments »

  1. Rollin says:

    It’s not a dead island game unless it has a super awesome trailer, followed by a really mediocre game they had to rush because all the money was spent on the trailer.

    • godofdefeat says:

      Well said sir. But shoulndt be that for same as the most of games made in Ex-Soviet union countries?

    • Sassenach says:

      A game that is thematically entirely dissimilar from the trailer.

    • calibypolege says:

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      • scatterlogical says:

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    • pauldin05 says:

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  2. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    2013-04-24 – Day of the Nostrils

    • Brun says:

      2013-04-25 – Day of the Earlobes?

    • Strangerator says:

      Yeah, it truly is day of the nostrils. Every single story posted today mentions them.

      Makes you wonder if they play this game often, and if so, how often have we missed the word of the day?

    • Stochastic says:

      Maybe this is a cleverly encoded message. If you spell it backwards…no that won’t work. But if you rearrange the letters you get…Nil Rots? Its Lorn? Slit nor? Or perhaps “nostrils” has a deep symbolic meaning. Or maybe it’s just an inside joke we’ll never be privy to.

      • Maniac says:

        Backwards for ‘slirt, son’… Question is: What is slirt?

        • Premium User Badge

          Jackablade says:

          As with most combinations of letters, Urban Dictionary has an entry for “slirt”

          “1. (n) A flirt slut. Non-discriminatory flirter. One who flirts with a lot of people (or things) – opposite sex, same sex, rocks, trees, fish…”

          So where does that leave us then?

      • Somerled says:

        I checked my nostrils. Found a PC-centric blog in each of them. Imagine that.

  3. Dowr says:

    Kick kick kick, stomp

  4. SominiTheCommenter says:

    This game’s kicks got nothing on Dark Messiah. Dark Messiah also have zombies. Kinda.

    • scatterlogical says:

      Oh, totally. Dark Messiah also had a storyline – a guaranteed way to make a game suck. I wish developers would just stick to the reliable and simple Skinner Box mechanics to hook gamers. It’s so much easier then to sell the concept to a reputable publisher who will assist creatively in every step of the game development process, because hell knows that developers aren’t actually capable of producing quality games themselves. Even better, you need an outsider’s perspective, the direction of business people who aren’t biased by actually playing games.

  5. Captain Joyless says:

    “Please Try To Remember That Zombies Are A Metaphor”

    But a metaphor for… ?

    • jonfitt says:

      A metaphor for: lazy design.

    • hypercrisis says:

      For Romero they were a symbol of social revolution, at least in NotLD. Not sure how that extends to Dawn and Day.

      • Eddy9000 says:

        ‘Dawn’ was a satire on consumerism, the zombies were a parody of consumers brainwashed so hard by marketing that they carried on shopping after zombification with just as little thought as they did when they were alive; also the fight between people for the shopping mall being more destructive than the undead. I reckon ‘Day’ was commentary on American exceptionalism, or possibly the cold war, the possibility (and more sustainable option) to negotiate with zombies being discarded in favour of destroying them out of mistrust and ideas of race superiority.
        ‘Land’ was much maligned but I think the zombie uprising story tied together the themes of the first three really nicely.

    • tobecooper says:

      Ehhh, we are the walking dead.

    • Geewhizbatman says:

      Our repressed desires to kill made more manageable ethically by having corpses that retain a semblance of life while combining it with the perception of survival necessitated by slaughter. At least that’s what zombies currently express in our splatter fest films and games of today.

      They used to be a complex bundle of fear of contagion, fear of mobs, fear of science, fear of survival, and fear of anarchy at any given point. As for pure metaphor they usually represent the breaking down of human egotism in some form or another. They give form to our bodily weaknesses, in that just a scratch can cause infection, coupled with a sense of our hidden capacity for brutality. Which over the course of the fiction, be it movie, story, or comic, leads to a breakdown in social conventions that lead us to brutalize one another before and after death. Which creates the metaphor that in fact, the infection of becoming a monster lies within all of us–the zombification simply turns the brain off and lets the body (or Id) work freely.

      Which for me is part of what I find so funny about zombies in our culture. They are usually found in expressions of counter culture or part of groups that have a misfit vibe going on—Despite the fact that zombies usually represent how important our societal, ethical, and moral checks and balances on our human nature really are.

  6. jonfitt says:

    One Flimsy Hacksaw Blade Out A Decomposing Human Nostril
    So, 7/10?

  7. Severian says:

    Your statement about “boringness” strikes home. I played Dead Island from beginning to end and absolutely loved the first three hours. By the time I was at hour 10, I was wishing it would end before I cut my own arms off. Odd, because as you mention, there’s a lot of design beauty in this game and the open-worldness is satisfying. But the lack of creativity and variation eventually drags on you, and I can imagine Riptide is nothing different.

    • Arkh says:

      I’d love a game a la Roam or Urban Dead with these graphics, and I’m not entirely tired of the zombie genre but goddamn, how could the first one be so boring? When I got to the prison I wanted to kill myself, no the zombies. I never understood how the game got so boring so fast, really.

  8. The Magic says:

    My main question is, is it as sexist? I got really uncomfortable playing the first, what with there being a designated victim girl who has everything bad happen to her for no other reason than to encourage the player to want to protect her. Also at one point the group had more women than men, and we still all got called “brothers.”

    Torso statue doesn’t give me much hope, but that’s marketing.

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      I played Purna consistently and never felt it was sexist. I think you’re really reaching.

      • Premium User Badge

        strangeloup says:

        I read that as puma.

        I would totally play a game in which you take on the role of various big cats and kill zombies.

    • Rollin says:

      When you play as a female character, you can’t use weapons but mouse 1 is scream that summons manly men to your side to defend your honor. At this point the game becomes similar to a guitar hero type genre with cheerleader chants as you encourage the menfolk to kill the zombies for you. You can find various enhanced pompoms and high-heeled shoes that let you run faster as the game progresses.

      Overall it’s just as interesting as playing a male character so I don’t think it’s sexist.

      • destroy.all.monsters says:

        I wonder how many people will grasp your first paragraph was sarcasm.

        • gwathdring says:

          Now you’ll never know. You are a terrible scientist.

        • mbpopolano24 says:

          Sarcasm? What are you talking abou? I played as the cheerleader.

        • quijote3000 says:

          Sarcasm? That’s false advertising! I wanted the pompoms!

      • Eddy9000 says:

        “Press X to flutter eyelashes”

      • Maniac says:

        That honestly does sound like an amazing game. Or gamemode.

        • Phantoon says:

          Sounds better than the pile of trash that Dead Island actually was.

          “Dead Island- where fun goes to die!

      • The Random One says:

        I’d play that. I’d play the fuck out of that. Sounds a lot better than ‘you are a burly man wot shoots other man’ honestly.

    • sinister agent says:

      I’ve not played it, but as a general rule, you can safely divorce Twats In Marketing from anything they’re trying to sell.

    • quijote3000 says:

      Your main question if thinking about buying a game or not, is if it’s sexist or not?…

      I totally agree with you. The only reason, seriously, I promise, that the only reason I haven’t played that last 25 call of duties, is that it’s terrible sexist. You can only kill men in the campaign. Men, men, and men. What? Women can’t be minions too? I demand a Call of duty not sexist, where you can kill the same ratio of women and men.

      ¡Let’s call all the feminists in the world to make sure you can butcher thousands of women in Call of Duty!

      • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

        Engorged labia are worth a visit one day, seriously!

  9. destroy.all.monsters says:

    The story – was it good? Story is something neither you (Jim) or Dtoid has addressed at all in their reviews. Because despite some of the hokum I liked the story in the original.

    I’m not sure what people were looking for – I always considered this to be Dead Island 1.5 not 2.0 and wasn’t looking for a wholly new experience. I don’t recall being sold on that by Techland.

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      I’m really blown away by this. What did you like about the plot of the first one? I’m not being jerky, I’m up genuinely curious.

      My recollection is that there wasn’t a plot. I guess there were zombies and you needed to get off the island, but that’s it.

      • HadToLogin says:

        Well, I still don’t know what people love about story in Half Life alone, but turns out “you, mute janitor, go somewhere, kill more monsters and evil marines” is best story ever made.

  10. aliksy says:

    The first one felt like an undercooked Borderlands+Left4Dead knockoff. It didn’t have the zaniness of Borderlands, didn’t have the polish or gameplay of l4d.

    The repair system was completely awful, too. What’s the point of having all these colorful weapons if you can only use them for a few minutes before they start to break? Doing nothing but jump-kicks and stomps gets boring fast, but it was by far the most effective strategy.

    Also the story was bad, the special powers and skills were bad, and the consequences for dying were negligible.

    It was just a bad game all around. I imagine the new one is pretty much the same.

    • fish99 says:

      UI was pretty awful too.

    • MattM says:

      Hey WOAH Hey. Let’s not forget the pointless leveling system that adjusts every enemy and every found weapon to your level. It creates no sense of advancement but does cause weapons you picked up 30′ ago to become useless. What about all those Thug fights. The first one I fought provided a nice change of pace from the faster but weaker regular zombies. The next 10 were repetitive and frustrating. When I had just finished one thug fight and the game spawned two more a few minutes later I quit and uninstalled the game.

      • ArthurBarnhouse says:

        The leveling in general was so strange in the game. Why was it there? I guess they wanted a sense of progression, but the weapons and zombies having levels was just beyond odd. What the hell is a level 5 oar?

    • Maniac says:

      Is there anything worth knocking off of borderlands?
      I think not, my gentleman.

  11. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    Branislav Ivanovic is now infected, kick it out of football, kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick kick DLC!!

  12. Michael Fogg says:

    Suprised the article doesn’t mention the constrainingly narrow field of view, as seen in gameplay videos. It’s really a blunder in the PC version. Probably someone on the dev team had the misguided notion that they were doing a survival horror and decided to implement the narrow FOV for increased paranoia, but it really feels out of place in a game about joyfully campy headstomping.

    • sweetjer says:

      FOV was annoying in the original as well, but you could fix it pretty quick with a .cfg edit. Same goes for this one as well I’d assume. I don’t intend to find out, however — motion sickness aside, the boring-factor of the original (and this review confirming what I figured) is going to keep me away from this one.

      • Fanbuoy says:

        According to TotalBiscuit, the same workaround applies here. However, it apparently botches weapon recoil somehow, making firearms useless.

  13. Premium User Badge

    golem09 says:

    I’m very, very, VERY stoked for this.

    As a Coop open world melee game, it simply has no competition. New Maps to explore, and a bare minimum of new enemies, and I’m happy.
    I know I shouldn’t support lazy devs and milking tactics, but I just WANT TO PLAY IT THAT BADLY, BECAUSE I LOVE IT. Best Coop experience I ever had, and I want more. Desperately.

    Also: About the same?
    Is it REALLY just as long as the first? I’m in heaven.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorManiac says:

      If you like the first game, there is nothing wrong with liking more-of-the-same.

      I honestly think its a shame that more games don’t do this. I would happily play another Skyrim or Deus Ex sequel that just reuses the assets from the first game, but with new levels and story.

      • bill says:

        Historically those were called “expansion packs”. They died out around 1876.

        I’m not really sure why they died out. Some say they were killed by their natural predators, the dlcs. Others that they were sucked into another dimension by an occular rift, and actually continue to flourish there.

        Some of my favorite gaming memories come from expansion packs. Though these days I suffer from getting-old-getting-a-job-getting-kids syndrome and can rarely finish a base game. But actually from that viewpoint I’d rather they’d make the core game shorter and tighter, and then release an expansion pack for those with the time.

        Mysteries of the Sith is still one of the best FPS games and best star wars games ever.

        • Ernesto25 says:

          This! Some say they still live in spirit clinging to existence as reasonable prices packed as “dlc” not long for this world….

  14. fish99 says:

    “But there’s still the nagging feeling that the designers probably could have got around that thing were you need a blueprint to “upgrade” a baseball bat by putting nails through it.”

    Haha, that reminds me of having to ‘research’ a sharp deadly looking crystalline stick in System Shock 2 before the game would let me hit enemies with it :p

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Ha, not only you needed to research the item itself (with the use of rare chemicals), but also to upgrade your melee skill to an appropriate level, IIRC.

      • fish99 says:

        Yeah I think it required Exotic Weapon skill level 1. I seem to remember you needed Standard Weapons skill to be able to pull the trigger of a gun as well :)

        Didn’t stop it being a great game mind you.

  15. Scumbag says:

    So, game of the year?

    (since I have typed “Game of the year” in this blog post it now qualifies for another GotY edition).

  16. malkav11 says:

    It’s weird. I agree with pretty much every bit of Jim’s description of the game and its plusses and minuses (though, as absurd as the things he mention are, they don’t particularly bother me – Dead Island was not, ultimately, a game about immersion and not every game has to be) except for the part where he deems it to fall short and be terminally boring. Dead Island was a flat out blast. One of my favorite games of that year, silly and buggy as it was. If Riptide is more of the same but polished? Hell yes, sign me up.

    • MarcP says:

      Yep, I’m with you there. Although I don’t think I ever ran into a bug in Dead Island. There’s that time where I threw all my awesome weapons on a Thug, got killed, somehow respawned 300 meters away, and by the time I was back everything was gone, but eh… Death is death.

  17. Lagwolf says:

    Is it evil for me to wish that every single new zombie game bombs? So maybe game makers might pull their fingers out and come up with new ideas?

    • Strangerator says:

      Somewhere, there is a prison island where all the original screenplay writers and videogame A.I. programmers are being held. I await their release along with you.

    • Maniac says:

      Honestly? Yes. It could be an excellent genre if handled correctly, which just about noone has done yet.
      Me? I’d love a (optionally) coop-ish game thats a blend of Left for Dead, STALKER, Dead Island and Day Z.
      It could be fucking amazing, but we wont be seeing any such game in the near future, thus I’ll stick to playing these games for their individual merits.

    • Premium User Badge

      MajorManiac says:

      They will only be replaced with something else, lest we forget WW2 and Modern-Desert-O-War.

  18. laddyman says:

    I spent probably around 10-15 hours with the original game (or however long it took for me to bumble around and complete the Resort area and enter the hellhole-city level where the tank-likes and antelope roam) and in that time I discovered that by the end I was going through the motions without the constant carrot on the stick of an interesting random weapon/misc generator, like the one Borderlands one had. The thing is, once you’ve hacked down a hundred zombies with a changing in name, unshifting in function-type arsenal of various pipes, misc. bludgeons, and fragile bladed implements, it depreciates in fun value exponentially. A game can only sustain itself on “satisfying combat” if it has a variety of interesting things to kill other things with (Dead Rising, Borderlands) or a constant slog of gratifying difficulty (Dark Souls); and Dead Island’s deepest flaw for me was that everything felt quite samey and formulaic after a while due to the disinteresting peashooters and Bludgeon Device No. #3347 that formed the complete stable of the game’s weaponry.

    • ArthurBarnhouse says:

      I stopped playing at the exact same spot. I had thought that maybe I was close to the end, but once that part opened up, the end felt so far away I just gave up.

  19. nimbulan says:

    It makes me a bit sad to see so many people talking down about Dead Island. Sure it’s not perfect (oh god that voice acting,) but people talk about it like it’s as buggy as Red Orchestra 2 was at release and as boring as Minecraft is to someone who doesn’t like building. Who cares if repairing costs money? It’s a game. Do the vending machines spitting out weapons for huge sums of money in Dead Space make any more sense?

    It may not be as polished as other AAA games, but it has a great combat system, loot and environments (last time I checked those are the key qualities that make action RPGs fun.) I’ll definitely be enjoying chopping up zombies when I pick Riptide up.

    • Premium User Badge

      drewdupe says:

      But it doesn’t have great combat. Or great loot. Or great environments.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Erm, Dead Island was buggier than Red Orchestra at release, by a gigantically huge margin. Did you not happen to play it on Day One? It was a fucking mess, and easily one of the worst I’ve ever experienced.

  20. Deano2099 says:

    There’s so many brilliant PC games, more indie games than you possibly have time to cover, more amazing stuff than could ever be covered by five writers… so why cover this?

    Have the courage to actually take action about the horrendous marketing rather than just complaining about it. It’s not like there’s a game shortage.

  21. MeestaNob says:

    Agree with everything said here.

    The first game was mechanically and technically sound, and I put about 20+ hours into it. Despite a few quirks and bugs here and there, I didn’t regret a second of it, however it was totally forgettable. This game is crying out for a decent story and characters worth caring about. Sounds like this game doesn’t do anything to fix these issues.

    Third time lucky maybe?

  22. The Random One says:

    …So why exactly is one of only two screenshots you felt were representative of this game an androginous tanned zombie lying dead face first on what I will refer to as a carnival barrel while someone shouts for help?

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a tanned zombie calling for help over a barrel.. forever.”

  23. fish99 says:

    Tried to enjoy Dead Island, played the first act through co-op, but it just wasn’t fun, and it got frustratingly hard and repetitive in act 2. The quests were dull, the writing bad, the guns felt puny and handled badly, the special skills felt weak, the constant repairing was annoying, the UI was a total pain to do anything with, the game crashed several times (one of which lead to progress being lost), the mouse was slow and weird in the menus (even with the fixes). There’s also all the immersion breaking stuff mentioned in the article due to the game being an RPG.

    I’m not even sure there was a great game struggling to get out, because to me the core gameplay wasn’t fun.

  24. ArthurBarnhouse says:

    This review appears to be ambivalence bordering on dislike, and it seems like Jim felt kind of the same way about the first one. He also indicated that other staffers feel as he does. So, just out of curiosity, why did the first Dead Island get on the RPS advent calendar?

    • kud13 says:

      John liked the first one. It had its quirks, but there were apparently good things in there.

      There’s also apparently a mod for the original that overhauls item drops and such, making the game much more-”survival”-themed. Haven’t tried it yet though.

  25. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I haven’t played Dead Island, but I’ve seen a Let’s Play and after that every desire to play the game was gone. It looked incredibly repetitive and boring, with too much time taken up by repairing the constantly broken melee weapons and depleting the health bars of already defeated zombies. The island looked nice, but that alone is not sufficient to play a game, for me.

  26. quercus says:

    Jim, sorry but you need to proof read a bit more. “Were” and “where” for instance.I had to re-read a couple of sentences to make sense of them.

  27. Ernesto25 says:

    Boredom after the 1st act was my overall feeling with the 1st dead island especially the sewer level. The mechanics were fun at first but got old fats and if i hadn’t had a friend with me probably have hated the game more. Not much else to say about it than already have been said.

  28. jkz says:

    ” If you paid thousands of dollars to fix a baseball bat, you’ll recall the sort of thing I mean.”

    I’m actually investing heavily in baseball bats now, expecting a significant bubble to form around the time of the apocalypse before dumping my stock.

  29. piesmagicos says:

    I found Co-op to be a blast personally….also in shortish burst. Hours on end of any zombie game gets old quickly.

  30. sary says:

    this game is insane well original Dead Island was cool too but they improved it a lot even though there are some graphic and savegame issues so I’d give it 7/10 you can fix those problems here so don’t be upset http://fixpcgames.blogspot.cz/2013/04/dead-island-riptide-2013-savegame-and.html

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