Dead Island - the first game in the series - was announced with what can only really be described as an extraordinary trailer. Have you seen it? You really must; go right ahead, I'll wait here for you.
Back? Great, let's continue.
After such an impressive unveiling, it's fair to say the game itself was disappointing, garnering a fairly pedestrian 6.9 on NZGamer.com and netting an average of just over 70 on Metacritic. That's not to say it was a bad game - far from it. Critics praised its coop experience in particular, as well as the way in which it refreshed a fairly stale genre by adding in things like open-world and light RPG gameplay elements. It just didn't live up to the promise engendered by such a dramatic trailer (but then, what would, right?)
Roll forward to today, as Deep Silver prepare to publish the followup - Dead Island: Riptide.
The premise for the new game is simple; the heroes of the last game thought they'd escaped, but alas, life is rarely so kind. Instead, they find themselves once again shipwrecked and at the mercy of a ravenous zombie horde. That might, to some, sound like a hell of a holiday, but again, things are often not what they seem; based on my recent hands-on with the game, I'd say it's more of a holiday in hell...
The premise, if you're not familiar with the franchise, is simple. In an open world, you must explore in order to find new equipment, level up, and advance the light narrative elements that tie things together. To gain access to new areas, you'll need to complete quests for people, with objectives like "kill that particularly badass chap over there", or "fetch a motor for this boat you need to go upriver." Obviously, standing in your way are all sorts of recently deceased nasties, who seem to have shuffled off this mortal coil, taken some steroids, and then come shuffling right on back.
Most of the undead stagger-abouts are of the fairly typical, as-seen-in-every-movie-ever variety. That is, they don't move very quickly, but you'll want to avoid being hugged by them, as they tend to want to nibble on your everything. Mixed in amongst them are stronger enemies, each of which tends to have some sort of additional ability that's intended to make things harder for you.
One (the stereotypically fat one, obviously) likes to puke foul green stuff on you, and must therefore be handled with some care. Another (identifiable mainly by his larger-than-normal size) takes a hell of a pounding and will smash you off your feet if you just stand there and take it (not recommended.) Individually, their challenge is surmountable; when mixed in with a horde of ne'er-do-wells, however, things get... interesting.
The actual combat, much like the first title, is pretty basic. You swing, they swing, some math happens, and each of you is hurt to some degree. There's no real connection between your character and enemies.
There are projectile weapons, which are different (chucking your cool axe thing and seeing it embedded in a zombie is particularly sweet), but for the most part combat lacks the visceral connection between action and reaction that's become standard for action games this generation. So it's a bit of a shame Riptide wasn't able to add this into the Dead Island formula.
The world itself is a pretty interesting place, seamlessly broken into various areas that are connected by fairly natural roads, cliffs, and so on. There are little islands, rivers, rope bridges, etc, all of which make visual sense in the way they're connected and laid out. The island the game is set on probably would have made for a great adventure camp at some point, and it's fun racing around it in pursuit of your various objectives.
The colour palette is fairly restricted, with most colours either derived from brown or green, or having a mottled / muted tone that's not far from those base colours. But hey, it's a jungle out there, and you're not here to take photos; it's good enough.
If you like the original game, chances are extremely high you'll like this - it is, after all, largely more of the same. It's not the kind of game that's going to appeal to folk who are looking for a sophisticated or technically impressive experience, because it's about as far from either of those things as is possible to get. What it is, however, is entertaining - particularly in coop with a buddy or two.
We'll reserve our final judgement until the full game is available later this month, so be sure to look out for our review then. Based on what we've seen, however, you'll be getting pretty much what it says on the tin: more Dead Island.