More horror stories should be set on tropical islands. There is nothing quite like scaring yourself witless while gazing at sunny beaches and lush palm fronds. The juxtaposition unnerves — and that’s exactly what horror is supposed to do.
Locating horror stories on islands also has a thematic purpose. Good horror forces us to travel to a place we don’t want to go. It pushes us there, removing our options. On an island, there is no way to escape.
But setting and theme does not a hitchcockian experience make. Good horror also needs suspense, drama, intrigue, and a little bit of violence. Deep Silver’s Dead Island: Riptide has a good whack at putting on a show, but despite its setting, despite its place, and despite its new content, it still leaves you feeling like you’ve played this game before. Many times over.
Dead Island Riptide is Deep Silver’s second stab at island horror. It follows on from 2011’s Dead Island, a decent zombie title that whet gamer’s appetites at the peak of the undead gaming craze. Much like its predecessor, Riptide is a whack-a-mole zombie survival horror title at its core.
You play as one of four survivors from the original game (ex football jock Logan, feisty aborigine bodyguard Purna, police officer Xian Mei, or failed one hit wonder rap star, Sam B). Riptide also introduces a fifth character, the mysterious ADF soldier John Morgan. Each character has different play styles and specialities; for example, Sam B is a hit with blunt weapons, and Xian Mei cuts a fine figure with blades.
The story begins right where Dead Island left off. Your fabulous four have managed to fight their way through hordes of infected beachgoers and have finally made it off the island. After being intercepted by a military patrol boat they thought they were home safe and sound. They weren’t. Quelle horreur.
On that boat is a cliched villain (you know this because he is aggressive, rude to the military, and wears a black suit in a thunderstorm) who foreshadows that he is the reason people are transforming from bovine bathers into brutal flesh gobblers. Before you can exclaim “this sounds awfully like Resident Evil with a sun tan” you are locked in the brig, a wild storm appears, and the boat crashes into another island. That’s also filled with zombies. That you need to escape from. Again. Quelle horreur. Again.
Riptide’s narrative typifies its central problem: it’s just not original enough. It takes us through an experience that we’ve played through before — most recently in Dead Island proper, but also in some form or another in every other survival horror title of the last five years.
This is most obviously highlighted by Riptide’s gameplay mechanic. Borrowing heavily from its predecessor, it sends players rampaging through infested areas of the open world map on RPG style quests. These menial missions, like one to collect an engine for a boat, are an important way of driving the story forward — but they feel rote.
This is all accompanied by a combat mechanic that is similarly wooden. Each zombie you approach is a whack-a-mole, and the inclusion of “special” zombies that spit acid or explode isn’t enough to break the monotony. All it does is remind us how little we’ve progressed from Valve’s Left for Dead. It was fun the first time, but for a sequel, gamers expect something a little more developed.
This lack of innovation is unfortunate, because there are parts of Riptide that are genuinely enjoyable. As an RPG experience it has enough depth to keep you entertained. For those with the patience - and the inclination - there are many hidden gems, quests, and experiences to play through. This is supplemented by a decent item and skill tree system that gives you real ownership of your characters. And there is the ability for you to call in friends to play the game cooperatively over the net (which is the only way to play survival horror games).
But again, these positives are let down by niggling concerns. The game is slow to let you get to grips with the particular skill set of the character you chose, and the UI for things as simple as equipping new weapons is difficult to master.
This is only exacerbated by a storyline that is slow to progress and characters that you don’t feel emotionally connected to. With any game, thats a problem. But for survival horror games, it's fatal. if you don’t really care about why Sam B or Purna are stomping skulls on a beach-front paradise then why are you bothering with Riptide?
It's a good question, and one that Deep Silver hasn’t been able to properly answer. Perhaps the response is a simple one: because smashing zombies around is fun. That’s true, and Riptide gives you an experience as good as any other, but it is also an experience we’ve grown weary of.
A better answer would be because you’ve formed an intense bond with John, Logan, and the rest of Riptide’s forlorn gang. A bond forged through shared suffering, suspense and survival. But as hard as it tries, Riptide - and its cliched storyline - doesn’t quite get us there.
If you're an avid collector of zombie games, and you had the best time of your life playing Dead Island, you are probably going to want to give Riptide a decent playthrough. If you enjoyed it before, odds are you will enjoy it the second time, too. But if, like me, you found the first title lacked soul, Dead Island 2.0 is not the Lazarus you are looking for.