The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Some of this generation’s most beloved open-world games are riddled with bugs. Even the truest fans of Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, and Assassin’s Creed III must concede their lack of polish. Deep Silver’s 2011 hit, Dead Island, also falls into this camp. The sequel, Dead Island Riptide, suffers the same affliction. The changes to its zombie-slaying formula improve the action, but this follow-up also comes with more issues than the original.
For better and worse, Riptide plays almost exactly like its flawed-but-fun predecessor. The melee-centric gameplay is still weighty and satisfying. Landing deliberate blows on a zombie’s head or limbs feels great, especially when you break an arm or lop off a head. Dead Island’s undead are just threatening enough to keep you on your toes without ever becoming too frustrating. I love watching damage points tick away above enemies’ heads as I dismantle them. Leveling up and progressing through each character’s skill trees is addicting. Teaming up with three friends makes slaughtering the hordes of shambling dead even better. No matter how seasoned your teammates are, all players see enemies scaled to their level, removing the headache from matchmaking.
Importing your survivor
After Riptide was announced, some confusion spread over whether the game was a true follow-up or an expansion. Riptide is indeed its own standalone sequel to the original Dead Island. The survivors of the Banoi Island incident end up on another island in the same archipelago riddled with zombies. The story is still crudely delivered through in-engine cinematics that make the bottom-barrel horror films on Netflix look like works of genius. Thankfully, Riptide’s narrative mostly stays out of your way, allowing you to focus on the joy of slaying zombies.
Between the multiple characters and bountiful side quests, Riptide packs hours of entertainment. New elements make battling the resurrected dead more intense. Boating through a flooded jungle while your teammates beat back waterlogged zombies is thrilling. The new hand-to-hand specialist character is the most enjoyable of the bunch, with punishing claws and a sprinting kick that sends zombies flying. Defense scenarios are an engaging change from the series’ bread-and-butter fetch quests, requiring you to place barricades or man turrets as zombies rush the fortifications.
Despite the additions, Riptide suffers from the same bugs and blemishes as the first game – and then some. Enemy behavior is erratic, but not in a purposefully scary way. Zombies spend minutes tearing at a barricade, only to wander away the moment it falls. Foes phase through obstacles, glide up walls, and land hits from improbable distances. The mini-map is geographically barren, and objective pathways flicker on and off, requiring you to frequently pull up the full map. Even worse, your treasured and customized weapons can inexplicably disappear from your inventory – a rare but frustrating problem.
Riptide’s framerate is worse than its predecessor. Things slow to a crawl when the action heats up, especially after tossing an explosive near a large group of zombies. One strange bug occurred when an online teammate left the game, sucking the remaining three players into a choppy vortex of looping deaths that only stopped after resetting. These issues may sound insurmountable, but the game’s highs still compensate for most of the embarrassing lows.
Riptide’s flaws are many, but they couldn’t hold me back from having a blast. Few games nail the visceral feel of melee combat and co-op fun like Dead Island. At its worst, an annoying hiccup breaks the immersion of the grizzly trek through a zombie-infested paradise. At its best, Riptide hits the same high notes as the original.