Review | 4/23/2013 at 8:59 AM

Dead Island: Riptide Co-Op Review

Bring an umbrella...and a baseball bat.

Reviewing a sequel can be hard sometimes because you aren't exactly sure which audience you should be talking to. Usually you have to divide the audience into two groups - those that played the original and those that haven't touched the series before. Like any good writer your job is to address both audiences without boring either - you want just enough information to satisfy both while getting your point across. We started our original review of Dead Island with the conclusion - "go buy it." But Dead Island: Riptide isn't so cut and dry.

Riptide takes place immediately following the events of the first game, with our four survivors escaping the zombie outbreak of Banoi in a helicopter. They find their way onto a military ship, but are soon placed in holding cells, and this is where the game begins. Since our survivors are immune to the zombie contagion, it's obvious that whatever governments are involved in this would want to poke and prod and experiment on them. Soon you'll wake up as whatever character you chose and realize all hell has, once again, broken loose.

Dead Island: Riptide continues the use of a mixed level system that allows players of any level to play with each other. I think it's because of this feature that Techland was able to allow players to import their previous character into Riptide. I had no problem starting the game with a level 39 Sam B - this includes all previous abilities unlocked. Sam B, Logan Carter, Xian Mei, and Purna all return as well as a 5th playable character, John. John is all about hand to hand combat - he even sports some Wolverine style claws, while Sam B is your blunt weapons guy. Logan is good at throwing grenades and knives while Xian is about blades and Purna is about guns.

Once again what sets Dead Island: Riptide apart from the other zombie games is the focus on melee combat. While firearms, grenades, and other military style weapons do exist - they are rare and the bulk of the combat will be in close quarters. For the most part the melee combat can be incredibly satisfying - with zombies taking area specific damage. Tired of an Thug swinging his arms at you? Cut them off. That zombie running too fast? Break his legs. The thud and crunch of this combat definitely adds to it and it seems the physics system has been tweaked making zombies easier to knock down thanks to their momentum.

Killing these zombies with melee weapons you find, create, and upgrade is definitely the highlight. Classic mods like electric and poison return, adding buffs to your giant wrenches, baseball bats, and anything else. Mods still require finding a blueprint to create and you'll still need to find components which are randomly scattered throughout the luggage and cases conveniently scattered throughout the island. I don't know what these zombies had in mind in their former lives, but I do know they traveled with a ton of cash and duct tape.

The weapons and melee definitely make up the combat system's core and when you combine it with the stamina system combat becomes a bit more strategic. It's divide and conquer most times, that is, you'll want to knock down groups of zombies and then deal with them one at a time. Of course the monkey wrench is when the game throws exploding, spitting, or otherwise generally nastier zombies at you. As satisfying as the melee combat is, the gun combat is very floaty and weak. And just like the previous game there comes a point where you aren't fighting *just* zombies and you'll be shot back at - meaning guns almost become a requirement.

The new Island of Palanoi is a bit different than the original game's resort island, for the most part though the surroundings are pretty similar. What's odd is I found a lot of cookie cutter huts and areas, down to the placement of the objects in them. It sort of broke the immersion at times and also made navigation a little bit more difficult. Luckily there are some pretty unique areas that break up the bright beaches and huts, like the underground tunnels which require the player to throw flares to light up his or her path.

The biggest disappointment I have with Dead Island: Riptide are the missions themselves. And perhaps this is a greater problem indicative of open world type games - but every single damn quest was a fetch mission. Go here and gather X items and bring them to me. It's time we design better things to do in these style of games. Thankfully Riptide does mix it up slightly with "Defense Missions." During these horde mode-style scenarios you'll have to defend a certain camp or building from a set number of zombies. There's some light defense elements like gun emplacements, fences, and mines you can set up to build a greater defense, but for the most part it's kill or be killed. Vehicles also return with the new addition being boats which get you through the flooded jungles, but using either cars or boats doesn't seem as necessary as before.

Not for the squemish

Every one of the game's core characters as well as plenty of the supporting characters have these optional side quests that can boost both camp's defenses or yield you rewards. Completing all of these can definitely take some time, but there's only so many fetch quests I can do. Luckily co-op helps make these less of a burden and less of a requirement to actually complete.

Once again Techland has done a superb job of making this game extremely approachable for any co-op player. If there's someone "in your area" while playing you can quickly press a button to join their world. Level disparity is a non-issue as the game scales the game automagically to each player. While every character has their specialities, you can play a game with any number or combination of characters and players can easily fill in roles akin to something like an MMO. You can tank, aggro, and deal damage with the best co-op group and the zombies don't stand a chance. There's also a new group rampage option which really gets things frantic.

The game's engine has clearly been upgraded a bit - the game is gorgeous.

Just like Dead Island, Riptide is all about co-op. It changes the pace of the game from a slow trudge to a chaotic, almost humorous ride. The game is clearly designed around the mode of play and in a way, is almost unbalanced in both directions. Single player folks will find themselves dying too often while co-op players might find things a bit too easy. Luckily the death penalty is small - just burn some cash - so even if you die you'll be back in the action quickly.

Dead Island: Riptide isn't so much of a sequel as it is an expansion - though a very large one. The core of the game remains the same and there's very little improvement on existing systems. That said you'll find more areas, more zombies, more weapons and mods, and a new character to play with. We did run into a few technical issues, but a day one patch seems to have ironed those out. Fans of the original game who want more Dead Island will enjoy what Riptide has to offer and new players should find some enjoyment here as well, though the story is a bit on the weak side. But who plays zombie games for the story?

The Co-Optimus review of Dead Island: Riptide is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.