The follow-up to the surprise hit of the same title, Dead Island: Riptide is now on shelves and ready for you to play with your buddies. Some of you are like me -- you’d heard of the zombie RPG original but missed it in the flood of constant video game releases. So, with fresh and untarnished eyes, here’s my look at Dead Island: Riptide.

Dead Island: Riptide takes place on a tropical island overrun with zombie hordes. As with any good zombie game, they need to be exterminated. Because this game is designed to be played cooperatively, with up to three other friends, you won’t have to slaughter the undead all on your own. As long as you have some friends to play with and an internet connection, you'll have a fun time covering each other's backs along the way.

For fans of the first game, you’ll be glad to know that the four main characters have returned and one new character has been added for good measure. I chose the new character, John Morgan, for my play-through. Specifically, he is designed with an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. He can be equipped with some sweet brass knuckles, Wolverine-like battle claws, or just skin and bone. The combat features some visceral animations including exploding heads and aerial head stomps. Also, the game developer’s clever use of rag-doll physics makes the slaughtered undead flip-and-flop playfully throughout the levels. For a game designed as a first-person shooter, the developers did a nice job implementing believable hand-to-hand combat. It was a nice change of pace from other first-person games where bullets are the only way to progress quickly.

From the start, Dead Island: Riptide places a heavy emphasis on the wide variety of zombie enemies you’ll face. Through the first few chapters of the game, you’ll splash through various island locales against zombies playing possum in the water, chomping on dead bodies, and spewing bile. Not only do the zombies have various states of being, each zombie is designed to have its appendages lopped off. Its a effective design element that has been done before but adds a nice dose of terror as zombies continue to assault, even if they can only crawl ahead.

Crafted with an RPG construct at its core, Dead Island: Riptide makes each battle a mix of planning, improvisation, and quick reflexes. This game is not a straightforward shooter like Left 4 Dead 2 (albeit a great game but one that focuses on teamwork and not upgrading weapons). Instead, paramount to survival in Dead Island: Riptide is counting bullets, conserving flares, upgrading your gear, and managing your skill tree. You’ll be forced to pay attention to the health of your team while looking to mod your weapons in various ways (my personal favorites were the shocker mods). There’s more to this game than just cutting through the undead, you’ll need to successfully juggle multiple weapons to survive efficiently.

I couldn't shake the feeling that Dead Island: Riptide is very similar to the two Borderlands games. Both deliver a FPS/RPG hybrid with a heavy emphasis on loot comparison. As in Borderlands, many battles in Dead Island will result in weapon pick-ups to compare with what’s in your backpack. Unfortunately, the menus in Dead Island are clunky and not as organized in comparison. Because these menus are so poorly designed, a simple task like comparing one giant hammer to a slightly different hammer is inefficient. Most of the time, I just dumped the weapons with the smallest resale value and kept moving along. Unfortunately for Dead Island: Riptide, as a whole, the game isn’t polished enough to come close to the excellence of Borderlands.

Another inconvenience that I had with the menu system was the quickdraw menu. The quickdraw menu exists so that players can pre-set their weapons to allow for an arsenal change mid-combat. I found the selection wheel had too many slots and was too slow to effectively make weapon selection quick enough. Instead of using the quickdraw menu, I stuck with the standard weapon change button and hoped that my next weapon had a chance to kill an attacking zombie.

In addition to a clunky menu system, Dead Island: Riptide suffers from a range of nice to ugly graphics. While in one instance I marveled at the scenery off in the distance, I was then disgusted by the horrendous water effects just at my feet. The facial animations of the main characters are less than thrilling and the game should look better for the price tag that they are charging. And, although I enjoyed the flippity flop ragdoll physics, defeated zombies would constantly clip through the surrounding walls and floors. In varying situations, the work on the look of this game either seems rushed or incomplete. A show piece for the glory of modern video game graphics this is not.

In the story department, I didn’t connect with the characters as much I might like. Still, when it comes to zombie games, my standards are pretty low. To keep me interested, a developer need only place zombies in my vicinity and I will be drawn to them with a rabid bloodlust. I am pretty easy to please in this regard. The story wasn't so bad as to turn me off but it never engaged me as better games, like Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising.

In the end, Dead Island: Riptide is a mixed bag of experiences. I was looking for another opportunity to kill zombies and this game does that well. Too bad the menus are lackluster, the graphics are inconsistent, and the game itself seems short on polish. I enjoyed the visceral experience of destroying the zombie menace but I cannot recommend it above the much more fulfilling games in this genre. Perhaps, by the time they take this game to the next generation, they will have smoothed out the jagged edges.


This review was based on the PlayStation 3 version of Dead Island: Riptide. A copy was provided to us by the publisher.