For even the most inattentive players, it doesn’t take long to realize that Dead Island: Riptide, the follow-up to 2011’s flawed but fun first-person action-RPG zombie-slaughter-fest Dead Island, isn’t concerned with breaking any sort of radical ground in the genre. The game is essentially a superfluous carbon copy (or, appraised generously, the equivalent of a weighty DLC add-on package) of its somewhat divisive predecessor, albeit with a fresh assortment of polished supplementary content thrown in for good measure. Yet, even as the rapt developers at Techland shortsightedly avoid amending many of the most exasperating issues that depreciated the original, Riptide stands as an aptly daffy, gruesome, sporadically amusing experience, due predominately to its fine-tuned role-playing elements that rapidly become explicitly habit-forming.
It becomes apparent early on that Riptide’s narrative is basically a hurriedly scribbled footnote on the bottom of a blood-stained manifesto. The few fortuitous individuals who escaped with their lives at the conclusion of Dead Island encounter a new tag-along partner not long before becoming marooned on yet another godforsaken isle occupied by the undead; that’s about the gist of it. Run-of-the-mill story missions are intercut with miscellaneous sidequests and all manner of strange interactions with delirious NPCs. Tenser team-based objectives do well do break up the flaky monotony, but by the time the inherently deficient synergistic mechanics are comprehended, the damage has already been done.
Appreciatively, Riptide’s wholly cooperative modes are where it unstintingly subsidizes its habitual shortcomings. Banding together with friends at your side (imported characters from a Dead Island save file are allowed, thankfully) is still great regalement; strengthening your weapons and your crew of beleaguered misfits to a hardened batch of reanimated-corpse destroyers rarely becomes tiresome. Riptide actively demonstrates its curbed innovation by implementing communal cash and experience points, as well as suiting the difficulty to the expertise of those playing. A low-level rookie mutilating soulless wights alongside a seasoned veteran will be dealt the appropriate amount of adversity, and so will the expert.
Riptide’s contemporary features aren’t all that inventive or plentiful, but what’s there gets the job done. Revamped, real-time weather effects, flooding, and boat transportation have all been handled well. Dispersed mini-dungeons called Dead Zones harbor concealed sub-bosses that are best tackled with comrades to impart winning strategies. Evolved enemies like the explosive-lobbing Grenadier, the paralysis-inducing Screamer, and the aquatic fake-out Drowner, which appears lifeless on the water’s surface and then springs into action, are notable additions to the series’s roster of supernatural saboteurs.
Quite unexpectedly, Riptide isn’t too preoccupied with presenting an astounding assortment of aesthetics. The graphical prowess is virtually unchanged from the first game, and while the juxtaposition of sanguinary carnage and sunshine-saturated beaches never drifts into irritating self-parody, the intermittent frame drops, texture tears, and extended lagging occasionally prompt the palming of faces and choruses of groans.
Presenting topical substance rather than attacking the root of Dead Island’s persistent problems seems to have been Techland’s method of expansion with Riptide, and the result is a game that obviously lacks imagination but possesses guilty indulgences by the soggy-bottomed barrel-full. It’s clunky, blockheaded, lurid beguilement, distributed by Deep Silver with lack of restraint and no ulterior motives. Check your brain at the door, lest it be devoured later.