Dead Island: Riptide might look like an idyllic zombie-fest, but it’s little more than a frustrating mess of half-baked ideas and repetitive combat.

The Good

  • Cool blood effects and dismemberments.

The Bad

  • Boring, repetitive missions
  • Weak voice acting and dialogue
  • Soulless, irritating characters
  • Frustrating combat.

It starts promisingly enough: a mad dash off a sinking ship, a military coup, and a zombie horde just aching to be shown the business end of a shotgun. And then, just like that, the promise is taken away. Dead Island: Riptide teases far more in its opening minutes than it ever manages to deliver across its lengthy campaign. There’s no drama, and little excitement. Instead, there’s a rehash of old ideas, combat that’s fun for all of five minutes, and a seemingly never-ending slog of repetitive missions filled with characters that have the emotional depth of a wet sponge. If there were ever a video game equivalent of smacking your head against a brick wall, Riptide would be it.

Riptide’s combat gets very dull, very quickly.

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The story–and that’s using the word generously–is filled with the sort of terrible dialogue, hammy voice acting, and cliches you’d expect to see in an awful zombie spoof, or at best, a trashy B movie. But there’s no sense of humour or self-awareness here: to Riptide’s detriment, it takes itself very seriously. And that seriousness is hard to swallow when you have to look after a bunch of shallow, argumentative characters who utter irritating swears every few minutes and prove so unlikable that you’re willing them to be torn apart by the zombie horde, just so you can have some peace and quiet. Then there’s the plot itself, which endlessly meanders between government conspiracy, sci-fi, and human interest, without even the slightest sense of direction.

This all makes it so very hard to care about anything that happens in Riptide. By the time you drag yourself through to the disappointing ending, apathy has taken over to the point where you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at even the most grand of revelations. And that’s only if you can muster up enough energy to make it that far. Riptide’s sandbox island of Hanoi isn’t filled with the fun zombie-killing adventures you might expect. Instead, there are fetch quests: lots of fetch quests. And within those fetch quests are yet more fetch quests.

Nearly every single one of the main missions and side quests requires you to head over to a part of the island, find an item, and bring it back to base. Often, before you can retrieve said item, the game makes you fetch something for the person who holds the item, thus creating a fetch quest within a fetch quest. What’s more, the narrative reasoning behind each quest is questionable. Why some stranded villager might be after a few measly bucks when the entire island has been overrun with flesh-eating zombies that threaten the very existence of humankind is puzzling.

Even the grisly visuals fail to spice things up.

Even the grisly visuals fail to spice things up.

To make matters worse, the combat that ties the whole thing together remains largely unchanged from that of Dead Island, which is to say it’s massively frustrating. The focus is on melee weapons, ranging from blunt objects like baseball bats and shovels, through to blades like carving knives and sickles. Most can be upgraded using items scavenged from around the island, with hidden blueprints giving you access to wilder designs. And initially at least, bludgeoning a zombie to death with an improvised, nail-covered baseball bat is amusing, thanks to the resulting blood splatters, severed limbs, and grisly sound effects.

The limitations of the combat soon become clear, though. Attacking zombies still feels wildly inaccurate, slow, and very dull, making it difficult to truly master. The result is that the combat quickly deteriorates into a repetitive mess as you kick a zombie backward, flail randomly at it, back off while it attacks, and then repeat the whole process ad nauseam. A stamina bar ensures you can’t just spam an attack–particularly when you’re using heavier weapons that drain the bar faster–but rather than giving the game a more realistic feel, it just further enhances the dull combat.

Dead Island: Riptide might look like an idyllic zombie-fest, but it’s little more than a frustrating mess of half-baked ideas and repetitive combat.

By Mark Walton