Review by rubicon14

"About as enjoyable as an actual zombie outbreak"

OVERVIEW

Dead Island: Riptide is the worst video game I have played in a long time. It was so bad I didnt have the will to finish it. The graphics are outdated. The feel of combat is atrocious, as everything from running to swinging a weapon feels clunky and unnatural. The plot and voice-acting are awful. The whole game is just a mess and I really had to dig to find things about it I liked.

GRAPHICS/AUDIO
This game constantly reminded me of House of the Dead, the Sega light-gun game that was so popular you've probably seen it in a movie theatre or arcade (or, if you were unfortunate enough to be born after 1992, a "Dave and Buster's"). That's not a compliment. The graphics look just like that game, and it's about 10 years old. But what really triggered my memory of that game was the obnoxious camera movement and enemies that come from nowhere. Swinging the camera around violently is a great way to increase difficulty in a light gun game because it disorients the player and tests your reaction time - eventually you have to put in more quarters, but you're typically not playing for a prolonger period of time. This does NOT work in a first person shooter. The game constantly made me feel sea-sick. A wildly swinging camera, combined with a built-in blur, and constantly being surrounded or surprised by zombies requiring you to keep your head on a swivel...the game plays like a bad hangover. It's hard to critique the design or texturing because you're constantly moving or blurring it. The outdoor environments look nice, but don't expect much freedom within them - the game is surprisingly linear for an island setting.

Voice acting is awful, just awful. And there is a LOT of dialogue. When you pick your character you get a poorly voiced monologue. Then the opening cutscene plays and its just a jumble of poor writing, unconvincing dialogue, ugly characters (all of whom appear cross-eyed and hardly resemble the shapes of any people I've ever met), and what sounds like bad fake Australian accents and jingo. If I had a nickel for every time someone said "bugger" or "buggered" I could buy enough Foster's beer to make the real world as blurry as this game. Music was uninspiring and I didn't notice it much.

PLOT - NO SPOILERS

You've seen this B movie stuff before. There's a zombie outbreak, you're trying to survive, but the government can't be trusted, and there's a shadowy corporate-type running the show with sinister goals for the zombie outbreak. The game seems to take itself a bit too seriously with its storyline, as if they really expect the player to care about what happens to the half baked cookie cutter characters. There isnt much in the humor department either. In all fairness the game really doesn't seem to be plot-driven - the plot is just there to have one, it seems, so it's not worth addressing much in this review.

GAMEPLAY
I don't know why it's so hard to make a good zombie game. Mix two parts Dead Space, one part Resident Evil, one part Fallout (for the open-apocalyptic-world) and one part Rebuild (a great little strategy/resource management zombie game), and tah-dah, you've just made the zombie apocalypse a mix of fun, terror, and survival. Or, for a simpler concept, just look at the Zombies mode from Call of Duty Black Ops (arguably the best part of that game) for a model of how team-based combat against swarms of the undead can be fun, challenging, and offer great replay value. Or, for more a more story driven experience, look at how The Walking Dead explores how average people survive and cling to their humanity.

Dead Island might bring the terror and the survival, but not for the right reasons, and it certainly doesn't have the fun. Enemies are quick to surround you and will pop up from any direction (even where you've recently cleared them out), which is frustrating but more importantly it's done in a way that feels unfair. When you're caught off guard in a good survival horror game, the reaction after killing the surprise foe is usually something like "nice try, game, that scared me a bit and you almost got me." In Dead Island, it's more like "how the $%&*!" followed by "SWING THE WEAPON FASTER." Because when your character has all the speed and finesse of the robotic loader Ripley controls in Aliens, limply swinging a crowbar a few times until you run out of stamina just isn't fun when zombies are literally coming out of the woodwork to jump on you and trigger a Quick Time Event which in turn makes the camera swing, the animation to slow, and leave you vulnerable. Certain special attacks aggravate the problem because the zombies continue to come at you while you finish your animation, making some of your best moves carry a huge vulnerability. In a game where melee combat is a fundamental gameplay mechanic, it's shockingly buggy and feels awkward and anything but fluid. It's less frustrating when you play co-op, but still not what I would call fun.

Most of the missions are fetch quests, which just feel like a lazy way to make the game longer. They also don't make sense in the context of the plot of the game, or even in the context of zombie movies. NPCs often stay right where they are after they serve their purpose, like in Borderlands, instead of joining you or heading to a place of refuge that you can defend with other survivors. Maybe I'm nit-picking, but it just felt lazy, as if missions were designed without regard for what type of game this actually is.

While you can assemble and customize weapons, they break at an absurdly fast rate. Guns will get through a few clips before needing maintenance, which if done properly would have been an ok way to introduce resource management into the game but its silly and frustrating here. And somehow big heavy weapons like crowbars also break, as if a 10 pound bar of reinforced steel wouldn't be able to stand up to a few zombie heads and limbs. The game has an emphasis on looting weapons and parts, similar to Borderlands, but it just isn't as fun, and it's also too difficult to see and pick up those items. I absolutely loved the weapon customization system in Dead Space 3, or even just the cannabalistic weapon maintenance system from Fallout 3, and while I'm not holding this game to that high of a standard, it just goes to show that this kind of thing has been done before, properly, and to screw it up this badly is indicative of the poor quality of the gameplay as a whole.

But nothing compares to the nightmare that is the first level, in which your character is escaping from a sinking and zombie-infested ship while recovering from being drugged, and which may make even seasoned gamers have to take a break to avoid getting sick. It's just an awful introduction to a game that does get better, but not much.

Co-op gameplay improves the experience over single player, but I found actually coordinating a party to be frustrating, especially when trying to get everyone onboard the boat. The game does make it easy for players of different levels to play together, by auto-scaling enemies to player level, which is nice, but I really had to dig for features in this game to appreciate.

The defense missions, in which you have to defend an area, are really just grind areas, as the limited ability to build defenses doesn't allow you to really strategize. I was hoping for a little more flexibility and creativity, like being able to design an elaborate trap that would attract and kill a bunch of zombies to keep my objective safe, but the game doesn't offer that much complexity. Even iOS tower defense games offer more in this department.

In short, the gameplay is just mundane. Almost everything this game has to offer has been done before, and done better.

CONCLUSION
I can't recommend this game to anyone unless they were designing a video game and wanted to use it as a case study for how not to make a video game. I didn't play the first Dead Island, so if you liked the first one you probably don't want to take my word for it and you should consider other reviews or just renting it to form your own opinion (a quick scan at critic reviews showed that most reviews were in the 5/10 or 6/10 range, so most people liked this game more than I did). But if you're like me and are new to the series, or just get frustrated when a game is consistently below average and derivative, this is a game you should stay far away from. It's about as enjoyable as an actual zombie outbreak.

SCORE: 2/10


Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 05/01/13

Game Release: Dead Island: Riptide (US, 04/23/13)


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