PAX Prime 2012: Dead Island: Riptide
In premise alone, Dead Island had me. Employing the same type of unique zombie juxtaposition that Romero did in Dawn of the Dead, it was a brilliant blend of the ordinary and the extraordinary. However, in its execution, Dead Island never quite handled its iconic setting with the care I thought it deserved. With that in mind, I was eager to see if Techland’s undead follow-up was the game I hoped it could be.
Dead Island: Riptide takes place immediately after the events of Dead Island (Spoiler alert: you survived). Not long after the survivors escape the first island their helicopter is forced to make an emergency landing, stranding the group on a new, but equally dead, island. What was striking about the new locale was the change in landscape, which felt different but maintained the exotic feeling of the former. The original was punctuated by the crystal clear ocean and immaculate beaches, while the Riptide live-demonstration, which was shown on PC, created a more claustrophobic feel thanks to its beautiful, dense jungle.
We were told that Riptide’s main theme was water, which covers roughly 50% of the game’s map. Now that doesn’t mean half the game world isn’t traversable by foot, but it does mean a large portion of it is navigable by boat. Unlike the cars of Dead Island, the boat seats the driver in the rear, allowing them to see any other players on-board in front of them. We were told zombies could grab hold of the small craft and even attempt to board it, though it wasn’t clear if this could only happen in standing water or if this round of zombies were swimmers.
The other major focus Techland revealed about Riptide was the idea of defense. With the previous game, Techland wanted to make a survival-horror game that had players constantly on the run. In Riptide they wanted to employ the other major trope of zombie fiction: holing up and taking a stand.
The majority of the demonstration consisted of the two players from Techland playing a new defense type mission, where they had to defend an old ruin from an onslaught of the undead. Land mines were placed around the outskirts of the structure, while rolls of chain link fence could be deployed to block entrances, providing a brief reprieve from the horde. As the zombies advanced some were blown apart by mines while others attempted to tear through the fences. Stragglers were picked off via gunfire or a pair of miniguns the survivors had salvaged from the helicopter. The entire sequence had the feeling of a round of Orcs Must Die!, but less zany and more visceral. In addition to varying up quest objectives, Techland hopes the defense missions will be viewed as a sort of “last stand” for players, encouraging them to use their items rather than hoard them, which is something they noticed many players doing in the first game.
Overall, Riptide looked like more of an extension of Dead Island’s concepts rather than a complete overhaul. Techland promised the game would ship with the requisite new weapons, skills and blue prints, as well as the option to import characters of any level from the original. At this admittedly early stage, Riptide’s new focus and mechanics appear to be shambling together nicely. Whether or not Techland will iron out some of the other aspects of their apocalyptic vacation remain to be seen; I’m hopeful.