Dead Island Riptide picks up right where the original game left off, then promptly crashes the chopper full of survivors into a brand new island full of zombies thanks to a tropical storm. Just when you thought they were in the clear!
So now they’re faced with a new tropical jungle to trek through and explore, as they struggle to find a way of this new and rather more bitey death trap. The game you start playing will be familiar to anyone that got through to the end of Dead Island. You can keep you character progression through to the sequel, with the same RPG-style character developments, crazy customised weapons and probably most importantly the same buddies to play in 4 player co-op.
Underneath this familiarity there have been a lot of tweaks made and Techland have been hard at work with numerous changes to the game engine ever since the original’s release. It’s had a lot more polish applied to it and plenty more optimisations, allowing them to show more zombies on screen at any one time. They’ve also overhauled the systems in place to handle zombie respawning. They will still reappear as you return to areas that you had already cleared, but it’s going to try and handle this in a more intelligent and complex fashion. It will take into account if you’re on a mission, how recently you last passed through, your character’s condition, whether you’re playing in a group and plenty other factors besides.
There's a whole boat load of extras that have been added to the game engine.
Speaking of group play this too has been sharpened up. Just as before, the entire game is playable in co-op but it’s been reworked to be a more seamless system. There are no more level limitations between co-op partners and the game with automatically rebalance to find a middle ground that all players can contribute to tackling. It won’t be too easy, so that higher levels can stroll through without breaking a sweat and will need help from lower levelled players.
The technical side of things with connecting to one another has been made simpler, where the game now automatically mentions if friends are logged in and nearby, letting them just hop into the action. Disconnections are handled more gracefully, and when people drop out of a group, there’s a simple notification before you can carry on with exactly what you were doing before hand. As little hassle as possible.
A bit of spit and polish to the technical side of things is all well and good, but Techland have been adding to the gameplay too. The main new addition on show here was the new set position defences where you must hold a position as best you can for a period of time. The section I saw was a gameplay demonstration from early on in the game.
The only way to get to the next area is by going through some tunnels which lead from underneath a flooded church in the middle of the jungle. So the plan is to get a water pump going to clear the tunnel, which naturally causes a whole bundle of noise, and needs you to fend off incoming zombies for several minutes whilst it does its job.
"Right!" said Fred, "Time to put a fence up."
So first you need supplies to set up your defences, and have to head by boat to scavenge heavy weaponry and supplies from your downed chopper. There’s a lot of water play set to feature in this game, with boats needed to get around waterlogged sections of the island. There’ll naturally be zombies wandering around submerged by the water or stuck in the swamps, so even on a boat you’ll have to be vigilant to threats from all angles and work as a team with any co-op partners.
Once you get to the church you need to defend, and there are a lot of simple ideas combined together. You can set up the pair of miniguns ripped from the chopper to cover various angles of zombie approach, put up wire fencing to cover up a few doorways for a little while, and drop mines in the surrounding swamp for zombies to blow themselves up on. There’s a lot of different ways to set up your defences, and this can naturally depend on if you’re on your own or playing co-op.
As soon as the pump is going, zombies start showing up in numbers, shuffling up to the wire barricades, tearing them down and getting on with trying to chomp on people. If there’s any weakness in your defence, you can shift stuff about for a better angle on the action, trying to stall the moment where you’re fast become overrun.
But the most impressive part of the demo was the environmental weather during this zombie siege. A huge part of the engine overhaul has focussed on adding big weather effects to proceedings, and it’s been used to really ramp up the tension and atmosphere during pivotal battles. The wind builds until it’s roaring at you through the speakers, the skies darken as the clouds close in and torrential rain starts to come down, reducing the distance you can see and making survival even trickier.
The weather in particular feels like it will be a very effective new addition, and combined with all the other tweaks being made for the battle across this new island, this looks like a great follow up to last year’s title. Now, as long as Techland can put it all together in as near to a bug free package for next year’s release…