I’m fairly certain that many of you will already have made up your minds on Dead Island: Riptide, off the back of what you saw of the first game. If you played it and had a good time, then this is probably on your watch list already, but it’s doubtful that this is really going to win over those that didn’t get on with the original.
Whichever side of the fence you are on, Techland have certainly been taking a lot of feedback from fans on board during the development process. These range from basic points about the bugginess of the original’s release to tweaking the combat and environments, so that there should be better production values across the board.
The game finds our original cast of four crashed onto another Pacific Island, but the prologue to the game actaully sees you stepping into the shoes of an additional playable character, John Morgan.
Meet Morgan. When he's not shooting things in the face, he makes a mean omelette.
He was a cook aboard an Australian Naval vessel, and you play as he tries to escape this ship as it’s overwhelmed by zombies. Luckily, he’s also a trained hand-to-hand expert, so equip some Wolverine styled claws and go punch some zombies in the face.
Morgan isn’t the only new aspect shown off during this introductory chapter, and the tight confines of the ship’s bowels are the perfect place to use the new water dynamics, as you fight through the flooding rooms and passageways of the sinking ship.
The water mechanics really go hand in hand with the new dynamic weather system too, which will make the wind howl in your ears, as darkened skies and sheets of rain hamper your view that much more convincingly than the original’s rather limp efforts at changing weather. When they want it to, Techland will now really be able to ratchet up the tension and pressure of whatever predicament you find yourselves in by leveraging these two elements.
In particular, you should expect the tropical weather to get a lot worse when you have to defend a set position against the hordes. An example during my hands on came as we held an area with a few huts and a handful of survivors, putting up mesh fencing across points of access, to at least control the influx a little. With zombies coming from all sides, though, that was something of an exercise in futility, and there were quite a few that got in to the area, and could attack NPCs.
Whilst you still want to protect them, NPCs thankfully aren’t quite so reliant on you this time around. Yes, you still lead the way, and purely by virtue of being immune to the virus, you will often be trekking on your own, but you might get some gun toting support fighting alongside you. If you can keep them alive, they could come into their own and help turn fights in your favour down the line.
The combat has had its own additional spit and polish, with melee combat still front and centre. You’ll see your favourite electricity and heat-based mods returning, mixed in with fresh twists like the Barbecue mod’s blowtorch augmented blade – everyone loves the smell of burning zombie flesh.
One of the biggest changes to combat is the overhaul which guns are getting. Previously ammo was too scarce, the variety in weaponry too small, and I personally found the guns a bit weak compared to a good stab in the eye socket, but all of these elements should be boosted quite a bit in Riptide.
I got to briefly muck about with fun new guns like the nail gun and flare gun, the former with retrievable nails, and the latter naturally setting zombies alight. Gun play should definitely be a more valid and appealing option, even as the game keeps a firm focus on the melee.
This new zombie has a particularly unpleasant form of attack. The developers have made changes throughout the game to keep things fresh.
So for the island of Planai and the town of Henderson, large endeavours have been made to keep the game looking more interesting to look at and pleasingly colourful. The dynamic weather will naturally help to have the idyllic cobbled streets, strewn with upended parasols and decked out with bunting, rapidly darken as the clouds and miserable rain draw in, adding more water to the already waterlogged streets.
This more opulent location, compared to the squalor of Moresby, was filled with the more upper class kind of resident and traveller. As the infection and weather systems hit the island hardest, the majority of these were caught in the lower parts of a more vertically designed city.
This plays into a bit of risk versus reward in the game, as you might decide to wade in and fight off larger numbers of floating zombies for the chance of more valuable items to scavenge, rather than take the high ground and be safer.
There’s much more beyond what I saw and played, from driveable boats to new types of special zombie, but with Riptide, Techland seem to be taking the higher, safer route. That’s not a bad thing, as with Dead Island they had a flawed release brimming with possibilities for further games.
So I don’t begrudge them sticking with a similar environment and the same cast of characters, and busying themselves instead with banishing the more egregious issues and refining the core mechanics to better realise that potential.
Dead Island: Riptide is set for release on April 23rd in North America and April 26th for Europe.