When the first Dead Island game was released a couple of years ago it was no secret that it was a much better experience if it was played with other people. There aren’t too many games out there than can offer a truly co-operative experience, where the players actually feel like they’re helping each other instead of playing as a nameless extra character attacking enemies in the same vicinity as their friends but not in anything that could be considered a connected experience.
With this in mind, when we were given the opportunity to take a look at the upcoming sequel – Dead Island: Riptide – we decided that as well as the preview that you hopefully read a couple of weeks ago, we would also get a group of us together and tackle this new island in what was undoubtedly going to be the superior gameplay experience; co-operatively.
Together with Adam and Benjamin, I headed to the island of Palanai, equipped myself with whatever pieces of pseudo-weaponry I could find and started bashing zombie/walker heads in. The following are individual write-ups of our co-op experience. It’s worth mentioning that these impressions are based o a non-final PC preview build.
MARTIN BAKER: The sun is high in the sky, the clear blue waters are lapping onto the beach I’m standing on and I can hear birds circling in the sky. These aren’t any normal birds though, they’re of the carrion variety, circling because the beach is full not only of golden sand and sea-shells, but the rotting corpses of many holiday-makers. This isn’t any normal holiday destination either, this is Palanai, otherwise affectionately known as the second Dead Island.
You thought you escaped Dead Island, you made it to a boat and found your way off of the first island only to find yourself quickly shipwrecked on yet another zombie-infested paradise. Is that scenario a little too coincidental, or have Techland and Deep Silver actually managed to pull off a well-made and fun experience? We headed into co-op to find out.
The preview starts and the first thing we notice is the fact that we’ve got three hours to play as much of the game as we can within the time limit; pretty generous as far as previews go. Nevertheless, we head out to our first waypoint, a survivor held encampment named, ironically, ‘Paradise’. Once there, and we’ve helped defend the camp by killing – or is it re-killing? – all of the walkers that are shuffling around (yes, they’re really called walkers) and putting up fences to keep them out. Once that’s done we grab some quests and head out to explore the island and bash some zombie skulls in.
When the game first starts, the weapons that you’ll find aren’t very good, you’ll need to upgrade them and modify them a little to make them more usable; all of which costs money. Dotted around the island are workbenches that can be used to do this – along with repairing weapons, which you’ll be doing a lot – and, at least to begin with, everything seems way too expensive, however, there’s so much cash laying around the island, in bags, laying on the ground as well as on the defeated zombies, that by the time we reached the end of the three hours, none of us were struggling for cash. The zombies can be pretty hard to kill too, especially when you’re with a group, as they appear to scale in difficulty with how many people are in your team, so upgrading your weapons and keeping them in tip-top condition is an absolute must if you intend to survive; as is sticking together.
Fast Travel is something that was severely lacking in Dead Island: Riptide, at least in the preview build that we were playing. The island is relatively large, and many of the quests will have you backtracking over large parts of it, so having the ability to take you and your party directly to a location that you’ve been before would have been appreciated. It doesn’t matter how good the co-op experience is, if you’re spending most of it driving around and getting lost in the undergrowth, turning down wrong roads and having to stop to clear the way, all before you even reach the quest objective, then I’d question whether you’re even having fun anymore. Thankfully there is one form of Fast Travel in Dead Island: Riptide, an ability that allows players to instantly transport themselves to the lead player’s location by tapping a single button, however, even this feature seemed to only appear sporadically and seemed to alternate about who it thought was the “lead player”. Still, this is a preview build and there’s every chance the developer will fix small issues like that before the game’s final release.
Driving around the island of Palanai, despite the lack of Fast Travel points, felt quite satisfying – although understandably slightly awkward when using a keyboard and mouse – and only took a little bit of getting used to before we were all bombing around the island like pros; with me at the wheel. The largest issue I had with the driving was that I couldn’t look behind me. At various points throughout our experience I would get into a situation where I needed to reverse the vehicle out of a tight parking spot, however, without the ability to look all the way around, this meant that I just had to hit reverse and hope for the best. When playing Dead Island in co-op, especially when you’re trying to navigate to specific points on the map, it’s much easier to have another player have the map open and give the driver directions. Opening the map isn’t like it is in Far Cry 2, where you can see the road and the map at the same time, here, you’re looking at the road or the map, never both at the same time. This can make driving and navigating rather difficult when you’re on your own.
All in all, Dead Island: Riptide isn’t going to be entering into anyone’s thoughts when it comes to thinking about the Game of the Year for 2013, neither is it going to be winning any awards for originality, but as a purely co-op experience it does a lot of things right. I haven’t had as much fun in a co-op game for a long time, Dead Island: Riptide scratched an itch that I didn’t know I had but now won’t go away. I’ll be picking up the game when it’s released, but only if friends are doing so too, because as a single-player experience it’s a little lacking. But that’s not the focus of the game. I think it’s time for a holiday; but one with zombies.
ADAM COOK: Having enjoyed (but not finished Dead Island) I was interested in what Riptide could do to pull me back in. But foolishly, I hadn’t counted on the co-op aspect, and after 3 hours spent with my colleagues on a PC preview build, it felt like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was playing in my head; permanently. Despite it always feeling like an amalgamation of parts, thrown together, if you get people playing at the same time, it’s enormous fun.
But I’m worried that people might think I’m a bit of a sicko, because as a zombie (or walker, I’m really not sure what we’re calling them these days) climbs up from the floor onto their knees, I’d constantly run over and kick them right in the ass, knocking them back down, before hovering over their head area like a sadist, and smashing it right in, with a sharp, modded-with-nails object. However, the fun doesn’t end there. For example, playing as a gun-specialist, after I finally found a pistol, I saw a shuffling corpse walking towards us in the distance, so I popped him in the head. It wasn’t enough to kill him, but he fell, then instantly, Ben and Martin sprinted past me on either side, and proceeded to batter the fallen walker. It almost felt unfair on the poor undead fool, but it was hilarious, and like a Benny Hill moment.
The upgrade trees feel purposely designed for co-op play too. You have a rage meter that builds as you fight the hordes of undead, and when full allows you to unleash your “fury” skill. Mine, as the gunslinger, was to draw my hidden pistol and auto aim at anyone and everyone I could shoot (think Red Dead Redemption’s bullet time), but as I upgrade my “Fury” skill tree, I could also channel points into things that benefited the team even more. Auto health regeneration is superb, and simply required me to tap the fury button a second time to activate. It’s all about choice, and on your own, in single player, you’ll never need these functions, and will be happy with the singular fury skill. But it would feel like a disservice, because there is so much joy to be had with Riptide in co-op, and the way the characters are designed, with their skill trees differing from character to character, really are aimed at playing with friends.
It may end up being a guilty pleasure game, but as those three hours drew to a close, I wanted more, and we finished our session almost begrudgingly, feeling as if time had escaped us. Dead Island: Riptide is designed with the co-op player in mind, it’s pure, ridiculous fun, and that’s pretty cool, right?
BENJAMIN MALTBIE: Dead Island is probably the most average game I’ve ever loved, and I mean that about both existing titles. Kind of like the Dynasty Warriors of zombie titles, the title offers immense reward and asks nothing in return.
Four players can wander around in a complete monotony free, tropical paradise with short, digestible missions of a large variety at their finger-tips. It’s nice to always have something to do, even if that “something” boils down to hiking from A to B and then back to A. It’s a bit like running errands for your mother, made exciting by the lurking danger of the undead. Or walkers. Or whatever we’re calling them now.
In return for your endeavours you are rewarded with experience which will make the next time you run errands more enjoyable. The gameplay just keeps pulling you forward in the absence of a compelling plot.
Adam, Martin and I found ourselves outnumbering the zombies quite often in the 3 hours of playtime we were allotted. Sometimes, despite being the protagonist, I felt like a bully as the three of us, to comic effect, kicked a lethargic zombie, his outstretched hand clutching for mercy. We game him none. And then laughed about it.
The survivors also appear kind of lazy and unenthused as the undead rends flesh from bone. Really, everything about this game is kind of relaxing and mindless, and the NPCs seem to agree.
Basically, Techland has created a place for friends to chill with one another. The exact opposite what of their infamous trailer would lead you to believe.
Dead Island: Riptide is due to be released on Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on 26th April, 2013 in Europe and 23rd April, 2013 in North America.