Developer: Techland / Publisher: Deep Silver / Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC / Release date: April 26th
Dead Island was something of an underground hit when it was released in late 2011, its gore-filled beach party massacre-themed trailers capturing the imaginations of gamers around the world. Thanks to the masterful hype surrounding the game, preorders went through the roof and it was almost impossible to get hold of a copy for the first couple of months after its release. Escaping the zombie-infested island paradise of Banoi wasn't all it was cracked up to be, however, with a catalogue of gameplay and technical issues leading to disappointment for many players. Dead Island: Riptide promises to right the wrongs of its predecessor, and finally deliver the game that many had hoped the original would be.
Described as a spin-off rather than a sequel, Riptide's story begins directly after the events of the original game. Having escaped the island of Banoi by helicopter, the group finds assistance in the form of an aircraft carrier. Soon after they land on the carrier, things take a nasty turn when a badly-timed monsoon arrives, bringing with it the virus that had infected the inhabitants of Banoi. Forced to destroy the ship in order to save themselves, our survivors are eventually washed up on the flooded island of Palanai (there's just been a monsoon, remember) where they discover Banoi wasn't the only island filled with danger...
With this being a spinoff, all of the main characters from the first game return (plus a new extra one is also available for good measure) and the option is there to import your character from a previous Dead Island save. It's worth noting that only basic character information is carried over and none of your old weapons will be imported, so if you want to use an old high-level character then the enemies in Riptide will be of an equally high level right from the start. Without your arsenal of weapons you'll need to be prepared for some chaotic battles while you're hunting around for some new equipment.
The first few hours of Riptide will be familiar to anyone who played the original. Startlingly familiar, in fact – Palanai looks almost identical to Banoi, right down to the same abandoned piles of lootable suitcases littering the campsites and courtyards. Gameplay hasn't changed too much either – survivors still gather in safe zones which act as hub areas where you can trade items and accept missions, with a variety of main and side quests to keep you entertained. Now and again you'll be asked to defend these safe zones from a mass zombie onslaught, in a scaled-down tribute to Gears Of War's popular Horde mode.
Weapon customisation also makes a welcome return, with workbenches offering the opportunity to repair and upgrade your current equipment (weapons wear down and eventually break with use so you'll need to keep hold of some cash in order to maintain your favourites) or craft new implements of zombie-dismembering mayhem using parts found while scavenging the environment.
After a while we're introduced to some new enemies and locations, and Riptide starts feeling a bit more substantial. By the time you reach the underground tunnels (roughly halfway into the game) the combination of more destructive weapons and your own choices of skill upgrades will make you feel like the baddest mutant murderer around. Four-player online co-op is supported, and almost encouraged - with no option to change the game's often ruthless difficulty level, there are times when you'll find yourself almost begging for someone to come and help you out.
There are a couple of downsides, however – some of the bugs and glitches from Dead Island have unfortunately returned (blame it on the virus – if Banoi had it then I guess there's no reason Palanai should be any different) with floating trees suddenly falling to the ground for no reason, occasionally fussy controls, and weapons infuriatingly disappearing without a trace. If you've taken a liking to your high voltage Chinese war sword, whatever you do don't use it as a projectile weapon because you might not get it back! If you can look past its flaws though, Riptide is a highly enjoyable continuation of the series. We all like to shoot, slash, and punch our way through vast swathes of zombies once in a while, and if that's what you're in the mood for then this one is well worth investigating.