(Deep Silver for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
When the zombie apocalypse arrives, it’s not gonna be pretty. Dead Island: Riptide seems to incorporate this inconvenient truth much better than many other undead action titles, which often treat zombies as target practice rather than an immediate, messy threat that must be dealt with.
The follow-up to 2011’s surprise hit, Riptide finds a small group of survivors rummaging through every last corner of a tropical island for supplies, creating makeshift weaponry out of scrap material and fighting off the undead in some of the most up-close-and-personal and blood-soaked ways imaginable. It’s a thrillingly unnerving experience, since you’re not sure you’ll survive a one-on-one encounter with a zombie, let alone a pack, and the game does a great job of ratcheting up the tension even further with an island setting that is choked with dread.
It’s idyllic in spots, but more often it’s chillingly empty — save for packs of the undead — which makes it all the creepier the further you venture from the relative safety of your group, since you never know when you’re going to turn the wrong corner and get overrun. The tools you have to fight back with are just enough to be compelling, but you never feel as though you’re comfortable in combat, which fits the overall tone very well.
Weapons will break and need repair, and attacks are often so sudden that you’ll just have to use whatever is in your hand, which enhances the immediacy of the encounters — just like if a zombie attacked you (the reader) right now at your computer, you’d have to scramble and make do with the nearest pen or pair of scissors to avoid a chompin’. The alternating open and enclosed spaces leads to all sorts of interesting scenarios, and the game is happy to let you find your own solution, whether that is finding high ground and chipping away at your enemies or luring them into a trap or environmental hazard.
It’s a fun and fresh approach to life and death encounters — death in battle gives you the opportunity to be smarter next time rather than urging you to master the game’s combat mechanics. Some of the technical horrors of the original game also conspire to do you in (severe frame rate drops, crashes), but more than anything, the tense zombie encounters are what you’ll remember from the game. Certainly more than the characters or story, it’s the roll-your-sleeves-up, down-to-your-last-bloody-cleaver struggle for survival that Riptide excels at conveying.