6 September 2013

Post Thoughts: Dead Island Riptide

The title art piece isn't especially poignant or imaginative... though, like the teaser trailer for the first game, that's not necessarily indicative of the rest of the game.


Dead Island's story was an unapologetic mess - not the actual lore but the presentation of the story through the cutscenes. In Riptide, Techland have advanced the presentation of the story and as a consequence made it far, far better than the first game. However, that's still not to say that Riptide's story is any good. It's not bad, per se, but it won't be winning any awards and the logic behind some of the twists and turns is questionable. If we're all honest with ourselves, though, the story isn't why we're here... is it? Even Techland would probably admit this but I'm glad they have improved this aspect of the game to raise the overall quality of the product.

As it stands, the story is serviceable: a bog-standard, "we need to get ourselves out of this hell-hole", melodrama with overwrought caricatures splashed over a pastiche of over-saturated and exaggerated pacific island backdrops. What's good about the story and the cutscenes is that you understand what is going on and you can generally follow each plot point from one moment to the next (though there's one part where someone was "shoved" that wasn't really explained and I don't know if I missed out on some exposition before that point or not). Not only is the story coherent, it's also decently voice-acted and easily followed.

Speaking of the voice actors: I can listen to these voice actors - especially Purna - there wasn't a single instance of phoned-in VO that you tend to hear especially in RPGs (e.g. Fallout 3/Mass Effect) for the main characters and the emotions that were poured into the roles were quite refreshing to my ears, even if they bordered on the unbelievable many times. It was just nice to hear dialogue that was not blandly read straight from a script like a robot.

The game feels shorter that the first entry in the series. For some people that might be a bad thing but I think, in general, people felt that the original was padded with lots of needless travelling around the same environment. There's also a lot more fast travel points in this game which is nice and has the effect that you can move around more quickly within the same area if you so wish. I didn't keep a track of how many hours I played the game but it was above 10.


As I said above, the characters are completely overwrought; they're stereotypes from different media - some from film, some from music and others appear to be more "local gossip" in origin. They're cheesy and lighthearted and that's why they get a bit of a pass from me. If this where a serious(TM) story and game then I'd have more of an issue with their skin deep motivations and characterisation but Riptide is not much more of a serious game than Serious Sam.

Your choice of four playable characters in the first game has been expanded to five but, since I had played the first game, I chose to continue on my gun-oriented australian ex-cop femme fatale, Purna. Each of the characters have different skillsets, which are broadly similar in scope so you don't strictly have different classes like you do in other games but they're less similar than in games like Left 4 Dead where everyone fits in the same hole. My character choice lands me with specialisation in both firearms and bladed weapons and that's a pretty good deal for me as it provides a good range of options for taking on encounters.

The remaining characters focus on bladed, unarmed, throwing and blunt weapons... and the new guy? Well, I'm not entirely sure what he does!

The island itself - another veritable character in the game - does not disappoint in comparison. Beautiful in the tropical jungles and tourist paradises and depressing in the shanty towns of the poverty-level locals. However, we had seen this mostly before in Dead Island and where the game's art direction really took a turn for the better for myself was once we headed into the town. The style and architecture that was crammed into that space was truly amazing and really has me wanting Dying Light (the follow-up game from Techland) even more in the wait until its release. It was actually interesting to traverse the alleys and roads in this place and even to visit the few story-based locations like the base and castle/fort and it provided and much-needed change in pace and environment - unlike the first game's switch to the town environment which actually felt worse than being in the resort...
Hanging balconies, metal railings, stonework walls... all set against the backdrop of a tropical island? What's not to like?!
Image courtesy of TruKilla


First off, I still love the fighting mechanics and the pure physicality of the Dead Island games. This is retained perfectly in Riptide and is, IMO, the best all-round fighting system I've ever played. It's a joy to jump-kick advancing zombies to the ground and then de-limb one on the floor whilst rising to meet the charge of another wave of assailants. It's fantastic to learn how to judge weapon wind-ups and attack parameters, finally get to the Japanese blades and decapitate three infected, one after the other whilst sidestepping their attacks. The melee mechanics really do work very, very well and is, along with the exploration, the main reason why I like these games so much.

I also like how viable throwing your weapons, especially at the thugs and other "tank-like" enemies is. Doing away with all the smaller enemies around a large threat and then dealing damage to the larger threat is pretty fun - as long as your weapons are retrievable.

Firearms are dealt with in a decent manner - they're just guns and there's not much to see here except that apart from your kicking mechanic you also gain a "butt strike" when wielding a firearm. They also seem weak when you first get them and they do also take a long time to start showing up in the game, much like the first Dead Island. One thing I didn't like on the console (PS3) version for the firearm use is that it has a sticky targeting, which means that your gun will aim at the centre of the chest of the zombe you are aiming at when looking down the sights and it is very difficult to move the reticule up to the head or off to a limb without jumping off and away from the enemy entirely.

Weapon modifiers (e.g. Strong, deadly, decapitating, cripling etc.) aren't at all explained and most of them aren't obvious. It's obvious that a decaptitating or cripling weapon modifier will result in a higher percentage chance of the respective debilitation but what about the rest? It would be nice if the game explained it a bit!

They have changed the proficiency and leveling mechanic. What appears to have happened is that, despite your carried-over level from the first game, you have the same power/damage curve as was in the original from level 0. This results in stamina usage being incredibly high as it was when you were very low level in the original game but once you level up your weapon class proficiency you then are able to perform as you had previously in the original. So they have basically managed to reset the player ability through putting these proficiencies in the game.

Combined with this, the kick has had a stamina cost built into it. Reading up on this issue, I found that Techland had implemented this in the original game in an update - though I never played the game with that update. Personally, while it may make logical sense that kicking takes stamina as jumping or dodging does, the amount of stamina cost for one kick (more than swinging a weapon twice) is very high and it did reduce the fun of the mechanic and resultant gameplay early in the game.

Another way that they reset your abilities, without resetting your level, is to only provide you with low-level equipment at the beginning of the game. This is deadly and increases the difficulty exponentially because the enemies scale with your level. So, when bringing a character over from the original game, you are a level 30+ character stuck with weapons that perhaps don't even have a level requirement and since the weapons in the shops are so ridiculously priced it's impossible to even afford anything decent until you happen across something as a drop from an enemy or from an item chest.

The hit detection seems to be a bit dodgy as well. Sometimes your kick will visibly miss an opponent but make them, and other aggressors stumble backwards as if they were hit. This is fine for me since you are looking at them on the screen and you do not know where exactly the foot will make contact with because it is not situated in the centre of the screen: the game is making the (correct) assumption that you were trying to kick those enemies and helps you along a bit. Unfortunately, this only makes the inverse that much more infuriating so that when you think you should have made contact with an enemy both with your kick or with your weapon and you do not it is frustrating - especially because you will most certainly take damage in that situation.

Another mechanic which is dealt with differently in other games (such as Skyrim) is unstoppable animations. These include the head stomp and the new jump attack mechanic. In other games an unstoppable animation makes you invulnerable to enemy damage or, at least, pauses other enemies' attacks. Riptide doesn't and in so doing relegates these mechanics into uselessness. The head stomp, even when upgraded is incredibly slow, both in the wind-up and wind-down. Yes, it automatically kills any enemy on the floor (as long as the hit detection doesn't mess up!) but the thing about this is that only the weakest enemies can be knocked down - the ones that are easiest to kill and have the lowest hit points... which means that it isn't that useful as a combat shortener. Also, since you can be attacked when performing the head stomp, you should not (and really cannot) perform it when in combat with more than two or three enemies nearby as you will take a lot of damage from them - which doesn't interrupt your animation, leaving you helpless. Finally, there is another move available to you which is faster, able to be backed out of and does as much or more damage: the down/up strike.

The down/up strike (my naming) becomes available when you look down at an enemy that is lying on the floor. All's you have to do is hit the attack button once or twice and you will perform a downward swipe or a downward and then follow-up upward swipe respectively. This attack will reliably kill any weak, knockdownable enemy in those two hits. You can also still move around or dodge or interrupt the attack with a jump the same as any of your other normal weapon swipes. This attack will also hit any other enemies in front of you on the upward swipe, knocking them and interrupting their attacks and advance. This makes the head stomp a complete waste of skill point allocation (not that you can undo it from the first game if you had it anyway!) and a complete waste in the game play as well because there is never a real reason to use it. Pretty much the same can be said for the jump attack.

One good thing that this series update does is to reduce your inventory management. In the original, your inventory slot limitation covered throwables and secondary items such as alcohol and medikits. In Riptide only your melee weapons and firearms are counted and this makes the game more enjoyable as a whole as you're not constantly having to either traipse back to a shop or discard items you may want later on. The storage limit (i.e. the guy who holds onto items for you) has also been increased significantly and I never got to the point where I could test the bug that happened in the original whereby you would go over the limit and lose the items that had been put in first...

A change that is a bit peculiar is the addition of a zillion workbenches. In the original, they weren't all that common, meaning that you had to manage your weapon durability and degradation fairly carefully and it was important to have backup weapons in case of your primary weapon becoming unusable or significantly damaged. In Riptide, because there are so many workbenches and repairing items is so cheap, you realistically can get away with equipping one melee weapon and one firearm and maybe, if you want, a grenade or molotov into your quick slots. This change basically does away with the durability mechanic and makes it a non-issue... a puzzling change because in the first game it really had an impact. In Riptide I never went below 40% durability on a weapon.

However, a fantastic change is the addition, at least on the console version, two a complete quick select wheel mechanic for both your equipped slots and the select menu meaning that you can quickly switch between the map and the stats pages instead of having to manually slowly slide through the pages inbetween. In general, I love quick select wheels. I loved it in Neverwinter Nights and I never understood why more games didn't make use of them.

I'm not a big fan of the health mechanic. Your health looks like it has a lot of segments on it but any enemy can and will damage you for at least two of these. I actually don't get how it works in its entireity because strangely, some health will recover sometimes and depending on the attack but other times it does not and sometimes it will regenerate to the nearest bar and other times it will stop mid-bar and not regenerate any further. It's a bit confusing because the difference is never explained. I also dislike the tendency of developers to obscure the action the more injured you get. I dislike this purely because the more injured you get, the harder it becomes to deal with the injury. The Mass Effect series is a prime example of this mechanic and it frustrates me no end. In the same way that you don't get water droplets/steam/blood splatter on your eyes in real life, adrenaline tends to kick in when you are in danger or injured, resulting in heightened senses, faster reactions and stonger muscle tension. I realise that it can be an indication on how you're doing, health-wise, but I feel that some improvement can be made to this aspect of gaming without making it so that the more injured you are, the exponential likelihood it is that you will die.

Speaking of adrenaline, the fury mode/power is still in this game. To be honest, I never used it in the game except twice when I was forced to by the developers and once when I was trying to frantically use my med kit during a fight and I held the button down for too long. I played as Purna, IMO the best character as she gets bonuses to both blade and firearms, and her fury power is to instakill enemies with an unlimited ammo sidearm within a limited period. It's very powerful and is a fine mechanic but... to be honest I just completely forgot about the power. I did the same in the original Dead Island as well and I didn't really miss it. I think that the main problem is that the activation meter (fury meter) is so small and innocuous and doesn't really highlight itself when it's full so you just concentrate on getting along in fights and exploring the environment. For the next game (because I'm pretty sure there will be another game considering the sales chart positions that I've seen) I'd like them to make it more obvious when whatever equivalent skill is ready for use.

Like cars and trucks, boats can hold more than one person at a time as well - useful for co-op but it has no impact on the single player experience. I can imagine that the issues with kiting enemies are reduced in this scenario...
Image courtesy of Molag Bal

Transport in this game is a bit of a mystery. Automobiles (cars and trucks) have spawn points, they are decent to handle and kill zombies quite easily and at low speeds - not to mention the protection they afford the occupants. If you use an automobile it will remain in the last place you left it until you take another automobile, at which point it will disappear. At the same time, another automobile will spawn at the place you originally took this current "in-use" automobile and, finally, the automobile that is "in-use" will disappear upon exiting the game. Confusingly, this is not how boats work.

They provide faster travel on the water than walking but are not very agile and are quite slow to turn. The occupants are very vulnerable to attack from the drowned dead as these can climb aboard and you are vulnerable to attack from yet another unstoppable animation as you get off the boat (though you can choose which side you get off the boat if you nudge the movement stick in that direction). However, the most frustrating thing about boats is that boats are permanent fixtures in the game world: they stay wherever you leave them, even across play sessions, and do not respawn in their original positions. This results in you running out of water vehicles because you will undoubtedly end up with all the boats in one or two locations. Worse still, when your companions use a boat to get to another plot point they take one of the other boats from the map to do it. I ended up with three boats in one place because of this and, since the roads do not reach all places that travel by water can access, it meant that unless I specifically went out of my way to do so, I could not get rid of these "boat collections".

A whole load of water but nowhere to go...
Image courtesy of Siha

The dirty secret of boats, though, is that it is - like the head stomp - better not to use them. My reasoning is thus: Use of boats will inevitably result in kiting a line of fast-moving enemies that will damage, if not outright kill you as you dismount. Not to mention the "boat collections" I talked about above. It is generally safer to deal with the drowned dead on a one-to-one or one-to-two basis just moving through the waterways yourself.

This brings me onto my next point: the player is restricted in movement speed and ability when in water past a certain depth but zombies are not. This is doubly true for the drowned dead who are super fast but even the basic walkers are able to move at normal or very close to normal speed when in water - especially when performing their lunge-grapple. It feels unfair to have this mechanic in the game. When you're on land you suffer no such penalty and the zombies do not have such a large advantage over your movement ability.

One poorly-implemented idea are the knife-wielding walkers: They will attack you with their knives most of the time and this is fine but they also have a rarely used throw attack... which is an instakill even when you have full health. When you die like this it is very frustrating, especially because there's no wind-up animation (or it's very short) so there's virtually no way you can dodge the knife hurtling towards you.

Luckily, death is a pointless thing in this game and is of no import... but sitting at the 7 second "death screen" is annoying when you feel like you had no way of avoiding it.

Technical issues / Bugs:

When using a bladed weapon (I haven't checked the other melee weapon types) your backhand attack animation will sometimes get stuck in the "up" position, meaning that you are frantically pressing "attack" but only a weak slapping of your elbow is hitting the enemies. I don't know if this is a bug or a feature of the physical combat system in the game.

Weapon damage is a bit of a mystery. The weapons themselves have DPS values but, while for the most part they made sense and matched with what I was seeing on the screen, occasionally they would suddenly drop for no observable reason and then later on I would find them higher again. Let me give an example: I had a number of weapons all dealing around the 1700 damage per second mark but when I went back in to look at them after a while (and this was at full repair) they were dealing around 1650 or less. Later on the values crept back up again without explanation. Finally, late in the game my weapons dropped in their DPS indications but started doing much more damage than they said they could. I had a chinese war sword (awesome weapon) that was said to do 2500 or so DPS but each and every hit did 4000+ damage. If I had a critical hit, it went up to above 6000+ damage. This same scenario played out for all weapons at this point and I had no idea if it was intentional, based on level or weapon proficiency (though supposedly, when you look at the DPS values they are supposed to take these modifiers into account) or if it was just an outright bug. Either way, it was fun to be doing so much damage towards the end of the game and it added to the game's appeal for me, bug or no.

There was also another bug I encountered only once. I accidentally threw a cleaver into the ground in a safe zone and it just disappeared. Every other time I had a weapon thrown I was able to locate it (and I think they can get moved around a bit by explosions and whatnot) but this one time it just disappeared... so it's best to be careful in those places.

So that's where I put it!
Image courtesy of  |tb|JesusRaptor

They still have the save game mission completion bugs that existed in the first game. Despite the game saying it's saving, it will not always update partially completed quests and one time I had the game forget I had even started a quest in the first place. It's a minor annoyance but still quite a simple thing to fix in terms of game complexity which is why it's all the more annoying that it wasn't fixed for this sequel.

Finally, this isn't really a bug, per se, but it's incredibly funny how everyone gets an automatic and instantaneous haircut once they are decapitated... which is made all the more apparent by the game switching into slow motion! I'm not really sure why you'd want to call attention to that.


I really struggled to like Dead Island Riptide at first - as I did, though not to the same extent, the original Dead Island. However, I came to enjoy the game much more in the late-game stages. Not only are there relatively fewer zombies later on in the more confined areas of the city but your power curve has levelled and become very similar to the adversaries which means that you are powerful and able to hold your own in tense situations without your enemies being over- or underpowered in comparison to your character.

Interestingly, I had the same experience with Dead Rising... which really only became enjoyable once I'd unlocked all the equipment slots and health upgrades. While I like the end result, I find that there is a lot of unnecessary work placed on the player to get to this point and, especially early on, there are many frustrating instances that can and would make a player give up and put the game down - perhaps for good!

What I think will happen in the next game is that they will use new characters. The main reason is that they were "forced" to continue on with the story from the first game because of the way it ended and they probably didn't expect it to perform so well so hadn't accounted for that scenario before it was released. What this resulted in was potentially very powerful characters that would be carried over into Riptide which would suffer a complete disparity with newly created characters in the game in terms of potency. This was averted through the introduction of the weapon proficiencies which, if my reckoning is correct, act as the new versions of character levels in this game.

Aside from a potential story reason why there will be new characters in the second sequel, there is only so much of this "depowering" that the developers can do without ridiculous numbers of layers of complexity being added to the character levels and weapon proficiencies... not to mention that the skill trees themselves simply do not really support any more skills being added.

Backseat designing:

I really feel like a fully regenerating health bar would make more sense in this game - especially since death is such a minor inconvenience. I'd keep the food and health kit items though and repurpose them. I would use the food to balance a hunger mechanic which would not kill you if you got hungry but would instead increase stamina costs for all actions as your hunger increased. The med kits I would keep for wounds like those you get in Far Cry 1 and 2. Being attacked and severely injured could have the possibility of resulting in a debilitation: For instance, you could lose the use of one of your arms, restricting which weapons you could wield... or your legs could become injured, reducing your movement speed or stopping you from being able to run or jump entirely. Maybe even include a concussion effect like in Boiling Point, which made the screen go all fuzzy for a few seconds and you could hear tinnitus over the ambient sounds.

I'd also love to include a "hardcore" survival mode. This wouldn't change the above mechanics but would instead spawn a limited number of zombies on the island, mainly concentrated around areas of noise or where people would have been congregated (such as urban centres). Zombies would not respawn and instead their positions would be tracked by the game so that you could lure enemies away from areas you wanted to get to... also the better weapons, such as firearms would be in urban centres, along with medical supplies and food caches which would make for an interesting gameplay intersection between trying to pick off individual or small groups of zombies on the outskirts/wilderness or distracting larger groups that were less manageable earlier on in the game. Since the number of zombies would be limited, victory would be established only when you'd killed them all... and player death would be permanent. So, the regenerating health system would be vital for making this aspect of the game work.

It also might be good to have other objectives in this survival mode and other possible win-scenarios... such as finding a cure, doing the leg work and research to get to the cure would force you to move out of your comfort zones, for example.


Techland have liberally borrowed zombie types from a wide variety of media and put their own spin on them. In Riptide there is a good mix of enemies and they don't throw so many of one type of the special zombie types at you at once. Whereas in Dead Island they really threw a lot of the straitjacketed charging types at you in the city but they toned that down in the sequel and instead varied the types with additions like the Screamers and grenadiers. This change meant that there was never really a feeling that the developers were lacking imagination in a given situation by spawning so many of the same special infected type over again in short time periods.
The Screamer: Relatively easy to take care of unless they let off their eerie howl...
Image courtesy of ♠PRᶤƵ_

No comments: