Over Christmas, my sister gave me a t-shirt which read “The hardest part about a zombie apocalypse will be pretending I’m not excited”. Apparently she’d noticed that I seem to enjoy zombies and zombie-related media a lot. I was surprised, because I hadn’t really thought about it until then. Upon reflection, however, I have to say that I do love a good zombie apocalypse story.
It’s odd because I was never raised on those kind of films. I was very much an anime kid growing up, and I’ve never even seen Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead or any of the other zombie horror classics. In my defence, I have seen Shaun of the Dead and I’ve also been reading, watching and playing The Walking Dead.
So after receiving the t-shirt, I sat down and thought about it for a while. I do enjoy these stories. Partly because I enjoy post-apocalyptic stories of all kinds. It’s fascinating to see the remnants of humanity surviving in a severely degraded society. Zombies are, really, just an additional threat on top of everything else. The Walking Dead’s success is providing an answer to the question “what happens after they escape the shopping mall/pub/whatever?” Take out the zombies, and you have a very human story about survival in a harsh, unforgiving world. There’s always a level of background tension that keeps me hooked.
One thing that does tend to bug me about zombie apocalypses is that they always seem to happen in the USA. While a lot of stories give lip service to the idea that it’s a global event with this just being the one aspect of it, you never actually see that in the story. There are some exceptions, sure, but for the most part, it can be difficult to get scared because the zombies are Someone Else’s Problem.
So it was kind of refreshing to boot up Dead Island: Riptide and see that it’s set on a fictional island near Papua New Guinea. Not only that, but there’s actual Australians in it. After having escaped the events of the original Dead Island, it turns out that our heroes haven’t really escaped at all because the zombies are on the boat, the boat runs aground and everyone’s on another zombie-infested island.
You can take on the role of the survivors of the first game. There’s Logan, an ex-gridiron player; Sam B, an ex-rapper; Xian-Mei, an ex-Police Officer from Hong Kong; and Purna, an aboriginal ex-police officer from Sydney (yes, really) who now works as a bodyguard. There’s also new character John Morgan, an ADF officer who is, like the other characters, immune to the virus.
I ended up going with Xian-Mei because the game said she was good with bladed weapons. I was immediately disappointed to find that no bladed weapons were easily on-hand. When I did find one, it was a kitchen knife. I can sort of appreciate the idea of giving the player realistic weapons, but it’s all undone by the World of Warcraft style loot quality system (in other words, I didn’t just have a kitchen knife, I had an epic kitchen knife!).
While it’s possible to get and shoot guns (and one character, Purna, is focused on this), Dead Island Riptide isn’t a first-person shooter. It has more in common with Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls games than it does Call of Duty. This has advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, Riptide is very definitely an RPG: You gain experience, you level up and you can spend points in skill trees to further your character. Weapons even have level requirements. On the other hand, the first-person melee combat leaves a lot to be desired, and the gunplay is, well, let’s just say this isn’t Borderlands.
The island setting is something of a refreshing change for a zombie story. One of the aspects of the story is that you are immune to zombie infection, though this doesn’t make them any less of a threat to your wellbeing. Taking advantage of your skills is vital to surviving here, and it’s often smarter to avoid combat than to engage in it. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with a horde of zombies, especially in town areas.
For everything I liked about Dead Island Riptide, there was always something I didn’t like, too. The visuals are fantastic, but the voice acting (especially the fake Australian accents) is terrible. The weapons are unique and clever, but the combat tends to be unsatisfying and complex. There’s heaps of side quests, but they’re mostly tedious fetch quests.
While I think it’s admirable that the game goes for an RPG-focused, quest-heavy open world approach to the zombie apocalypse, I can’t help but feel that Dead Island Riptide would have worked better as a much more linear, action focused game. There simply aren’t enough good ideas and things to do to justify the open-world nature of the game, and it all comes off as a bit of a mess because of it. Sometimes, a bit of linearity isn’t a bad thing.
Unique setting for a zombie apocalypse | Visuals
Clunky combat | Unfocused story