I’ve written “kick a zombies [sic] head off” in my Dead Island: Riptide notes and I’m not entirely sure I remember why. The adjacent notes don’t offer any clues: “improved physics, zombie fell over lolol” and “new enemy types, man with guts out”. I can only assume that, at some point in the two-player co-op presentation of the Dead Island sequel, creative producer Sebastian Reichert kicked a zombie in the chest and its head came flying off. That feels right. Yes. That is probably what happened.
I’m not sure if kicking a zombie’s head off is an improvement over the original Dead Island game, but the physics guiding the trajectory of that head certainly are. This isn’t an all-out sequel to the first game (“there’s not enough here to call this Dead Island 2” admits Reichert) but a fulsome stand-alone expansion addressing concerns levelled at the original and continuing the story from precisely where it left off, with the four protagonists about to escape the infested tropical island. Existing save games can be carried over, and the raised level cap gives your existing Level 35 character something to progress towards.
Nicer physics forms just one of Riptide’s improvements, meaning that zombies can tumble over obstructions and get their limbs tangled up in scenery like clownish undead idiots. Gravity, this time around, is a bitch, but it’s not just the zombies that fall foul of Newton’s dark mistress. At one point in the presentation a player was struck by a rolled up sheet of chainlink fencing travelling at an apparently fatal velocity, chucked as it was by the player’s goofy co-op partner.
That fencing, when not being thrown around the monsoon-bedraggled island, can be used to construct barricades around semi-fortified locations. This forms another of Riptide’s new features, a sort of defensive horde mode that’s woven into the context of the survival horror. In the presentation we were given, the players found themselves holed up in an ancient jungle temple, their only means of escape a tunnel leading to some underground catacombs. This route was flooded, naturally, and so had to be cleared by means of a convenient automatic pump. A very loud pump. And if there’s anything that attracts zombies more than the pungent aroma of human brains, it is of course the gentle roar of small, consumer-grade industrial machinery.
The fort has X number of possible zombie entrances and you have X minus 2 sheets of rolled up chainlink fencing, requiring communication and co-operation to fend off the hundreds of zombies suddenly taking an interest in your hydrophobic pumping efforts. There are miniguns in this jungle temple, which you can pick up and slot into a number of pre-defined minigun encampments. Again, there aren’t enough miniguns to go around, and careful rationing of supplies is needed to ensure your squad of four players are defending with optimal efficiency and adequate firepower.
Named enemies, a la Diablo sub-bosses, are also being introduced. These are tougher variants of regular enemies, given spooky monikers such as ‘Scar’ and rewarding you with bonus XP for taking them down. One new enemy was also shown: the grenadier, who throws chunks of his own decaying corpse at you before grumpily exploding, Boomer-style.
Thus follows ten minutes of ruthless slaughter. Dead Island’s healthy fascination with up-close melee gore returns in force, with zombie limbs lopped off by all manner of new tools. Improvised mines can be scattered around the base to both decapitate the undead as well as warn you of their locations. Gas cannisters can be thrown and detonated with a well placed handgun round. While the focus remains on the brutality of close combat, Techland and Deep Silver have taken steps to make guns feel more powerful than they did in the previous game. Headshots actually matter now.
A new indicator in your inventory will track a weapon’s durability, leading to fewer surprises when crappy rifles start falling to pieces in your hands. As you use a certain weapon you’ll become more proficient with it, regardless of your chosen skills, and at higher levels of proficiency weapons will degrade more slowly. This, hopefully, should betterserve the game’s philosophy of disposable weapons, items that you’d sooner chuck at the nearest zombie than hold on to.
A dynamic weather system powers the game’s digital skies throughout. In the sequence we were shown, the weather transformed from sun-beaten tropics to Skegness November weekends. In this case it was scripted, Reichert told us, but in the open world the weather can turn on a randomly generateddime, providing anything on the sliding scale between clear skies and storms so severe that visibility is reduced to just a few feet.
The rest of the changes read like patch notes: fewer bugs, more stuff, zombies can now grab boats, players can now smack zombies with oars. Dead Island: Riptide is a refinement of the original, one that aims to remedy the problems that plagued the first game while introducing enough new features to warrant its own standalone existence. It’s not enough for Deep Silver that they created a quirky, curious, rough and ready co-op zombie shooter in Dead Island — they genuinely want to make something unanimously excellent here.
Riptide’s out April 26, 2013 everywhere but Germany. And, as ever, here’s the pretty trailer that has about as much to do with the game as cupcakes and ponies and gumballs and smiling.