You're bored on the sofa. You flick the TV on and there's a movie just starting. You've got nothing else to do, so you watch it. It's kinda crappy but you can't be bothered getting up. About half an hour in you're still not really enjoying it, and you fleetingly wonder why you're still watching. Two hours later you're left feeling unsatisfied and a little bewildered, knowing you'll never get those two hours back. That's Dead Island: Riptide if it were a movie.
There’s a bug with the splash screens at start-up. That’s a pretty poor beginning to the game - damaged before even starting it. The bug is very conspiracy-theory-friendly; if you click to skip the splash screen advertisements, the game crashes. The ‘fix’ is to let them play out, and when you get to the red tree and ‘click any key to continue’ text, alt-tab out and in again and you can continue fine. But really, right at the start - lame. Nobody ever wants to sit through those. Grawr.
When you start your very first game in Dead Island: Riptide, it’s online and public. Thanks but no thanks - I don’t want to be shunted into multiplayer with strangers right off the bat. Silly option to have on by default. But what’s more interesting, as I found when perusing the menu options (and yes, thank you, I *do* know that peruse means to go over with a fine-toothed comb and not ‘browse’ as most people think), is that ‘Facebook Events’ are also ticked on by default. I don’t know for sure what it does because it has the word Facebook next to it so I won’t touch it with a ten foot barge pole, but I assume it posts to your Facebook feed when you do stuff. Okay, people reading who are Facebook users - tell me you’ve never, ever blocked a game update from someone else? ‘Blah is inviting you to play StupidGame’ or ‘Blah just got ten golden Blahs from EpicLameTime!’. Yeah, didn’t think so. Games on Facebook are irritating at best - who, of us socially polite and considerate few, are going to voluntarily post that crap on their pages? More points lost, Dead Island: Riptide, and I still haven’t started playing yet.
Graphics, Graphics, Graphics
Yeah, I know I always go here but it’s an important thing to me. I can’t go from playing things like Crysis and Metro to playing something that feels they’ve been sitting on release for 10 years without clucking like a ticked-off hen. The cutscenes are poorly animated junk that attempt to hide beneath a heavy film grain that just makes it more glaringly obvious that they’re crap. As one of my old boyfriends used to say - ‘You can’t polish a turd’. People are animated so poorly that sometimes their mouths just hang open limp-jawed as words are formed magically from their gaping maws. It just makes me cringe. Got a low budget? That’s fine - but maybe you shouldn’t be making games full of animated figures when you can’t afford to animate them well. And no, the story doesn’t carry it. It really, really doesn’t.
While we’re on story - this game feels like it’s trying to be a mix of Serious Sam and Far Cry while cashing in on the success of Left 4 Dead, and it’s failing at all of them. You’re fighting through waves of zombies, picking up a huge variety of weapons from all over the environment, there’s blood and gore and severed limbs and gushing carotids and it’s okay as far as brainless killing goes but then you get to a village and have to stop and talk to everyone and it’s boring. Person A wants you to go find a fishing boat while person B sends you to scavenge for supplies and person C wants some batteries from an abandoned building and all your team-mates need looking after because they’re incapable, dithering buffoons. The quests you’ve just picked up are all in different directions and you’re given a world map but you can only travel on the roads and not hike cross-country. You’re given skills that lower your threat to zombies so that you can pass them without being noticed, but why would you do that when fighting them gives you experience and loot? If you’re going to put a mechanic in the game, give me an incentive to use it (we’ve been here before, Mr. Skyrim Wood-Chopping Fail) - if you’re giving me a skill that lets me sneak past zombies, reward me for missing out on the XP and loot I WOULD have gotten had I fought them. Give me XP for every time I pass by a group of feeding undead unnoticed. Or just, y’know, don’t put stupid skills like that there in the first place when the game is clearly about bashing zombie skulls in until their brains explode or their arms fall off.
It’s important. Very very important, especially if the fun factor of your game is already hanging by a tenuous thread above the Sea of Boredom. Do you want to know what’s not immersive in a game about survival, scavenging and scrounging for scraps and supplies? Respawning loot containers. On the way up to the first village I stopped to loot two baskets. I got to the village and met up with everyone else, who barricaded themselves there - all of them - while sending me out, alone, to go run errands. I passed those two baskets on the way back down to the beach and Lo! Behold! They were once more full of loot. Who put it there?! Very valid question - ‘does it matter?’. I play heaps of RPGs that have respawning loot. But in those RPGs my character hasn’t been plunged into a situation where her survival is made increasingly difficult by a sudden scarcity of food and weapons. I’m sorry, is Dead Island: Riptide NOT a survival horror? Is it supposed to be 100% ‘get loads of loot, get some badass weapons and just beat the crap out of everything’? Well, that would make more sense of respawning loot - but if that’s the case, why are the villagers sending me out on scavenging runs? OH NOES, CONFLICT OF INTERESTS! Decide on the tone of your game. Keep it consistent. Don’t get me all energised up with a gore-splurging click-fest and then take it away from me and tell me I have to go fetch some tins of tuna or else the whole village is going to starve to death because survival is SO DIFFICULT NOW (hey, I have 10 different weapons in my inventory, there’s crates of magically reappearing chocolate and cola all around me and I’ve got several thousand dollars - where am I struggling again?).
Well, it’s... Hmm... There’s people, and uh... They kinda talk, I guess, with these poorly written sentences and stiff delivery... I mean, I *guess* there’s a script if that’s what you want to call it...
Ah, forget it. Go play Far Cry 3.
P.S. I’m disappointed that the Steam early release version didn’t come with the bloodied bikini torso. I wanted to stick it on a pole in the garden to scare off hawkers. Would have been the best thing to come out of that game. Do I have high standards? Sure - but why shouldn't I? This is our time we're talking about - the one thing we never have enough of. Let's choose to fill it with good stuff instead of drivel.