It might sound dismissive to sum up Dead Island Riptide as just "more Dead Island," but that's exactly what it is. This is the sort of follow-up that's bigger than an expansion pack but far lesser in scope than a true sequel; it simply feels like a full-length game's worth of additional content shoved into the previous game's framework. The two games are so similar--Riptide reuses just about all of the first game's interface elements, art assets, and gameplay systems--you'd often find it tough to even tell which game is which. If I'd come out of Dead Island with a burning desire for more Dead Island, Riptide would go down a lot easier, but since that original game started out strong and just got weaker as it wore on, playing through another 15 hours of almost exactly the same thing, when the first one already felt like more than enough, instead just becomes a tiresome exercise.
That first game was rotten with bugs and odd design quirks, but I was willing to forgive a lot because its strongest aspects--namely the exacting first-person melee combat, and all the loot and RPG trappings that propped it up--were so enticing. Still, despite a fantastic first act, Dead Island dragged on longer than it should have given its issues, and at least for me it had expended much of the good will it built up by the end of the game. Exactly one game's worth of Dead Island was plenty for me, so when I jumped back into Riptide and immediately felt a sense of fatigue with the gameplay mechanics after just the first few minutes, I knew it was a bad sign. Unfortunately none of the meager additions to the formula here are enough to counteract the awkward design and shoddy production values that carried over from the first game.
There wasn't much of a storyline in Dead Island, but at least the setting was entertaining, taking a pampered tropical resort populated by spoiled rich kids and dropping the zombie end of the world right in the middle of it. There's nothing half as interesting in Riptide, as your same four survivors (joined by one new playable character) have managed to escape one island hellhole only to wash up on the shores of another one, the landscape of which looks conspicuously similar to the first one. Here you're running quests through a boring jungle, a shantytown, an old military base, and other zombie-game cliches that don't allow the freedom of movement or even compelling visual design of the resort in the first game. All of Riptide reminded me of Dead Island's weak third act, while none of it recalled that great first act, as if the designers themselves didn't realize what was actually great about their own game.
It's worth noting the new things Riptide does, since there aren't many of them. There are a handful of base-defense missions that take a direct cue from Call of Duty's own zombies mode, since you're running around putting up barbed wire to keep enemies out and manning gatling-gun turrets to mow them down as they try to get in. These missions are fun enough in co-op, and even when you're alone, your NPC allies do a decent job of helping control the zombie crowd (though the game still pulls the ridiculous trick of having all your ally characters pop up in cutscenes when you've been running around the entire game by yourself). There's a couple of new enemies, like the screamer, who can, well, scream to incapacitate you briefly, and the wrestler, who has a gigantic gross tumor of an arm it can swing around like a club, but you're still going to kill hundreds upon hundreds of the fodder-like infected and walkers ad nauseam from beginning to end. If you were already burned out on fighting those things from the last game, you aren't going to find it anymore entertaining here, despite the presence of a paltry few new weapons and mods (that are barely distinguishable from the ones last time around). Oh, and there are some boats to drive clumsily around the inland rivers here and there, but they hardly make up for the paucity of drivable trucks on the island.
Other than the occasional base defense, most of the quest design in the game has you merely running from one place to another to grab an item or throw a switch, then moving on to the next area to do the same thing, with occasional poorly produced and dramatically bankrupt cutscenes punctuating the events of the story, such as it is. The rough production quality of the cinematics was strangely endearing in the first game in a kind of backwards way. But two games in, it's just gotten irksome, especially as this game halfheartedly makes some overtures toward the origin of this whole zombie mess before taking a hard left turn into a completely ridiculous, unearned plot twist, and then just...ending. Parts of the game are still kind of fun to play through cooperatively with friends--though, unlike in the first game, you sometimes feel like you have to be playing in co-op to avoid being overwhelmed by awful infinite enemy spawns--but coming from the Dead Island, getting through Riptide mostly just felt like a slog that I wanted to be done with.
The first Dead Island was long on good ideas but short on skillful execution, and while there's still a truly great game lurking in there somewhere, Riptide is not it. It's a shame Techland didn't take this opportunity to take a step back and figure out how to properly evolve this formula before iterating on the franchise again. Maybe that truly improved Dead Island will still come along someday, but in the meantime, Riptide feels like a game that didn't really need to be made.