In response to a few recent games that appear to be lacking in the criteria. This is a short list and thoughts on some stand out game mechanics that developers seem to be ignoring and need to build upon.
Dead Island: Riptide Preview: Here Comes the Horde
I got my hands on Dead Island: Riptide at PAX today to experience the opening sequence of the game. Before starting up, you can choose between the four main protagonists from the original title (Logan, Sam B., Purna, and Xien Mei) plus newcomer John, who fights with makeshift claws much like Wolverine’s.
After choosing Logan as my character, the game presented me with four more choices. Depending on your playstyle, you can choose how you want to balance your offensive and defensive capabilities. The Combat type focuses on unleashing Fury attacks upon the enemy while the Survival type leans more towards staying alive longer with greater health and defense. Another option allows for an even balance between the two types, and the final one allows you to personally customize your offensive-to-defensive capabilities ratio.
The demo starts out with me waking from a daze on a beach to the face of a mysterious woman named Harlow. She tells me that a camp is nearby where we can take shelter, so she and I make our way there. Had I been playing co-op, my partners would have accompanied me as well.
The first thing I notice is how beautiful the beach and jungle I’m traversing is. The setting varied with vines, flowers, and trees makes for a much less static setting than the ones in the original game.
My enjoyment of the scenery is suddenly interrupted by the cries from several civilians in a nearby shanty town. Harlow and I make our way there and clear the place of the undead menace invading it. Right away I notice that the controls for combat still feel a bit loose. As in the original game, hand-to-hand fighting feels a bit off, and weapons still deteriorate as quickly as ever, which was made even more frustrating by the fact that I couldn’t find a tool to replace it mid-battle.
After helping the stranded survivors fend off the zombies, the characters quickly cooperate and request that I assist them with another incoming horde. I naturally agree. Here’s where the game introduces some tower defense elements. I’m tasked with picking up sections of chain link fence and placing them in strategic positions around the small village. Sections like this could add some fun changes of pace to the franchise.
Right after I place the last makeshift barrier, the undead let out a warning cry. A short tutorial message shows that a new mechanic called the Horde Meter tells the player how many zombies are left to eliminate during a stand-off. The bar at the top of the screen drains as I kill the decaying invaders and gives me a rough estimate of how much longer I must beat back the foes before I get a chance to breathe.
As another horde begins shuffling its way toward the slowly deteriorating town, I’m given a new weapon, a flare gun, and told to blow the bridge. I happily oblige, shooting a pile of flammable barrels to destroy the wooden bridge leading into town. The zombie menace is halted—for now.
A cutscene picks up immediately afterward. In it, each playable character is present, including the ones you’re not playing as. It’s a bit disorienting, but I suppose it’s as necessary to keep the story going as it was in the first game. The survivors discuss their options when a soldier, Sam Hardy, says the island is going to be nuked by the military. Everyone only has hours to evacuate the nightmarish paradise before they’re destroyed with the rest of the infected humans, and that’s where my demo ends.
Riptide felt more like DLC than a new standalone story during my short time with it. While nothing new in terms of gameplay has been added besides the new Horde Meter and fortification building function, Techland still has a chance to add polish to the combat and controls that several found frustrating in the original. We’ll have to wait until April 23 to see if Riptide can deliver the zombie game we’ve always dreamed of.