Dead Island: Riptide isn't a full sequel argues Jack Arnott, but you know what, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Zombie-lovers can still look forward to a lot of fun.
What is it about zombies? They're everywhere. And not in an apocalyptic sense. In the last five years we've had zombie films, zombie books, zombie comics and a zombie tv series.
Of course we've also had a resurgence of zombie games, a trend epitomised no better than in the surprising success of Dead Island, a title which received a lukewarm reception at best.
To onlookers it may have appeared to succeed largely due to its notorious, and in hindsight - pretty misleading – launch trailer.
That's certainly how it might have looked, but of course, most of the naysayers who dismissed Dead Island probably never actually played it or didn't give it much of a chance.
While much of the games media forgot about it, developers Techland went about cleaning up the bugs on Steam, which improved it over time.
Here it stands a couple of years later, a fully-fledged franchise with a devoted fanbase. With sales of over five million a sequel was inevitable.
Well, I say "sequel"...
I played through the first hour of Dead Island: Riptide's story mode and the message from the attendant developers was clear: this is not Dead Island 2.
But I can see why they were on the defensive. The engine has barely been touched, which is made apparent when you flail your weapon and it fails to connect with an adjacent undead, or watch characters' mouths move asynchronously with dialogue in one of the game's many cut-scenes.
The latter is made worse by some dreadful voice acting, to the point where you can't help but be reminded that most of its code probably dates back to 2007, when the first game was announced, if not before. As someone that had been playing Far Cry 3 and God of War: Ascension in the week leading up to the preview, the difference was pretty stark.
Nevertheless, those who are solely interested in looks wouldn't have enjoyed Dead Island in the first place. What Riptide has, just like it's predecessor, is personality, charm and an almost child-like willingness to embrace fun for fun's sake. This isn't a game that will have you cooing over it's gorgeous scenery, brilliant storyline or writing, but it will have you giggling like a maniac.
The story picks up exactly where the original left off. You're held captive aboard a military vessel and without wanting to give too much away, something goes wrong. OK so it's no secret that a few crew members suddenly develop a taste for brains, and after a couple of riptides later, you wake up on the neighbouring island of Palanai.
It's a swampier, sweatier experience than Banoi from the first game and yep, you guessed it, no sooner have you spat the sand out of your mouth than you find out that they quite like brains here too. It's a local delicacy it seems.
Once on the island, the game opens up completely, and like the first, offers simple, open-world fun in a way few others can match. I spent one mission barricading a small camp and then repelling a wave of enemies, then decided on a whim to jump in a car and drive to the other side of the island. Just to see what was going on.
I ran a few zombies over. I blew some up on a bridge and watched them sail through the sky. I hacked at some with a knife. Shot another couple with my shotgun. Just as I found another mission I looked at my phone and realised an hour had passed and I'd barely scratched the surface.
What's clear is that Techland know their audience. No attempt has been made to make the game more cerebral or sophisticated. Take the 'barbecue blade' for example – a DLC bonus weapon that'll be available with certain pre-orders. It's a machete with two blowtorches attached that makes carving up the walking dead more fun than you can possibly imagine. It's ludicrous, dumb and immensely satisfying.
In fact, Techland's care for their community extends as far as including some fan-originated content in the game. The playable character of John Morgan is based on one sketched out in “Fist of the Dead Star”, a mod created for the first game shortly after its release. Dead Island die-hards will find plenty more to please them.
There's around 20 hours of single-player story content and a new tower-defence-like multiplayer mode, where you barricade an area to defend from the gathering horde. Drowners, a new kind of zombie, make an appearance, and just wait 'until you get your hands on the nail gun.
Great attention has also been given to the game's more structural components, like in-game menus and character progression. The new skill trees mean that characters are deeply customisable, and will develop in accordance with your style of play.
I felt compelled at the time of my preview mostly make notes about how cheesy and predictable the plot and dialogue were. I was even prepared to say how Riptide is somehow unimaginative, lazy, and crass. But since then I've realised Dead Island isn't trying to compete with Bioshock or Skyrim.
It's a b-movie made into a game, and you know what, a b-movie where you get to control the explosions and eviscerate staggering corpses in any manner you please is pretty damned enjoyable.
Above all Riptide just wants you to have fun, and you know what, I bet you will.
Dead Island: Riptide hits PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on April 23 across North America, and across Europe from April 26.