CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Within minutes after beginning "Dead Island: Riptide," I watched in astonishment as a zombie glitched through a wall, only his arms left to flail away at me. Moments later, the sound completely cut out, leaving me surrounded by zombies and drenched in silence -- a frighteningly surreal moment, to be sure, but not for the reasons I would have hoped.
While I never played the original "Dead Island," I heard tales of these types of glitches and bugs that populated developer Techland's 2011 offering. And now I was experiencing them first-hand. Suffice to say I was not impressed.
Underwhelmed yet undeterred, I pushed forward, determined to document the further atrocities against good games that "Riptide" would no doubt commit. But then something strange happened. Instead of focusing on everything the game did wrong, I began getting lost in everything it did right.
Scavenging for items I could use to create weapons became an obsession. Searching for and completing side missions became an addiction. The combat, which I merely tolerated in the early going, became something I actively sought out, though often at the expense of my character's own well-being. And the exasperation I felt during that first hour was transformed into sheer enjoyment over the course of the next 25.
"Dead Island: Riptide" is set immediately following the events of the first game as the four survivors of the original incident find themselves trapped on yet another zombie-infested island. Joining the group is a new fifth playable character, John Morgan, a former soldier who specializes in hand-to-hand combat. As was the case with the original "Dead Island," "Riptide" supports four-player co-op (though flying solo is equally enjoyable and somewhat more difficult). When playing with friends, the difficulty of the enemies scales appropriately, meaning everyone in your group will be battling zombies at their own level.
Speaking of zombies, "Riptide" introduces a few new varieties such as the drowner, who lurks within the island's flooded jungles. But even the garden-variety walkers can pose a real challenge when they group up and form a horde, a lesson I continually learned the hard way. Special Dead Zones -- filled with large quantities of zombies and named bosses -- are scattered across the island for those looking for even more of a challenge, though I found simply wandering around the island to be plenty tough enough.
Combat is visceral and bloody, filled with exploding heads and dismembered limbs. The first-person view adds to the immersion during combat as you feel each swing of your electrified baseball bat or punch from your barbed wire-wrapped claws. A stamina meter punishes you for flailing away wildly as you can't attack -- or run away -- when winded.
While the story, itself, was forgettable, I looked forward to encountering other survivors and taking on their various quests. Most every mission, be it part of the main story or an optional side quest, revolved around finding and returning a particular person or item. Under normal circumstances these fetch-quests would become mundane, but I didn't mind them in "Riptide" because it was another opportunity to scavenge for new gear and crack some zombie heads with my array of hand-crafted weapons.