It's the Opposite

Dead Island: Ryder White Screenshot

HIGH Clearing out the prison showers with impunity.

LOW Weapons unequipping in the middle of zombie gangbangs.

WTF Repeating ambush points until weapons degrade into useless scrap.

So what makes good DLC? What kind of add-ons are the most welcome and satisfying?

It's a difficult question to answer (and it varies game-by-game) but something largely true is that people want more of what they liked. Certain elements can be experimented with and formulas can shift, but the game's core identity needs to remain intact. For example, if the story was great, a new chapter or a "what happened next?" is welcome. If the combat's the star, why not fight some new, tougher enemies?

Another tack sometimes taken is to put the player in control of a character that was previously off-limits. That's the route Techland goes with their new Ryder White Campaign DLC, but instead of retaining Dead Island's core, the gameplay is almost the exact opposite of what made the campaign so enjoyable. Such a move is unusual, unorthodox, and in my opinion, not particularly successful.

At the risk of spoilers for those who haven't finished Dead Island, Ryder White is the Australian military commander who's waiting for the survivors at the end of the game. Meeting him and getting to his location is what drives most of the story, so getting the chance to see things from his perspective was of great interest. However, after stepping into his boots, players might be surprised to find that neither he nor his role in the story are as expected—instead of pulling the strings from a comfortable, secure area, he's in a desperate, grueling struggle from start to finish.

Speaking of things that aren't expected, Ryder White caught me off-guard by taking elements that made Dead Island one of 2011's best games and tossing them out the window. Skill trees and leveling up? Not here. Open-world exploration on a tropical island? Nope. Different quests to complete and characters to find? Not here either. Robust multiplayer? It's single player only. So with all that taken out, what's left?

Not a whole lot, really. One of the biggest reasons I enjoyed Dead Island was that it combined RPG elements, open world design and zombies in a way that no other game has. Rather than being another typical zombie-blasting affair, Techland's vision came closer to a feature-film "survivor" experience than anything I know of, and it was superb. Unfortunately, Ryder White pulls an about-face and offers a linear, action-heavy theme park ride through major areas from the main game.

Dead Island: Ryder White Screenshot

It was a real letdown to see that the DLC was a straightforward kill-quest for most of its running time, but what was even more disappointing was that Techland failed to deliver a smooth, flawless product even after the beatings they took in reviews for Dead Island's buggy launch.

In terms of actual glitches, I found that the game would randomly un-equip my weapon immediately after using a health pack. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but considering that I use health packs in situations where I'm about to die, finding myself suddenly unarmed while surrounded by zombies was a very unpleasant thing. I also had weapons randomly disappear from my inventory a handful of times. Design-wise, the difficulty is much stiffer than anything found in the main campaign, and the increase in lethality isn't helped by the developers indulging in tons of cheap shots.

Irritatingly, there are a wealth of "trigger" points that unleash an absolute flood of zombies after walking past a certain point, and even worse are the absurd number of back-attacks that take place. Until Ryder reaches the prison, the player can count on small groups of zombies appearing directly behind him during high-pressure situations, even after thoroughly clearing out an area. It wasn't a huge problem until I reached one of a few absurdly lethal ambush points where I needed to get through a door, but couldn't get through the door until the area was clear.

Getting overwhelmed in these traps is all too easy, and due to the game's ill-conceived auto-saving, I often found myself in the unpleasant situation of having my weapons degrade down to nothing while the zombies respawned full-force after each restart. Fortunately, a fellow reviewer suggested that I start using guns instead of melee weapons as my primary form of attack—essentially the opposite of what works in the main campaign—and that made all the difference. Firearms are clearly the key to survival in Ryder White, and Dead Island vets will have to retrain themselves to be more trigger-happy than was previously viable.

So the gameplay is off, what about the story? After everything was revealed, I felt that the DLC didn't deliver as much new information as I would have liked. I've never been a fan of audio diaries scattered about in great numbers, and almost everything that happens before Ryder gets to the island's prison feels like filler. The DLC's ending is actually a nice companion piece to the main game's final moments, but getting through five hours of high-intensity, back-attacking, kill-me-quick zombie assaults is a lot to go through for what amounts to three or four minutes of relevant info.

I still count myself as a huge fan of Dead Island, but Ryder White takes too many wrong turns and strays from what made the original game what it was. Completists will surely want to see the twist ending, but more casual fans of the game don't have much reason to take this brutal, frustrating trip. Rating: 4.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the content was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol. Parents, we've got omnipresent beheadings, constant bloodshed and otherwise excessively brutal corpse dismemberment. It's hardcore stuff. Keep your children far, far, away from it.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You will find this thing nearly impossible to play. The screams of incoming zombies are the only warnings that players receive when they're about to be killed. Directional hit indicators onscreen aren't present. The tragedy of this mistake is that it would have been a simple measure for the developers to fix, but as it stands, the game essentially can't be played by the hearing-impaired.

Brad Gallaway
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