Maybe this zombie obsession has reached its peak. For the past few years, the undead have been the monster du jour, dominating popular culture with hits such as "The Walking Dead" and "World War Z." Like the virus that spawned them, zombies have taken over the public's imagination.
But they can't stay on top forever. There's a limit to how much corpse-smashing and dismembering the public can take, and it seems that gamers may be at that tipping point. Exhibit No. 1: downloadable content. Developers once added content by zombifying their original games, but lately they are opting for other themes.
Exhibit No. 2: Techland cashed in on the undead craze with "Dead Island," a game that took the "Diablo" formula and set it on an island full of shambling corpses. Flush with the success of the original, the team pushed out a sequel, "Dead Island Riptide." Unfortunately, it's not as successful.
"Riptide" essentially offers more of the same. The follow-up lets players import the characters they used in the first game and continue the adventure. The four heroes -- Xian Mei, Logan Carter, Purna and Sam B. -- are captured after fleeing Banoi on a helicopter. They land on a ship and become guinea pigs for a businessman named Frank Serpo.
A storm crashes the vessel on the shores of another tropical isle. The foursome along with Josh Morgan, a new playable character, and surviving crew members once again have to fend off the zombiepocalypse.
That sounds like a recipe for more fun, but Techland does nothing to polish the game or drastically improve the gameplay. Players take control of boats that oddly handle like cars and use new group abilities, but the rest is disappointingly unchanged. It's devoid of any improvements.
"Riptide" is full of bugs and glitches, some of which frustrate the experience. Clocking in at 17 hours or so, it's shorter than the original. There are some new weapons and a fresh emphasis on firearms. Players encounter a handful of new enemies such as drowners and screamers, but nothing else feels groundbreaking.
In fact, this sequel is a step back for the series. Techland divides the campaign in two sections. The introduction focuses on the survivors settling down and hatching an escape plan. The second half leads them to the city of Henderson. It's a simple plot, but the developer convolutes and unnecessarily extends the game with contrived obstacles. Players will get to a boat, but they'll need to find an engine. Or they'll search for a man's family and get led on a wild-goose chase across the city.
That problem with quests and story goes deeper the further players explore the campaign. What made the original "Dead Island" so good was the mystery, locales and scenarios that hinted at Techland's sense of humor. It was more charming with pop culture references.
"Riptide" has one moment of glee, but it turns into a paint-by-numbers parody of itself. Quests feel like errands. The thrill of surviving wave after wave of zombies quickly becomes a toil. Toward the end, players will just want it to end. Blame that feeling on a game devoid of surprises. Fans know what to expect.
That's the danger the zombie genre faces overall. It runs the risk of growing stale once everyone has seen all the permutations and plot lines. If fans can guess what will happen next, that's how we'll know this fascination with the undead has run its course. If "Riptide" is any indication, that could be sooner than anyone thinks.
Contact Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei.
'Dead Island Riptide'
1 ½ stars
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC