Welcome (Back) to the Jungle
Opinions about Techland and Deep Silver’s zombie horror melee extravaganza were already formed last year when the game proper released. In the intervening months, gaming audiences have had the chance to explore the zombie-infested island paradise to great length, including the recent lackluster Bloodbath Arena DLC pack. However, it was all just a build-up to the single-player Ryder White campaign, which doesn’t revolutionize the gameplay, but manages to take the existing game’s 40-hour storyline and completely turn it on its head in one bite-sized nugget of nutritious zombie chow!
Essentially split into two separate halves, Ryder’s story takes place in the city of Moresby – post-outbreak but pre-game – and Banoi Prison, finally crossing with the original plot a few times and ending concurrent with the game’s final boss battle. Ultimately, the fates of Ryder and his wife Emily are known to players who have completed the game. In fact, I look at the DLC campaign as acting as a sort of epilogue, and would therefore recommend anyone to complete the main campaign beforehand.
Being in control of Ryder White, who guided players through the main game via radio contact and became an unexpected (or predictable) nemesis during the last moments of the game, seemed like a good way to find out more about how all the madness on the island of Banoi started. While Dead Island‘s plot dragged its lifeless feet in parts and often seemed to be nothing more than an unwitting host for repeated fetch quests and escort missions, the Ryder White campaign manages to cast the original story of survival in a new light, revealing startling secrets behind the events and people whom players met in the core game.
It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again
In terms of graphics, gameplay and controls, the game handles identical to the way it did with the original band of survivors. Ryder has employs an instant-kill curb stomp and has access to a chargeable rage attack that slows time and enables one-shot kills from his handgun. Overall, Ryder is a military man, and I therefore felt empowered to take a more gun-friendly approach to combat than the initial game. Thankfully, ammunition also seems designed to be much more readily available this time around. Melee weapons are sill around, and Ryder will even find a few mod plans to upgrade them, but expect to only have a few rudimentary armaments with you, as upgrades and repairs still cost money, which is much more dear this time around.
Contrary to what we were initially led to believe, Ryder does not level during the game’s duration, and players are given no skill points to improve or customize their fighting style. But perhaps this is because Ryder is a seasoned, well-trained soldier. He’s got no need to “discover” new methods of attack; he uses what he’s been taught.
And fight he will. While the first half of Ryder’s quest mainly features the slow-moving Walker-type zombies and some more vicious Infected (with a few shooting galleries stocked with human Punks thrown into the mix), he will go up against all the enemy types from the game once he makes his way to Banoi Prison. Heavy hitter Thugs, fearsome Rams and bloated Floaters all make appearances, with only the viciously macabre Butchers missing from the line-up.
Predictably, there are no all-new settings made for this DLC; Ryder must prove his worth after being stranded in Moresby, the sole survivor of a military convoy en route to stopping the spread of the outbreak. Essentially, Moresby is the same as it appears in the game, and you’ll cover some familiar territory (though the church isn’t directly accessible, you’ll see it while running past it); at best, the rubble and debris in the streets is arranged in different fashion. The same design philosophy holds true in the prison, though Ryder will tread into some previously undiscovered sections of the facility, such as the basement and the rickety escarpment running along its periphery.
Tell Us a Story
With the settings and gameplay being largely the same, what’s the reason to get into the DLC in favor of just taking one of the original survivors on a run-through? The good people over at Techland have really done an excellent job in terms of revealing new angles to familiar events from the game, presenting them from a new point of view. This is really where the game shines, though the real engaging storytelling doesn’t happen until the second half of the campaign. During the initial hours in Moresby, the plot is mostly restricted to finding audio logs of a detachment of soldiers who preceded Ryder’s foray into the city.
With the arrival in Banoi Prison, however, the intrigue ramps up. Familiar prison inmate Kevin appears soon thereafter – I won’t spoil it for those who didn’t catch the hints in the original game’s ending, but not all is at it seemed with the seemingly mild-mannered computer hacker. In fact, playing the DLC will open up a new way of looking at virtually the entire game. It seems that many – including the villains – were who they seemed to be. In my mind, this is the true achievement of the DLC campaign, and the real reason to venture back to Banoi.
The Final Verdict
Often, a DLC pack is meant to offer new maps, new characters and weapons, or new experiences. In the case of the Ryder White campaign, it doesn’t so much offer these things as it gives the entire original game a new slant, and drastically alters the whole existing plot. It also sets a much grimmer tone for a possible sequel by its end. It is a very satisfying capstone to the plot of the original, and a necessary piece of the whole experience. That being said, its nature makes it a worthwhile purchase only for those who appreciated the core game, and won’t offer any new in-roads for those who weren’t fans to begin with.