Have you ever been forced to go on a guided tour when all you wanted to do was explore? That was pretty much my experience of Dead Island: Riptide. Before we (the press in this instance - not the royal we) got to grips with the game, we were shown some pretty impressive level run-throughs, while the people from Techland showed us how they'd improved upon the previous Dead Island (which received mixed reviews from both press and gamers alike when it was released back in 2011). Which is fair play - nobody expects to go into a hands on demo cold. What did strike me as a little odd was when I and two other players were told that we'd be playing multiplayer with a dev along for the ride to walk us through it. This kind of defeats the purpose of a hands on demo. Previews should always be taken with a pinch of salt, mainly because they don't often reflect the final product (and I don't mean that in a negative way - the final build is often much more superior on release than the demo most of us play at these hands on events, with a few notable exceptions), but when I'm having my hand held through the experience, it becomes hard to build an opinion that's of any consequence.

 photo di-riptide-01_zpsa56d2262.jpgWhen I get to play an early build of a game, I like to explore, test the demo's limitations, try out as many weapons as possible - or just stop and do nothing. Look at the environment. Does the sea look realistic? Are those palm trees swaying in the wind? Unfortunately, I didn't really get to do this. I spent 30 mins, running after my squad mates, trying to find a decent enough weapon to take on the zombie hordes that frequently attacked us. Unfortunately, the best I could find was a kitchen knife and a nail gun (there were better weapons, I just wasn't quick enough to pick them up). The former broke after a while, and the latter ran out of nails (you could pause to retrieve your ammo, but we were being driven through the level by a dev, constantly pushing us on to the next part of the level) so my experience of Dead Island: Riptide is that punching and kicking zombies to death is a high risk/low reward tactic to use. I died. A lot.

One of the major overhauls of the game's combat system is the ability to level up weapon ability, so the machete you're using to lop the arms off the undead will last longer, and do more damage. Guns are also allegedly supposed to be a lot more powerful than in the previous game, but then I can't attest to this, as I never got to get my hands on one. The hit boxes for the zombies, and the combat physics, have also been polished, so if a player hits a zombie in the arm, the arm will display damage (or just plain fall off), and they'll fall depending on the direction of your attack. There's also some pretty nifty finishing moves. Whenever I floored a zombie, I made sure I got close enough to activate the "stomp on head" move. It conserves stamina, and means it's one less walker you have to worry about.

 photo di-riptide-02_zps8ff55cf0.jpgThere's a tactical element to the game as well: at one point we had to erect fences around an environment so we could focus our efforts on a single point of entry. The dev run-through prior to the hands on also showed me that players can choose the difficulty of their path when navigating a level - choosing higher ground will lead to less loot and weaker walkers, where as choosing a path through a waterway littered with corpses provides a heftier challenge, but with more loot.

Visually, I didn't find the game to be all that impressive. But, as I mentioned before, it's not the final build - there will still be some finishing touches and some spit and polish to go before it hits shelves in April. As an experience, again - hard to gauge. I had to play it with one headphone off to listen to instructions from a dev, and with two people I'd only just met. Honestly, I didn't enjoy myself - the situation in which I played was as far from the typical gamer's perspective as it is possible to get. Played at home, with a few friends online, this game could be the best thing since Left 4 Dead 2, but I'd wait for the reviews to make your mind up.