Review: Dead Island Ryder White

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Life can be hectic. Between a full-time job, being a father of 3, and taking care of a house, it can all just get so crazy. That's why I decided to take some time off and head back to my favorite vacation destination - the island of Banoi. The last time I was there I spent countless hours soaking in the sun, enjoying the sandy white beaches, and even took in a tour of their maximum security prison . . . all while severing limbs, bashing heads, and disemboweling a never ending stream of the undead. It was relaxing, reinvigorating, and bloody as hell - and I couldn't think of a better place to spend my hard-earned PTO.

But something changed since my last romp through Banoi's tropical paradise. It wasn't the zombie horde - they were still a major presence and just as infected as I remember them. The city streets were still littered with rotting corpses, and fires raged at every turn - so that wasn't it. I was still fighting for my life with every step that I took. Hmmm . . . what could it be?

Dead Island - the Ryder White DLC - is still what I came to love with my original playthrough of the game but it also brings with it some significant changes to the formula that some fans may be concerned with. The developers at Techland took the orginal co-op focus of Dead Island - inclusive of a robust leveling up system - and turned it on its head with the lengthy Ryder White DLC.

First and foremost, the idea of co-op was thrown completely out the door. Ryder White is a single player only side-story campaign that nicely fills a number of plot holes from the original story. Gamers looking to hop back into a new session of Dead Island co-op will likely be disappointed. You're on your own this time, and fighting for your life becomes significantly more detrimental, but not necessarily more difficult - I'll explain more.

One of my favorite features of Dead Island was the emphasis on melee combat. A variety of weapons were always in abundance throughout the island. From broom handles to machetes - you never had to look very hard to arm yourself. Modifying these weapons with a variety of items plundered along the way was another great idea. Stumbling across a pistol, rifle, or shotgun was a rarity and, when found, were sometimes more precious than a much needed med pack. The DLC for Dead Island switches gears and relies almost exclusively on firearms to help you along your way. It makes sense as the character you play - Ryder White - is a military man through and through. He is also the same character that, for those who played Dead Island, may remember as being the "puppet master" and the game's primary antagonist. Every story has another side to tell and Ryder White's is no different.

The premise of this roughly 6 hour story involves stopping the spread of the infection. You are sent in by helicopter and, as you might expect, things go terribly wrong. You quickly become the lone survivor in the very heart of the "dead" zone. Your mission starts out simple enough - fight your way through the horde of infected to destroy the very bridge that could effectively cut off the infection from spreading any further.

You begin your mission unarmed but quickly utilize whatever crude weapon you can find. Melee is the initial form of combat but a few checkpoints later your inventory will quickly change to an abundance of handguns, rifles, and other assorted automatic weapons. Because your arsenal eventually replicates even the most absurd of Rambo movies, the gameplay and tension takes somewhat of a backseat. Sure, hearing the screams of the infected as they rush at you still sent chills down my spine, but realizing that I can drop them before ever coming into contact gave me a sense of empowerment not often experienced with the original Dead Island.

Although there are still plenty of opportunities to repair, modify, and level-up whatever weapons you carry, there is no such character leveling involved with this campaign. In addition, where Dead Island presented it's player with an incredible amount of side quests while exploring the vast open world, Ryder White is very much a linear experience. You have your mission and primarily need to get from point A to point B - but it ends there.

Along the way you'll experience some interesting twists in the story (that I won't spoil here) but the end vibe is more of a tropical island version of Left 4 Dead than what I was expecting. For me, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Although a dramatic change in game mechanics, the DLC provided me with a reason to revisit the island that previously invaded my dreams with a fair amount of frequency. I enjoyed it for what it was and feel that it was well worth the $10. At this story's conclusion I re-evaluated my impression of Ryder White from when I first encountered him during the original story. Was he the same man I despised at the end of the game, or was he simply a bi-product of the events that he was forced to live through? Funny thing about the zombie apocalypse, it has the ability to change people . . . in more ways than one.

**As this DLC requires the disc to play, I worked my way through it on the PlayStation 3**