Dead Island 2

Review: Dead Island 2

Dead Island to this day has one of the most remarkable game trailers. It is ingrained in my mind and is the most memorable thing about the first entry even. The long-awaited follow-up to 2011’s Dead Island has had a tumultuous development period after being announced back in 2014, starting at Yager Development before Sumo Digital attempted to steer the ship in a new direction. If only things went smoothly from that point on.

Enter Dambuster Studios, an internal team at Deep Silver who worked on Homefront: The Revolution. The team took over in 2019, nearly five years after the initial announcement, finally putting the gestating production on the right path. Aside from the setting, which has been consistent across the three studios, Dambuster keenly focuses on what makes a zombie game good – fighting them and besting them as they stumble and groan toward you.

Welcome to Hell-A, The New Dead Island

So how do you follow up on what made Techland’s version work? Dambuster kept the sunny skies and attitude Los Angeles is known for but elevated the combat which was sorely lacking in the original Dead Island.

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If anything, Dead Island 2 modernizes the gameplay for a new generation and honestly, that’s exactly what a sequel needs to be. Like the original, you begin by picking your character out of six possible choices. Each character has its pros and cons, each one with its backstory and reason for being there and why they need to get out of the quarantine zone. Choosing from Amy, Bruno, Carla, Dani, Jacob, and Ryan, each character comes with two innate abilities that can be used as a base to build your ideal character. For example, Amy’s Relief Pitcher lets her gain stamina when throwing a weapon at a zombie and Divide & Conquer means Amy receives a small damage boost when dealing with lone zombies. Ryan’s Retaliation provides a force boost when using block or dodge, and Seesaw earns Ryan health when knocking down a zombie.

After the military shoots down a plane with infected on board, the plane crashes in Los Angeles and you as one of the survivors of the gruesome crash must venture into a quarantined Los Angeles. Within minutes, you’re bitten after trying to help another passenger and you quickly learn you’re immune to the virus.

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You’re given an address where some other survivors are holed up and given the freedom to venture out into the Hollywood Hills. From there, you enter a tutorial section breaking down the ins and outs of combat, how to take on missions, and even pick up sidequests from the locals who are shackled to their abundant homes filled with knick-knacks of their former lives as actors, producers, and even the gardening staff who supply you with weapons.

By moving the action to Los Angeles, you meet a ton of fictional celebrities who are now suddenly at the bottom of the pecking order. With nothing but their award statues and designer goods, celebrities and influencers now turn to you to help them find a way out of the madness. This is easily the best move Dead Island 2 makes as it moves from Banoi.

FLESHED OUT

The basics of combat remain unchanged so don’t go in expecting an entire rework of the wheel and thankfully that’s what hooked me from the start. You’re still playing in first-person with a primary focus on melee combat, with weapon degradation keeping you constantly looking for the next expendable tool you can use to bash the heads of the undead. You’re also scavenging for med kits, energy drinks, and protein bars and ensuring you don’t run out of stamina while out in the open. Stamina has also been altered with recovery being slower than in previous Dead Island games. Every time you hold down for a powerful swing or hit, the bar depletes until you’re unable to do any damage so you’ll need to think of how often you want to swing hard or risk being defenceless.

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Dead Island 2’s FLESH system is gory and gruesome, and I respect what the system represents. FLESH is short for Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids and is a procedural system applied to all enemies where their bodies can be damaged in a variety of ways. If you hold R2 and charge your attack then land a headshot, the zombie’s eyes will pop out of its head. Drill a zombie across the jaw hard enough and it’ll pop right off and hang there like a ripe piece of fruit. Alternatively, you can attack limbs and watch as the flesh is peeled away from the skin, muscles and ligatures and it is disgusting. Does the system feel a bit sadistic? Sure, but you’re immersing yourself here I guess and while I appreciate the attention to detail, it may not be for everyone as things tend to get messy and you can feel the physics at play. A machete or sword slices away at flesh far too easily and this is seemingly very few limits on how much damage you can inflict.

The FLESH system is over the top and probably unnecessary but honestly, it makes dealing with the undead a lot more fun. If you’re squeamish then I’d advise you to sit this one out because there are moments I had to stop and replay in my head what I had just done. If you couldn’t sit through Glenn’s death in The Walking Dead, then this is not something you might enjoy. In some cases, I beat a zombie with a mace and then as they hit the ground, you’d hear the sound of them choking on their blood while their eyes bulged out of their head. In other cases, I’d use a rake and degloved another zombie where their hand was dangling in the wind and you could see the muscle and tissue gushing blood.

Burn Down Los Angeles

Doing away with Skill Trees, Dambuster introduces Skill Decks, collectible cards that when equipped, give your character special abilities, powers and an assortment of aid when facing off against enemies. The cards are divided into four categories: Abilities, Survivor, Slayer, and Numen, which can be swapped out and combined at any moment. Some can improve your speed and stamina; others produce explosions when using a med kit to keep zombies at bay.

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It isn’t long before Sam B aka “Who do you voodoo” shows up looking for long-lost friend Emma, one of the people you saved from the downed airliner. Given Sam has had his fair share of encounters with the undead since the incident on Banoi, he provides several tips and tricks when dealing with the shambling meat suits in the immediate vicinity like how to electrify weapons. Given that weapon degradation returns in Dead Island 2, I didn’t expect to become attached to any one weapon given you are constantly discovering new weapons that are both stronger and more durable.

To customize weapons, you’ll need to head to a workbench and make sure you have enough components and cash. I rarely had issues finding the right parts just by looking around each room I was in and taking things from zombies once I’d finished bashing their heads in. In my nearly 28-hour playthrough, I only stressed weapon durability in the opening hours. You frequently find better weapons by simply exploring and while some of my favourite weapons broke while I was in the middle of fighting the undead, you have a bevy of available weapons.

You’re free to keep using the same old weapons and really that’s up to you, but the way I found the system works is it rewards you by continually swapping weapons. As much as I liked using my electric machete, a vendor had a katana that had better durability at the cost of power which I then modified to melt flesh away. There’s an assortment of combinations you discover that end up working well and suit any playstyle.

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It’s also important to note that there are several weapon types you’ll come across and each does handle a bit differently. A rake is better at maiming zombies and a machete is ideal for removing limbs. Depending on the zombie type, you might be better off taking a leg off a runner who can dodge attacks and pounce on you, or the crusher whose arms can cause some serious damage if they punch you. If you prefer to use guns, they return and can help turn the tide in a pinch. I stuck with a modified rifle and shotgun which paired with curveballs (special throwables like electrified ninja stars and chem bombs) are incredible in a pinch.

Instead of an open world, Dead Island 2 gives you hub areas to venture out and explore. It’s a welcome change to the sometimes overwhelmingly but almost always disappointing alternative many other games tend to offer these days. You might be stuck in the Hollywood Hills for a few hours but then you’ll be asked to move to Venice Beach or even a studio lot filled with tons of colourful sets you’ll then have to fight your way through. And in most cases, I had a lot of fun using the environment to deal with the larger threats — a movie set might have a rain machine which can be turned on and then you can also drop studio lights on the horde to crush and electrify them.

This also works as a double-edged sword though as whatever you throw at a horde of zombies can come back and bite you in the face. There are several zombie types you’ll find and sometimes in a moment of panic due to being swarmed, might forget that there is a puddle of water nearby and also a shocker zombie that when hit several times explodes with a blast of electricity or a former solider who is fitted with a ton of grenades who explodes when hit too many times leaving a trail of destruction behind. Other zombies might be retrofitted with breakable body armour which you need to remove to deal major damage.

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Comparably, I find myself having a lot more fun with Dead Island 2 than I ever did with Dying Light 2. It isn’t difficult to see the similarities at first given Techland kickstarted Dead Island, but I found myself gravitating to this sequel for the simple reason that this world and the characters rarely take themselves seriously. I tapped out after five hours when playing Dying Light 2 last year and haven’t had the urge to go back, which I found troubling given how incredible the first entry was and how much time I spent in that world.

Verdict

Dead Island 2 isn’t a serious zombie game and it is so much better because of it. While the world burns, all your character wants to do is have some fun while trying not to die. Returning fans will find easter eggs tucked away and with Sam returning in a supporting capacity, passing the torch to a new group of players who are immune to the virus. If anything, Dead Island 2’s path to release may have been troubled but Dambuster Studios did the impossible and elevated the core experience by doing away with the bloat previous games had.

Recommended

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Dead Island 2
Summary
Dead Island 2's troubled development has led to a satisfying and gruesome visit to Los Angeles. What you get is an impressive follow-up that plays great and offers up a ton of fun as you explore the mansions of Bel Air to the boardwalk at Venice Beach.
Liked
Fun and humourous, a zombie game that keeps things light
The FLESH system is disgusting, gory, and gruesome but it's a nice addition
Customization is king and finding and upgrading weapons is a blast
Large open areas filled with collectibles and weapons
Didn't Like
A typical story about zombies
Sometimes missions go on for longer than they need to
Had a few minor glitches that led to restarting the session