It wasn’t too long ago that most had given up hope that Dead Island 2 would ever come out. Originally announced all the way back in 2014, the action RPG sequel went through its fair share of development issues, including numerous delays and changing developers multiple times. Thanks to developer Dambuster Studios, however, Dead Island 2 is finally here- and all said and done, it’s worth the wait. It’s not a spectacular experience that’ll take your breath away by any means, but if you’re looking for a well-made, fun, and gory zombie-slaying adventure, you absolutely cannot go wrong with Dead Island 2.
Set about a decade after the events of the original Dead Island, the sequel takes players to Los Angeles, or HELL-A, as the game calls it- which is an appropriate name, given the state you find it in. A zombie outbreak has swept over the city and it’s now lying in ruins, crawling with the undead while survivors barely managing to hold out in scattered pockets. The new setting also brings with it a completely new cast of six playable characters, and though there are some connections in its story to the events of Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide (including some returning characters here and there), by and large, the sequel stands on its own as a self-sufficient story, which newcomers should be glad to hear.
"If you’re looking for a well-made, fun, and gory zombie-slaying adventure, you absolutely cannot go wrong with Dead Island 2."
The story itself isn’t special though, and the fairly straightforward zombie narrative isn’t helped by the writing and dialogue, which, for most of the characters, can often border on being annoying. Most key characters – including some of the playable ones – very rarely having anything of value to say, more often than you’ll, you’ll likely find yourself just itching to get back into the action again. That said, what does help the game ensure that players remain engaged is how well it utilizes its setting. Its version of LA is ravaged by an undead outbreak and buckling under the subsequent chaos- but it’s still LA. It’s full of personality and variety, and sports a vibrant and sharp aesthetic, one that excellently brings the many areas of the city that you visit to life. From the relatively more quiet neighbourhoods of Beverley Hills to much more crowded Sana Monica Pier to a number of indoor locations, there’s an impressive amount of variety on display in terms of both visual style and design.
That design is another one of Dead Island 2’s bigger strengths, in fact. Rather than taking an open world approach, the game instead linearly guides you through a number of different locations in LA, some of which are larger and more open-ended, while others are much more guided. In doing so, the game maintains focus and momentum while still allowing for plenty of opportunities to go off the beaten path and take on optional activities and quests, or simply explore. It’s a very well struck balance- there’s enough content to keep you occupied for plenty of time, and yet it rarely overstays its welcome, while if you wish, you can also return to previously visited areas. Undoubtedly, Dead Island 2’s decision to favour density over size does it and its pacing great favours.
But of course, the star of the show here is the brutal, crunching combat. It’s not very often that games manage to get first person melee combat right, and issues like jank and imprecise gameplay tend to be far too prevalent- that, thankfully, isn’t the case in Dead Island 2. Movements are precise and responsive, every hit lands with satisfying feedback, and enemies respond in ways that pull you in even more, so that even if you’re just playing the game as a straight-up hack-and-slash experience, you’re still bound to have fun.
"The star of the show here is the brutal, crunching combat."
There’s an impressive variety of weapons to use, from lead pipes, rakes, and machetes to sledgehammers, machetes, claws, and much more- and yes, you do also get some ranged weapons as you get deeper into the game, though the primary focus still very much remains on melee combat. Each weapon is fun to use in its own way, and thanks to the durability mechanic, you will frequently find yourself picking up and swapping between a large and varied arsenal.
That’s something I rarely had a problem though, not only because the game allows you to repair your broken weapons at workbenches, but also because it always remains satisfying to watch your undead enemies responding to different weapons in different ways- from getting maimed and sliced if you’re using a katana, to getting crushed or swept away if you swing at them with a sledgehammer, to getting immobilized and fried to death if they get electrocuted by an electrified machete.
The so-called FLESH system has a huge role to play in that, of course. Dead Island 2 is an incredibly gory game, and it takes great pride in that fact. It takes every chance it gets to show your enemies getting dismembered, burnt, electrocuted, crushed, maimed, and what have you in as much gleefully gory detail as possible, and adds to the fundamentally fun nature of the combat quite a bit. Meanwhile, the game also throws an increasing number of different kinds of enemies at you as you progress further, each coming with their own strengths that force you to adopt new strategies. Combine that with moves like blocking, dodging, jumping, kicking, and jumpkicking also contributing to the mobile nature of the combat, and you get a game that implements the fundamentals of its immediate gameplay loop very well.
Combat is also lent more depth by the game’s focus on the interactivity of environments and how well that works in conjunction with elemental damage and attacks. Whether you’re luring zombies into puddles of water that have live electrical wires lying in them or pouring fuel on them from a can to then set them on fire, studying your environment and finding creative ways to take out enemies always remains enjoyable. Meanwhile, weapons can also be upgraded and customized with mods to fuse them with elemental damage, the results of which in combat are also satisfying, to say the least.
"Dead Island 2 is an incredibly gory game, and it takes great pride in that fact. It takes every chance it gets to show your enemies getting dismembered, burnt, electrocuted, crushed, maimed, and what have you in as much gleefully gory detail as possible, and adds to the fundamentally fun nature of the combat quite a bit."
Heavier customization and progression mechanics are involved in Dead Island 2’s Skill Deck system, which is essentially the “RPG” half of this action RPG. You find and unlock new skill cards throughout the game, each bringing unique buffs and perks, ranging from passive bonuses to your stats to much more immediate boosts that can make certain moves more effective. From the different stats that the six playable characters start with to how you can then go on to further customize their strengths and weaknesses through the Skill Deck system, the game offers a decent amount of options available for tailoring your build to your play style. It’s not the most exhaustive progression system you’ll ever see, but it does just enough to ensure that the game’s combat loop never runs out of steam, while also helping make exploration and optional content more engaging.
Whether or not Dead Island 2 is a game that justifies the long wait leading up to its release is a difficult question to answer, not least because of just how long that wait has been- but maybe it’s ridiculous to even expect the game to live up to nearly a decade’s worth of anticipation. Here’s what I can say though- it’s an easy game to recommend. It may not necessarily offer anything we haven’t seen several times before in similar releases, but what it does offer is well-made and a hell of a lot of fun. From the buckets of gore to the hack-and-slash combat to how well it brings a zombie-riddled LA to life in its own fun way, there’s a lot to like about Dead Island 2.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Strikes a solid balance between being guided and open-ended; Combat always remains fun; Wide variety of weapons to use, most of which feel great; Environmental interactivity and elemental combat further spice up the gameplay; Impressive variety in design and visual style across several locations.
The story is nothing to write home about; Annoyingly written characters.
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