Embarking on a rollercoaster trip to developmental Hell-A at least three times over, Dead Island 2 has been brought back to life more times than the antagonists of its very own story. Finally out in the open, Dead Island fans can now experience the sequel to its 2011 predecessor after 12 years of waiting patiently. Complete with a new cast of characters and one special recurring failed rap artist, Dead Island 2 actually bites off far less than it could chew by adding plot predictability, repetitive combat encounters, and a failed potential to be more innovative than it had the chance to be.
Choose Your Character
The beginning lets the player choose from a rag-tag cast of six characters who seem to be completely oblivious to the real threat of the zombie apocalypse. I chose the firefighter, Ryan, simply because he has the same name as me and I mainly prefer a strength build with my characters. Nevertheless, the gameplay of Dead Island 2 is mostly unaffected by whatever character you choose, regardless of their stats, like Force or Stamina, during combat. Stamina is mainly only drained when using heavy attacks, so you can utilize basic swings to your heart’s content and sprint around the world like an Olympic runner with iron lungs. Some characters have less health than others, but this makes little difference once weapon mods are introduced. Weapons have their own stats, like attack speed or power, and each mod adds a little more damage for each installation. Turning a machete into a fire-blazing, inferno slicer will easily hack up the strongest foes, no matter who you play as.
He’s Got an Arm Off!
Zombie slaying is the main premise of Dead Island 2, and developers Dambuster really wanted to make this stand out. Every weapon seems to definitely make an impact on the countless shuffling corpses that the game throws at you. For instance, a successful perfect dodge or block will stun a zombie and create an opportunity for a counterattack. Using the counter move for a knife will jam the sharp point of the blade into a zombie’s face, popping out its eyeball and revealing a gaping hole where its flesh used to be. Heavier weapons, like hammers or maces, will completely cave in a zombie’s skull, revealing exposed brain matter and shattered bone that will happily dangle from a walker’s ugly mug. Dead Island 2 offers one of the most thorough gore systems I have ever seen in video games. Weapons can be modified to add elemental damage, like electricity, fire, acid, etc. For example, accumulating a certain amount of acid damage will damage zombies to the point where the player can literally see the skin peel straight off the bone. Zombies that have been set on fire will go from looking like deformed corpses to walking, chargrilled, barbeque leftovers. Each blow is satisfying and shows the true impact of how much damage the player can actually do.
Who Needs Cash, Anyway?
Alas, the combat in Dead Island 2 only develops so far. Aside from a few Fury moves, kick attacks, and weapon types, including ranged weapons further into the game, like pistols and shotguns, Dead Island 2‘s combat has much room for improvement. Its predecessor had a mechanic that allowed the player to perform precise, directional melee attacks using the thumb-sticks of the controller, giving players more choice on how to tackle combat encounters instead of relying on repeatedly pulling the triggers until zombies go bye-bye. Death in Dead Island 2 doesn’t exactly produce any real consequences for the player besides restarting a few scripted sequences at certain times. In the original, players would lose money upon death, but in Dead Island 2, our character keeps hold of their wallets with an iron grip. As Dead Island 2 is labeled as a survival-horror game, it would make sense to have some consequences following our character’s demise, but there seems to be very little need for staying alive when free-roaming around Los Angeles simply for the fact that nothing really changes after this happens anyway.
Welcome to Hell-A
I had assumed that Dead Island 2‘s long development cycle would’ve led to an invigorating story about surviving the zombie apocalypse with epic setpieces and gorgeous area designs to accompany them. The latter is the only truth surrounding this as the story is pretty barebones and lacks any sort of creative flair that hasn’t already been produced in video games of the past. Basically, the zombie apocalypse has happened, a cure must be found, and our protagonist is unsurprisingly immune and is the only person who can stop the virus from spreading. Most of the zombies are what we have already seen before, like the Butcher, Slobber (Dead Island 1‘s Floater), and Burster (Dead Island 1′s Suicider), with only some walker variants being remotely imaginative, like the Swarm Walker that releases flies that drain our characters’ stamina. Los Angeles itself is a gorgeous little ‘island’ for players to explore but feels very linear compared to what it could’ve been. Dead Island 2 is broken up into zones that are basically fast travel points. These zones all look beautiful, featuring amusement parks and sandy beaches, but still feel too limited, especially now that drivable vehicles have been scrapped.
The saying “a delayed game is eventually a good game” can be twisted a little. Of course, Dead Island 2 may have been much worse if released earlier, but it is far from a masterpiece. Fantastic combat can only get a video game so far, and alongside its shoddy plot, repetition, and uninteresting cast of characters, Dead Island 2 had the potential to be so much better.
Developer: Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Windows PC
Release Date: 21st April 2023