More than twelve years after the release of Dead Island, and after a decade of false starts and stops involving at least three video game studios, Dead Island 2 is almost upon us. A little over a month from now, on April 15, Dead Island 2 will come shambling out of the shadows and sink its teeth into a gaming community that thought that – like zombies – there was no way that Dead Island 2 would ever be real.
But Hell has indeed frozen over, and Dead Island 2 is skating across the ice right towards us. I was able to go hands-on with an early build of the game, putting in five or six hours to work my way through the opening areas and the first couple of bosses. And while I noticed a lot of things about Dead Island 2, what made the biggest impression was the fantastically gory and realistic battle system.
To call the kills in Dead Island 2 brutal is an understatement; the violence on display in this game is visceral, bloody, and raw. The developers at Dambuster Studios have ensured that every zombie in the game has realistic anatomy. Not only are these guys’ skeletons wrapped in digital muscle; every zombie in the game has realistically rendered brains and internal organs, which can be ripped, shattered, exposed, and burnt. When you slice a zombie in half in Dead Island 2, it is entirely possible that you will then see their entrails unspool from their abdominal cavity, like something out of a George Romero movie. It’s gross, and awesome.
Attacks in Dead Island 2 are dynamic and intuitive. By adjusting the angle of your attack a little bit, you can easily aim for individual body parts. Sick of that runner that has been chasing you around? Chop off his legs. Tired of getting clobbered by that titan? Aim for his arms and see how much damage he can do with two bloody stumps. Depending on the type of zombie and the weapon you are using, it isn’t unusual to see enemies utterly explode in a shower of gore and viscera. The effect is both gross and spectacular, kind of like watching fireworks made of blood.
More than once while playing Dead Island 2, I endangered myself while fighting a horde by turning to look at the aftermath of my violent deeds. But the grossness on display was just too rich to not examine it up close, even if it exposed my rear to attack. The zombie behavior in Dead Island 2 is extremely realistic (I mean, as realistic as possible for something that isn’t real), and the undead don’t hesitate to come at the player from all directions. Yes, you can run past the shambling zombies, but they do chase you, and if you aren’t careful you can easily find yourself surrounded and overwhelmed.
My time with Dead Island 2 made a strong case for playing the game in multiplayer – a feature that I was unable to check out, but am excited to try. While I was able to traverse almost all of the semi-linear levels by myself with little difficulty, the climactic boss fights – while possible to win alone – really cry out for a group of buddies. While I was able to quickly determine attack patterns from the bosses themselves, shambling zombie adds just kept wandering into the battlefield, climbing out of sewer grates and dropping off of nearby balconies. This onslaught had me wishing for an additional set of hands to wipe some of these fools out so I could concentrate on the bosses.
Players have a bunch of different ways to kill zombies, as Dead Island 2 practically hurls new weapons at the player around every corner. Within an hour or two, I had so much cool stuff at my disposal that I was struggling to figure out what I needed to drop in order to fit even more cool stuff into my inventory. Flaming machetes, electrical crowbars, the occasional paddle or baseball bat; anything close at hand is effective at lighting up nearby zombies, though the weapons do each have their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll probably want to try everything you can get your hands on though, because some stuff can surprise you. I was completely taken aback when I settled on an electric crowbar as my favorite weapon. It wasn’t fancy, but it packed a hell of a punch.
Weapons do deteriorate with use, but a quick trip to a workbench can get them back into pristine shape for a price. With a full weapon wheel’s worth of goodies at your disposal at any given time, I found myself settling into a hierarchy of weapons, using my favorite until it was almost destroyed, then moving onto the next, etc. In addition to patching up your broken gear, workbenches also allow the player to soup up their stuff, adding elemental mods and perks to maximize damage and effectiveness.
As I mentioned above, Dead Island 2 isn’t an open world title, but there is still plenty of room for exploration. There is a straight path one could follow through the game, but the areas are large enough to give the player some breathing room; there are plenty of rewarding distractions to discover along the way. In the levels I played, I found that wandering off the beaten path would usually reward me with either some great loot or a fun side-quest.
The tone of Dead Island 2 is firmly tongue-in-cheek. It amused me how the characters in the game frequently acted completely nonchalant about the fact that they were surrounded by death and destruction. A lot of the humor stems from environmental storytelling; I had a great time just wandering into hotel rooms and thinking “What on earth happened here?” when surveying the blood and carnage left behind by those that came before me.
I’m purposely avoiding specifics about Dead Island 2 in favor of talking about the concepts; I could describe the opening levels, bosses, characters, and quests, but what fun would that be for those that want to play the game? I will say this: when a game has been delayed as long as this one, sometimes people get the idea in their heads that the final product will somehow be the second coming of all that is holy, the greatest video game in the history of video games. Dead Island 2 is not that. It is instead an irreverent, violent romp through a zombie-infested LA, one that takes gives the city and its image-obsessed inhabitants a gentle ribbing without being overly aggressive. What we have here is a very well-made action title with a broad sense of humor and some absolutely stellar zombie kills.
From what I’ve played, Dead Island 2 is a smashing good time, and fans of horrific dark humor ought to get pretty excited to check it out. Sure, it’s been over a decade since we played in this world, but maiming zombies never gets old. Gore-hounds and zombie-haters have good reason to look forward to Dead Island 2’s April 21 release date. The blood is going to fly, thick and sticky.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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