Developer: Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, Playstation 5, Xbox Series X (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 21, 2023
Price: $69.99 USD – Available Here $99.95 AUD – Available Here
There are certain games that come to mind when one thinks of troublesome development cycles and one of these titles happens to be Dead Island 2. Originally announced back in 2014, just a year after the expansion to the first game’s release, Dead Island 2 debuted to plenty of fanfare only to fall silent for years with only sporadic updates coming in the form of development teams being brought in only to be fired and replaced multiple times throughout the years. Now, nearly a decade after being announced, Dead Island 2 is back from the dead and is ready to bring the undead to LA but has this gore-filled game missed the mark or has its long development paid off?
Roughly ten years have passed since the events on Banoi Island and while the world may not have realized that the zombie threat was real at the time, it is getting a full dose of mayhem now as Los Angeles finds itself overrun with undead. With the army and other forces working to evacuate as many people as possible, players watch as their six playable characters make their own way onto one of the last planes set to take off out of LAX and avoid being trapped in the outbreak. That is until a celebrity on the flight turns and starts attacking other passengers, forcing the army to shoot the plane down in an effort to contain the spread of the infection.
Here players will select their “slayer” of choice ranging from a paralympian, an exotic dancer, motorcycle stunt driver, rockstar turned stuntman, hustler, and even an Irish roller derby player each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses and set of starting skills. Regardless of the character chosen, players will emerge from the wreckage and come to the aid of another celebrity survivor from the oncoming horde of undead only to end up getting bitten as a result. Struggling against the infection, the player’s only hope is to make it to their new celebrity friend’s mansion even if it means showing up with a fresh bite as their housewarming gift. It soon becomes clear that the player’s chosen survivor just so happens to be immune to the zombie virus and not only recovers from their bite but appears faster and stronger as a result, making them a perfect zombie slaying machine and, with a bit of help from Sam B from the original game, players quickly get the hang of creating a powerful arsenal that will help them survive the streets of “Hell-A” while looking for a way out.
Dead Island 2 is an interesting title that fully utilizes its Los Angeles setting to allow players to come across a wide range of survivors with different personalities as well as plenty of different environmental storytelling clues and collectables ranging from podcast segments, voicemails, to simple notes from survivors from before, during, and after the outbreak. Nearly every location that players travel through, be it an “influencers” mansion or a classic star’s abode to smaller houses of artists, beach shops, and more will usually have layers revealing elements about what happened there before players arrived. This contextual storytelling and worldbuilding is one of the game’s greatest narrative strengths and exploring each of the different locations ranging from Bel-Air to Beverly Hills to movie studios, and of course Venice Beach and more is a delight.
One element that remains true through most of Dead Island 2 is the game’s signature approach to the zombie apocalypse as it offers plenty of enjoyable and ridiculous setpieces with plenty of humor that fits in perfectly with its LA setting, though there is certainly a darker side beneath this same humor and the title does know when to take things slow for heavier moments. While players will complete a wide array of side-quests and meet many colorful survivors along their way through the roughly thirty to forty hour game (depending on how much players wish to explore) many of the little side-stories with these survivors end rather abruptly and even mentioning tasks for players to undertake in the future only for these quests to never happen with only a few having proper resolution. In the few cases where they do occur, players are often left in the dark about the outcomes, with some potentially key elements of the outbreak left unexplained.
That is nothing compared to the actual core storyline of Dead Island 2 as, while we won’t spoil anything that happens, there are a number of interesting developments that occur at the halfway point of the game including some intriguing confrontations only for them to never have any notable payoff and some of the biggest events It’s unclear whether these main storyline quests will be addressed in future DLC, as part of the game’s season pass, or in a potential sequel, ending on such an incomplete and cliffhanging note is a major letdown, especially since a number of side-quests don’t even unlock until the post-game and, outside of a few passing NPC references, don’t address it at all.
In many ways Dambuster Studios has taken the original Dead Island style of gameplay and refined it, opting to evolve many of the game’s mechanics while still sticking to the tried and true first person melee combat. Of the six slayers that players will choose from they each have various stat differences that will vary their growth, with Amy being the fastest but also having the least amount of health while Ryan is almost her exact opposite, serving as a slow tank of a character and each of these characters also have a unique pair of innate skills that serve as one of the biggest changes to Dead Island 2‘s approach to character building.
First and foremost, one of the things that players will notice in Dead Island 2 is that, rather than featuring only a few large maps, the title now offers ten separate areas to explore with most of these locations being rather large in size allowing players to run around and examine various nooks and crannies to see where survivors may have hidden their treasures. One element that has been removed entirely is vehicles as there is no driving in any form here which is honestly for the best as it allows players to navigate tighter areas with ease and encourages exploration, though players will unlock fast travel points partway into the game. Players will still gather cash as well as plenty of random tidbits of junk, gunpowder, alloy, etc. that can be applied to craft ammunition, healing items, and most importantly mods for their weaponry. Some areas that players will travel through may require Fuses purchased from vendors to open and often containing valuable weaponry and rewards and a number of locked safes, suitcases, and more are also hidden throughout the environment. These locked containers can only be opened once players have killed and looted the keys from the zombie holding them and while this is an interesting way to handle special loot containers, it is a bit annoying that some keys are only held by zombies that appear incredibly late in the game, though this does encourage repeat visits to see just how the zombies have changed as the outbreak progresses.
Now, as we mentioned before, one of the most notable differences about character building in Dead Island 2 are skill cards. Rather than offering skills that can be unlocked or upgraded as the player levels up, players will instead be able to apply various Skill Cards to their characters as they obtain them from leveling up, completing specific quests, locating them in the environment, or even finishing certain challenges. Players only have a certain number of skill card slots though they can eventually unlock every type of skill card available even though some characters may obtain certain abilities first. For example, Amy will gain access to the dodge combat ability allowing her to zip out of the way of a zombie attack, leaving them open for a counterattack, as well as a powerful jump kick while Ryan can block a zombie attack and follow-up with a counter or perform a slow but devastating drop kick. Eventually players can gain access to these abilities for any survivor as well as other abilities including a war cry and other options.
Alongside these defensive moves and jump attacks players can apply various skill cards that add additional modifiers to things such as dealing extra damage with jump kicks, healing when performing a well-timed dodge, reducing cooldown time on another new mechanic called Curveballs, and much more, though many of the most unique benefits come in the form of Autophage skills. These skills, as well as powerful “Numen” abilities come as players unlock a rage ability called Fury that will turn them into a powerful zombie slaying beast that can unleash the power of the game’s signature three tough zombies as their own while in Fury mode. Alongside these abilities come tainted skills that will raise the player’s Autophage level that comes with its own unique benefits and drawbacks at three different tiers. A third tier character can deal way more damage to zombies and stay in Fury longer but also suffers from reduced health gain from food and health kits as well as no regenerating health. These skill cards can be modified at any time while playing the game to fit the player’s playstyle or potential enemy they may be facing and there are some rather powerful combinations available. That being said, there are also a number of skills that feel incredibly useless compared to others with many of these unfortunately arriving quite early in the game making it difficult to see the potential in these skill cards in the early game.
The tools that players have to dispatch the various undead they come across, be it a running zombie freshly turned and eager for flesh, a generic walker, or even an anemic shambler, will come in all shapes and sizes. This includes everything from brass knuckles, pool cues, baseball bats, crowbars, kitchen knives, cleavers, swords, pikes, and much much more. While some of these weapons are improvised and are meant only for emergencies nearly every other weapon comes in a rare, epic, or legendary quality. These weapons give players the option to mod various improvements to them using blueprints unlocked through quests, challenges, and in containers, be it making them caustic so acid damage melts the skin from zombie bones, electric to stun and shock them, or even cause bleeding damage and more. The modifications are quite detailed and there is some strategy when it comes to modifying a piece of weaponry with the higher rarity gear allowing rarer upgrades but also more of them. Weapons can be swapped quickly using the weapon wheel that slows time or with the tap of the Y button and it helps combat feel fast paced and kinetic, especially since every melee blow feels incredibly satisfying thanks to the game’s impact system and zombie gore mechanics. The previously mentioned Curveball mechanic allows players to have a bit of extra weaponry in a pinch as every character can equip two throwable Curveballs at a time with each having its own separate cooldown meter. These Curveballs can deal straight damage such as a pipe bomb or throwing stars, bait enemies away from the player, or deal elemental damage in the form of molotovs, chem-bombs, and even spike filled bombs. Firearms are also an incredibly powerful tool once players gain access to them though it is worth noting that ammo is a bit limited in the game, with vendors carrying only a few bullets and players needing to either scrounge for bullets from the environment or craft their own. It is also interesting to note that the game makes great use of environmental options for damage, be it the standard exploding barrels or even laying your own traps using Jerry Cans filled with water, gas, and even acid to create traps or soak a zombie making them more susceptible to fire, electric and other types of damage.
The different zombie types that players fight against have their own unique affinities and resistances with firefighter zombies being resistant to fire and shock damage while hazmat resists all caustic damage, making sure players always carry a variety of tools to slay their way through the hoard and that doesn’t even touch upon the numerous “Apex Variants” that will feature some familiar zombie types from the first game as well as a few that have been reworked and brand new for this entry. These Apex zombie types can be incredibly challenging and often serve as a solid obstacle when first encountered and will populate the world once players encounter them for the first time making each encounter a possibly dangerous one when mixed in with standard zombie types.
Every good zombie game has plenty of gore and while there have been a few notable gore filled games released already this year, Dead Island 2 takes the bloody cake in this category. Dambuster Studios has made sure that the zombies truly reflect the damage that players deal to them as well as what type of weapon they are using. Players can use flame that will burn the clothing and singe the skin from their bones, electricity will blacken and char, and acid can turn a zombie into a barely walking piece of bloody muscle. Utilizing blunt weaponry can smash a jaw into a dangling mess or shatter a limb with bones protruding from flesh while edged blades can slice clothing, expose intestines, and much more. Firearms and heavier attacks can blow limbs clean off an enemy let alone the signature decapitations that remain as bloody and gory as ever. Though even a zombie with no legs can still be a threat as they crawl after players looking for one last bite to the ankle before having their head stomped in. This level of gore gives combat a visceral and impactful feeling, especially when wielding large weaponry that can send the undead flying, that never gets old. That being said, there are some instances where zombie bodies can really glitch around the environment once they are slain and can even sink into the ground in some locations.
It must also be said that while engaging against the undead remains incredibly satisfying, it also rarely feels like a challenge. This comes in part due to the way death is handled in the game as players do not seem to suffer any consequences from dying against the undead and will simply respawn without losing money or even weapon durability, giving players little incentive to avoid death, though a few deaths can come rather abruptly thanks to explosions often feeling like instant kills. Combine this with the fact that players can use money, an abundant resource in my experience, to not only repair their favorite melee weapons but even spend extra to match it to their current level and players may quickly find themselves sticking to some tried and true favorites rather than experimenting with the countless weapons that drop from defeated infected or unlocked chests.
As for the quests that players undertake, Dead Island 2 offers quite a lot of variety thanks to its setting. Many of these quests tend to simply involve tracking down an object or slaying a certain zombie but some, such as Lost and Found quests involve using notes and hints around the world to track down a special weapon and are a real treat to solve as the target will only spawn once players complete every step, though one did happen to glitch during my playthrough, rewarding me with the weapon despite skipping a step. Other quests can involve unique challenges such as slaying zombies in a certain manner to help keep things fresh and encouraging player experimentation. Between structured side-quests, lost-and-found missions, and of course tracking down various keys for chests, there is a lot of content to be had here.
While we weren’t able to check out the co-op during our time with the game prior to release, the developers offer up to three players at a time, a rather odd choice since usually these titles offer four player co-op. That being said, each player in a group will receive their own unique drops and will carry over any progress they make between play sessions online with others, meaning completing various side-quests or challenges online will allow for players to take the rewards back to their own game.
Visuals & Audio
Dead Island 2 takes all of the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and makes sure to offer plenty of color in its release of Dead Island 2 as players will be treated to a number of colorful and well detailed looking maps to explore. While these are smaller areas overall, there are no load screens once players are in a location though if the player is running quickly they may notice zombies materialize from thin-air from time to time. There is a solid amount of variety to the locales that players will travel through and the vibrant colors of these locations and the designs of the zombies with their clothing as well as the aforementioned gore mechanics make this game a real treat for the eyes. It is also interesting to note that the team went the extra mile to offer a Day and Night option for every map in the game including, oddly enough, the two underground locations.
Voice acting throughout the game is handled rather well with characters fitting their roles nicely, be it portraying a drugged out rockstar, soldier making her stand, etc. It is worth noting that some dialogue did replay from time to time while re-exploring locations that were tied to a side-quest but these were rare instances. The title also features a very fitting sounding soundtrack with a notable vocal introduction theme to the action as well as some great pieces of background music that kicks up when players encounter larger groups of zombies or face off against an Apex variant as well as a number of solid rock tracks usually used for drawing the attention of the hoard.
Dead Island 2 may have taken over a decade to arrive but these undead corpses are still as fresh and bloodier than ever. With visceral combat that has some of the best looking gore and zombie model reaction to impact and weapon variation around, players will be in for quite a treat when it comes to slaying their way through Hell-A but unfortunately an incredibly limited story with an abrupt unsatisfying ending and the lack of a notable challenge prevent this title from taking full advantage of what its combat and presentation have to offer.
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