Dead Island 2

Back in 2011, Dead Island was revealed with what was quite possibly the most emotionally devastating video game trailer ever made. Seriously, this thing was heavy.

You know what? If you haven’t seen the original Dead Island trailer, you really should check that out now. I’ll share that here for you. Just be warned that it’s pretty unsettling.

When the game released later that year, it didn’t quite live up to the extremely high expectations set by that original trailer, but Dead Island did develop something of a cult following — enough that a sequel, Dead Island Riptide, was released in 2013. But then developer Techland and publisher Deep Silver parted ways. Techland went off to develop Dying Light, which I think is quite possibly the best zombie game of all time, while Deep Silver hung onto the Dead Island rights, letting the I.P. slumber for a decade.

In early 2022, Techland released the highly ambitious Dying Light 2, which just didn’t pack the punch that the first game did. In fact, it only left a lot of us itching for more Dying Light action while recalling Dead Island through rose-tinted memories.

And that means that the proverbial soil was fertile for another Dead Island game. So when Dead Island 2 broke its long silence in 2022 with a fresh gameplay trailer, the zombie-loving gaming world let out a collective cheer.

With Techland focused on supporting Dying Light 2, Deep Silver brought on Dambuster Studios for development duties this time around. How did they do? Is Dead Island 2 good enough to escape the long shadow cast by Dying Light? Deep Silver sent me a review code so I could answer these questions for myself.

Dead Island 2

And I have to say, Dead Island 2 isn’t exactly what I was initially hoping for, but I’m also not disappointed. I had a ton of fun with this game.

What I really wanted from Dead Island 2 was something to rinse the taste of Dying Light 2 out of my mouth. I was hoping for something a bit more open-worldy, but even as a more confined experience, the game really clicks for me.

The main reason for this, I think, is that combat feels excellent. There’s a slew of melee weapons, from knives to baseball bats to massive sledgehammers, and each one feels unique. In lesser games, swinging a bat would feel roughly the same as a sledgehammer, but in Dead Island 2, those are wildly different experiences.

You’ll get access to guns later in the game, and this is where things really start getting interesting. I’m particularly fond of the carbine because it feels so mechanical and heavy, and I tend to really enjoy chunky-feeling firearms in video games. There are, of course, also several shotguns and pistols and even a nailgun to use, depending on your preference.

Dead Island 2 - Carbine

And part of what makes all this feel so good is just how amazing the sound design is. Smashing a zombie head is more fun when it sounds like a watermelon exploding like a Gallagher prop, and there’s an accompanying wooden donk sound as the lumber hits the skull. That carries over to ranged weapons as well, with mechanical clanks and clinks and chicka-chickas as you fire and reload.

Further, there are elemental effects that combine in neat ways. For example, you can take a jerrycan of water and soak a section of sidewalk, then attack it with an electrical charged weapon to create a shocking deathtrap. Here’s a video of what I mean by this:

You can also use water to put out fires or clear away toxic goo, or you can douse areas in gasoline and set them ablaze with either an electric weapon or a fire-based weapon. If you really want to get creative, you can set up traps that cause water to become electrified, which will in turn blow up gas cans, setting the entire area on fire. Playing around with all this is immensely enjoyable.

About halfway through the game, you’ll unlock the Fury ability, which causes everything to go red while you go into full-on Hulk Smash mode. This effect drains over time, but it can be recharged by killing zombies or drinking energy drinks, and when your gauge is full you can activate Fury by pressing R3+L3. While you’re not technically invincible in Fury, you certainly feel like it, all of a sudden finding the confidence to attack elite zombies with nothing but your bare hands.

Dead Island 2 - Fury Mode

And if all that isn’t enough, the positional damage system is incredible. You can shoot a zombie’s arm off from 50 yards away, or hack a zombie’s legs off to leave it helplessly crawling across the ground. Headshots often result in exploding brains, and zombies react fairly realistically to exactly where you hit them. Plus there are effects, like one called “Melting” that’s applied via caustic acid — you’ll watch clothes and then skin and muscle just melt away, exposing the skeleton within before the poor zombie just crumples into a heap of bloody bones.

Seriously, combat is so fun that I would often just put on a podcast and run around smacking zombies with various things, completely ignoring whatever quest I was currently tasked with. I’m not kidding when I say that I’d sometimes do this for hours at a time — this combat system is just endlessly entertaining.

Dead Island 2 - Critical Hit

And then there’s the crafting/repair system, which I had a ton of fun with. Most of the weapons you collect can be modded, though you’ll need to find blueprints for the specific mods that you want. But this lets you add or change damage types, add unique perks (like faster reload times or increased damage), and even repair something that’s broken.

This is where Dead Island 2‘s breakable weapons system feels so much better than, say, Breath of the Wild‘s. In BotW, you knew to never get attached to a weapon, because it would eventually break and you’d have to replace it with something else. And then once you found the Master Sword, you wouldn’t touch another weapon for the rest of the game. On the contrary, in Dead Island 2, even though weapons will wear out and eventually break, they can always be repaired at a workbench. And, to top it off, you can spend money to increase the level of any of your weapons. So if you get a machete at level 3, you can keep paying to upgrade it so that it’s still a viable weapon at level 23. This allows you to find a weapon type and mod combo that you love, then just use that for most of the game.

Dead Island 2 - Amy

Of course, this brings up one of Dead Island 2‘s weird quirks: Money makes no sense in this game. How would spending money at a workbench — where you’re clearly all alone — help you to repair a weapon? And why are prices so inflated, with a high-level hammer selling for $5,000 or more? Now, I totally accept this premise from a gameplay perspective, because it’s so much more convenient than, say, having to find specific resources to repair specific items (metal scrap to repair a sword, for example). But from a lore perspective, it feels really weird.

And since I’m going through my gripes here, I also want to bring up the fact that occasionally zombies just materialize, as if they were beamed down by some sort of spacecraft. I get that game devs are still wrestling with draw distance (even now, in 2023), but Dead Island 2 is pretty good at hiding this. Zombies will often wriggle out of a storm drain, or from under a car, or from a vent in the ceiling, which masks the fact that they’re spawning in. Because the game was so smart about justifying its zombie spawns visually, it makes it kind of jarring that you’ll just see them warp in sometimes with no context for how they got there.

No, this doesn’t happen a lot, and it’s really not that big of a deal, but it is something that I couldn’t help but notice.

Dead Island 2 - Cosmic Intruders

Dead Island 2‘s story is pretty alright. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s also not boring, and there are occasional moments where it tugs at your heartstrings. The characters feel two-dimensional for the most part (which is better than one-dimensional and not as good as three-dimensional), and there are a few that I got kind of attached to. Oh, and you’ll even get to hang out with Sam from the first game.

There’s one character in Dead Island 2 named Rikky Rex, who is a washed-up rock star. When you find Rikky’s house, you’ll realize that all this dude ever does is party. He’s not super troubled by the zombie menace because he’s drinking and fornicating until the early hours of the morning. He’s having too much fun to really think about how messed up the world around him has become. And I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for the game as a whole: Just relax and enjoy the party, my friend, because Dead Island 2 is pure dumb zombie-smashing fun.

Dead Island 2 - Rikky Rex

Ultimately, Dead Island 2 is at its best when it’s not trying to be anything but an immensely satisfying zombie-slayer simulator. Combat is so much fun that a lot of the small gripes I have don’t even matter, because I can just zone out and whack away at zombie limbs while grinning like a fool.

So does this game wash the taste of Dying Light 2 out of my mouth? I mean, I guess it kind of does. It prioritizes sheer fun over pretty much everything else, and it gives you a gorgeous-yet-brutally-bloody version of Los Angeles to play around in. No, Los Angeles isn’t an island, but you’ll forget all about that once you start hacking off zombie arms with a katana while giggling uncontrollably.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Dead Island 2 on PS5, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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