Hot after this year’s sister release of Dying Light 2, the highly anticipated Dead Island 2 has a lot lying on it. Following the better part of a decade of delays and multiple changes of development teams, there’s plenty of caution to be had. Following some hands-on time with the game at a recent Plaion Spring Showcase event, it seems that it simultaneously looks to be a welcome “more of the same” scenario, and remains in good hands.
As the recent re-reveal and accompanying trailers have discussed, Dead Island 2 will take place in a zombie-infested Los Angeles (or HELL-A). Military solutions have proven ineffective and as such, forces have abandoned them. All that remains are civilians and the undead. Not too dissimilar to the hotel resort setting of the original, it already looks like this will gel well with the chaos that will undoubtedly be on offer. Communication around the game remains that you’ll be controlling a group of thrivers, not survivors. So into the fray your cast will go, hacking and slashing away at zombie flesh in bloody glory.
The journey across HELL-A has promised visits to many iconic locations, such as the high-end streets of Beverley Hills. My gameplay slice took place along the Venice boardwalk. Tasked with infiltrating from the beach and onto that famous strip and alleys of carnival rides, the task was to receive an important blood drive.
My run was in the shoes of a mid-game levelled character. At first glance, nothing looks to be all that new in Dead Island 2. Just the same old gory zombie slaying fun. I quickly became okay with this as I noticed keen areas of refinements and a smart return of tried and true elements. Like its predecessor, often the killing blow will result in a brief slow-motion moment for you to bask in that damage you just tolled. Sound detailing here felt more on point than ever, with blunt force weaponry and their crippling blows sounding bone-crunchingly good.
Also returning is a fury mode gauge that fills with the more kills you get. Instead of the player getting heightened shooting and combat abilities like prior, you in fact go (in my informal terms) “full zombie mode,” unleashing powerful swipes, slashes and strikes with your fists in a claw. This is but just a taste of the game’s premise of a character living with the zombie virus. While not necessarily an original idea by any means, the gameplay means and implications are more exciting as you’ll truly be able to get more in the face of the undead.
Skills and abilities are more revamped this time around too. One of my biggest issues with the original Dead Island is that it featured multiple skill trees, all a little bit daunting. There was no way to ascertain what was worth investing in, or how to achieve a certain kind of build. Now, these abilities come in the form of cards, found throughout Los Angeles and also earned. I didn’t yet get a huge understanding of what they did to mix up the fun, but at least there’s more experimentation available here. Gone is the feeling that you’ve wasted a point on a skill that ended up being useless. On the flip side, with only so many slots available for these skill cards, I can see players feeling left out in maximising their fun or build. Without further proof, consider this a relatively happy medium for now.
“…Gone is the feeling that you’ve wasted a point on a skill that ended up being useless.”
The good news is that wading through waves of zombies feels as good as ever. While Dead Island 2’s version of Dying Lights’ iconically powerful drop kick is here but in lighter terms, it still suffices. Parkour will undoubtedly be missed by some, though the absence just more comfortably emphasises the strength of the environmental design and boots-on-the-ground feeling.
Already equipped when I loaded in were a powerful semi-automatic rifle and a pistol that packed a punch. My character also had claws bursting with electricity and an axe with fire augmentations. All of these teased aptly some of the exciting weapon experimentation that will be on offer, as is tradition with Dead Island. Using all tools under my belt, along with a ground pound for crowd control left me feeling well-equipped and diverse in my skill set to get through a tough combat encounter.
The tone and setting look to be well-immersive in Dead Island 2. Tiptoeing both underneath the Venice boardwalk and nervously between stalls at night, picking off stragglers wherever I can before alerting one too many and being swarmed… it was a delightfully tense situation. Populating this area were zombies dressed in bikinis or swimming trunks, others entirely jacked up and as such tougher foes to topple. The feeling of the vapid, pretty Los Angeles and its typical inhibitors now mixed with a zombie flair is schlocky horror at its best.
I even got a bit of experience with some of the varied zombie types found. There are your usual suspects such as bloated enemies that spit bile at you, beefed-up bruisers and those that bring attention to others by letting out a shriek. What I didn’t expect was a zombie that was just emitting electricity. No silly roundabout explanation as to why they were like this. They’re just there and another example of the oozing pulp horror goodness that looks to be coming.
It may not be for everyone and at least yet doesn’t look to be reinventing the wheel, but Dead Island 2 so far at least looks set to deliver the atmospheric zombie-slaying goods. If you’re already aligned with that crowd of horror fandom then I strongly suspect you know this will be for you. Thankfully the wait is closing more and more. Dead Island 2 is slated to release on February 3 for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC. Stay tuned.