Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
April 21, 2023
Deep Silver Dambuster Studios
A group of feverishly hungry undead creatures stumble and lunge toward you, eager to feast on your flesh. You’ve spent some time gearing up at the nearby safehouse where other survivors cower within. You know you need to try and figure out what the hell happened to set this virus ablaze, and you have concocted some strange weapons to aid you. With a handful of zombie flesh as bait and a sword that is somehow charged with electricity, you dropkick a corpse into a swimming pool accompanied by a cheeky quip that pops into your head. Meanwhile, an influencer you bump into needs your help in creating some TikTok content. Dead Island 2 is not your regular zombie apocalypse.
In a way, it’s weird that we’re even here. Dead Island 2 was announced not long after the original was released way back in 2011, but has been stuck in various stages of development purgatory since. It wasn’t until recent years when the development team over at Dambuster Studios began to run (or shamble) with the title that it really began to pick up steam, and shockingly, the end result is better than expected. It taps into various genre tropes and expectations of the cheeky end-of-the-world premise, but it’s an enjoyable ride along the way as you curb-stomp hundreds of undead brains into the pavement.
Straight away, it’s clear that Dead Island 2 is continuing with the irreverent tone that made the first title so enjoyable. It steers away from the serious horror of other titles in the genre like Dying Light (where the survivors have been dealing with the situation for a while and are notably gritty and sad). Instead, in Dead Island 2 the zombie apocalypse just started recently, which means there has been very little time for anybody to truly get their bearings.
What makes the game stray into the silly territory is the way that it dials in fully to its location, HELL-A (like L.A.). Being in Hollywood territory makes for some lavish settings, as giant celebrity mansions are blood-soaked and full of corpses, allowing for a lot of little details that make the city feel really lived-in before everybody was killed.
“HELL-A is truly a gorgeous setting to be splattered with guts”
In other similar games, I’d normally find myself focused on the bloodshed instead of my surroundings. Though Dead Island 2 caught my attention constantly with visual flourishes and additions; in an influencer’s house, you can find the room where they create their content, complete with logo on the wall and piles of boxes filled with merch, just begging for an unboxing video or twenty. A party house with a couple of new pals stoned out of their minds is full of weed in its various forms, bongs laying all over the place beside other evidence of a good time that was had.
It’s all very colourful and pretty, with a nice contrast between the “brightness” of L.A. and the darkness of the situation at hand. You’ll turn a corner from a gorgeous poolside view to find stacks of body bags and miscellaneous limbs that are a constant reminder of the violence that has taken place. HELL-A is truly a gorgeous setting to be splattered with guts. But don’t worry, even at its most violent Dead Island 2 remains focused on funny first.
The characters you’ll meet along the way are Hollywood stereotypes that range from delusional actors and their assistants to needy influencers and other cowardly folks who have found ways to survive like the cockroaches they are. While other games attempt comedy with varying degrees of success, Dead Island 2 mostly does a good job of being witty and had me cracking a smile more often than not. It’s certainly not high art, but the breezy dumb tone makes for an entertaining experience that doesn’t lose pace.
Your slayer of choice, from the ones I tried, all have their own personalities and base stats to choose from; for example, Dani is an Irish rockabilly roller derby brawler with a twisted sense of humour, while Ryan is an exotic dancer on a mission to find his little brother. Each of the six available characters are fully voiced, no matter who you choose to play as. They also all eventually unlock access to the same skills down the track, so it’s mostly a personal preference who you want to slay as.
When it comes to mutilation and destruction, well, you’re in for a treat. Dead Space may have kicked off the year with some impressively violent skin-peeling technology, but Dead Island 2 delivers in-your-face gore that had me oohing and ahhing often. Using swords or knives, you’ll see the slashes through the flesh of the bloodthirsty monsters, complete with wiggling intestines on their insides. Smacking one across the face with a tire iron will leave their jaw literally dangling by a thread from their face as they lunge at you, and eyes pop out with a well-placed baseball bat to the back of the head like you’ve just met Negan from The Walking Dead for the first time.
Combat feels crunchy and squishy in all the best ways while remaining simple. You’ll have a quick attack and a stronger, slower attack, along with defensive abilities like dodge or block that can really make a difference in a pinch. You also have access to a well-time block that stuns foes and leaves them vulnerable to a killing blow. The different weapon types and modifiers switch things up just enough; maiming-style weapons can have you lopping limbs off in no time at all, while a big sledgehammer is great for crowd control and knocking multiple zombies for six. Guns do come into the mix later, but ammo isn’t abundant, so you’ll want to rely on the various melee weapons for most run-of-the-mill hordes you come across.
Weapon modification is also possible, allowing you to electrocute zombies or set them ablaze with fire. You can also spend some money to level-match whichever weapons you like most, which means if you have a favourite, you don’t have to just get rid of it as you and your enemies get stronger, which is an appreciated touch. At the end of the day though, you’re going to be mashing that right trigger on your controller as you smack and slash your way through thousands of undead, and things do get repetitive after a bit.
It’s not helped by the fact that some zombie variants are incredibly spongey and annoying to take down. Large brute-like monsters for example continue to make appearances, and they require a lot of hits to kill, while they repeatedly spam the same ground-pound attack that can knock you to the ground if you don’t time it right. There are also your standard Bloaters, Screamers, Exploders… the whole zombie family is here. It’s a shame then that Dead Island 2 suffers from enemy repetition, especially in the later stages of the campaign, where its solution for “more difficult” simply means “more of those tough enemies coming at you at the same time”. One boss fight in particular had me groaning like I was an extra from the game as it hit me with ranged attacks, a big brute knocked me to the ground and various other grunts descended on me with nothing I could do to stop from being overrun.
“…the variety in setting for each main mission is admirable and kept me on my toes throughout.“
Skill cards come into play to attempt in adding some more depth to the slaying, and they can be found by levelling up your character, completing quests, killing certain zombies, or hiding around town. These cards are interchangeable and can add special powers and abilities to help with combat, ranging from buffs and bonuses to more tangible attacks like a ground-pound or modified dropkick. It’s fun to find new cards and experiment with your deck, but I found the wrinkles they added to combat were only minor for the most part, with a couple of notable exceptions.
Dead Island 2’s campaign isn’t particularly long, but it has enough fresh ideas that it kept me interested until the end. The story tackles the choices of certain individuals that led to the outbreak, as you assist key characters along the way with their own plights. From creative movie stages with switches triggering VFX to disgusting sewers. From a hotel wedding reception gone wrong to science laboratories with strange discoveries. The variety in setting for each main mission is admirable and kept me on my toes throughout.
Where Dead Island 2 stumbles however is in the actual activities within each quest; inevitably, many of them require you to kill lots of zombies or defend an area, but puzzles get re-used a bit too. One that comes up a few times is where you have to turn valves to equalize the pressure underground by matching numbers, while several times missions are halted until you kill a certain zombie that is holding the keycard to access the next area. Often, a circuit breaker is needed to power something so you can progress; the main character quips, after the seventh or eighth time, that finding circuit breakers is getting repetitive. Just because the main character is “meta” mentioning the problem doesn’t make it any more amusing.
Side quests are usually fun diversions, like helping a cowardly lifeguard trapped on the beach or destroying monsters using pyrotechnics on a movie set, and “lost and found” missions that have you searching the city from one clue to the next to get a reward. There are also lots of locked boxes, safes, and hidden doors to find the key for, but I found myself only bothering with these if I happened to stumble across the solution, rather than spending time scouring the area. The vibe stays silly and the gore remains satisfying, but even so, I felt like I was going through the motions with these various distractions, aching for something more interesting to do or perhaps more of the main campaign to hold my attention.
Despite some lows, cooperative play remains a high and is the optimal way to play Dead Island 2. Experimenting with different weapons and smashing through zombies is just way more fun with a friend, and lots of those small visual details are worth sharing while you’re catching your breath and looting between combat areas. Playing with a co-op partner also makes some of the more annoying enemies a lot more manageable, as it gives them multiple targets to focus on instead of just you, easing frustration. We found very minimal trouble connecting to one another and progress carries across to each player, so it’s easily a highlight that makes the experience feel far less lonely.
- The violence and gore is very satisfying
- Light, silly tone keeps things breezy and fun
- Well-crafted world with plenty of little details
- Smashing zombie heads with a pal is always a good time
- Combat is fun at first, but can get repetitive
- Puzzles and mission types get recycled a bit
- Doesn't bring many fresh ideas to the table
Dead Island 2 is a silly, slaughter-filled take on the zombie apocalypse that is very entertaining without pushing the envelope of game design beyond the expected. HELL-A is the perfect bright setting to soak the streets in blood, and the little visual details ensure that there’s always something eye-catching that grabs your attention. Some of the objectives can get repetitive and combat itself could use a little bit more variety, but considering its painfully long development time, Dead Island 2 still makes for a satisfying adventure with a good sense of humour stitching together its various generic zombie parts into something worth celebrating.