It’s been almost 10 years since Dead Island 2 was originally revealed, and since then the title has been coming in and out of the public eye thanks to delays, development restart, studio changes and more. So it’s been an amazing surprise to finally play the game and find out that we might have a bit of a game-changer in our hands thanks to the work of Dambuster Studios.
Publisher Deep Silver allowed us to have an extended look at the first few hours of the long-awaited sequel, just to find out what might expect us in Hell-A when the game finally launches later this April. What we found turned out to be an incredibly detailed world full of environmental storytelling, incredible gore systems that perfectly complements the heavy melee action, and much deeper character customization and build crafting than we could have expected.
Welcome to sunny Hell-A
Playing as one of six different playable characters (known in-game as “slayers”), each with their own base stats that might dictate the way you play the game, you’ll be exploring the streets of once was the Los Angeles area, including the lavish homes of the famous, Hollywood’s legendary movie studios, big fancy resorts and much more. But while most people would expect this to be a big open world with hundreds of points of interest, this is not that kind of game.
Instead what we were met with was a more linear structure, with optional explorable areas that are more akin to dungeons. This is actually something that we really enjoyed, since the way it’s set up allowed the developers to pack every area with not only fun scenarios and encounters, but they all feel different and well-designed. Loot doesn’t seem to be left to random number generators and luck, instead being more tailored to tell environmental stories. The world is divided by larger districts, and from the almost 8 hours we managed to play it mostly seems to follow this trend. Mansions feel lived in, hotels make sense, and the backroads you travel along make actual sense for the locations they’re supposed to be. They all look and feel like real places, except they’re boarded up and barricaded, and stained by blood and gore.
Coming back to the Slayers you’ll play as, each of them is an actual character in the world. No matter who you choose you’ll find out soon after beginning the game that they’re immune to whatever sickness makes the zombies that are roaming around the dead city. They each have a very distinct personality that comes up in the way they interact with the other characters, and as mentioned before they also play slightly differently thanks to their starting stats and perks. You get the all-around balanced exotic dancer, a parkour-loving agile character, a heavy hitter rockabilly melee-focused one, someone you could describe as a “thief” that’s good at sneaking around and dealing critical hits, and more. Each of them is fully voiced and characterized in the story, which means that there might be some replayability both gameplay and plot-wise.
A new card system allows you to create builds by selecting traits, abilities, and upgrades for your character as you progress through the game, and while it’s slightly simpler than other more convoluted RPG mechanics as seen in recent games, what you can do is incredibly deep. With the card system you can choose to focus on bladed weapons and dodging attacks, or perhaps you enjoy blocking and a more tactical approach to bashing zombie skulls. These cards are unlocked as you level up and advance through the missions, and you can stack their effects to truly adapt to whatever playstyle you prefer to have. It’s safe to say that, when compared to another player, the same slayer could play entirely differently.
Not for the faint of heart
If you know the original Dead Island, then you know that what was once marketed as a heavily emotional and dark horror game actually turned out to be… not that. This time all pretenses have been thrown out the window, and what we get is an unapologetically dark comedy, with hints of horror themes and extremely gory gameplay. And we love that! The team at Dambuster studios seems dead focused on creating a fun game, and while there are stories to tell here they didn’t spare any expense when it comes to the main thing you’ll be looking at throughout the game: the zombies.
One of the main attractions this time around is their new gore system, which gives every creature you’ll encounter through the game layers upon layers of bone, meat, and decayed skin. Not only are zombies distinct from one another in how they look, their clothes, or their hair, but when you strike them you start to break through these layers until their skeleton is exposed and they’re crawling around with one arm, still trying to nibble at your toes. As you strike with bladed or blunt weapons, their skulls crack and their muscles rip and tear, falling off to the ground and soaking the walls with blood. Their jaws fall off, their eyeballs pop, their limbs hang by threads and you fill the streets with more chunks than a butcher’s shop. It’s enough to make some people go queasy, but horror lovers will be gawking at this tech for a long time before they get tired.
What’s even better, is that there are more ways to kill zombies than you might imagine. You get your melee weapons to chop and maim, but the world is also filled with interesting ways to slay. zombies in a pool? Throw a car battery and see them sparkle. See a soldier zombie strapped with grenades at the front of a horde? Kick them back and watch them blow up. Grab a gas can and draw stuff with gasoline before lighting it up on fire and watching your enemies melt down to the bone, or use tons of set-up scenarios to kill zombies in creative ways. It’s like an arts and crafts station, but with blood instead of confetti.
Dead Island 2’s opening hours are sure to hook you almost instantly. Its more linear structure might drive some people away, but once you see how it makes for a deeper and more involved experience you’ll forget about it anyway. And besides, there are plenty of optional places to explore and get lost in, since everything twists around to make you feel lost. And if you focus on the combat, then there’s plenty to tide you over for hours on end. And while we didn’t get the opportunity to try out co-op, it’s already been confirmed that you’ll be able to do so in the full game once it releases, which means that you can enjoy killing zombies and exploring Hell-A with your friends.
Dead Island 2 launches on April 21, 2023 for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.