The zombie genre is saturated, to say the least. With tons of games, decade-long TV shows and movie franchises, there is just too much of brain-munching hordes to consume in entertainment these days to the point where it has all become stale. That is where certain gems stand out as they aim to deliver a familiar but fun take on the whole apocalypse thing. However, striking that balance between violence and goofy isn’t easy, leaving you to probably wonder if the 9 years of development hell that Dead Island 2 went through is worth it or not.
Originally announced in 2014, Dead Island 2 has gone through multiple rough patches and developer changes and that would be putting it mildly. The series that sort of started the whole FPS Zombie killing with a whacky-weapons formula (Dead Rising being its 3rd person counterpart) while delivering an extremely nonsensical story seemed to have completely died, after all, we got two Dying Light games since the first announcement of Dead Island 2.
Turns out, the wait has definitely been worth it as Dead Island 2 turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, having given up all hope during its 9 years of delays. While I really enjoyed Dead Island and Riptide and even the ill-fated Dead Island Epidemic for its unique take on the MOBA formula, the original games felt a bit too arcade-y and limited in terms of gameplay systems and layers. That itch was later scratched by the parkour and over-the-top action of Dying Light games. However, in their pursuit of that adrenaline-pumping gameplay, Dying Light games became a bit too serious and went down the same doom-and-gloom path of typical Zombie media.
Thankfully, Dead Island 2 takes the reins back and while it does follow some of the same old cliches within the genre, it still manages to deliver a comical take on the whole apocalypse but this time you have to suffer (in a good way) through the absurdity of Hollywood celebrities and some truly oddball human beings.
A streamer house? Check. Movie stars who are not fit to survive in this world? Check. Dude-bros always thinking about working out? Check. Think of any stereotypical Californian (and if you remember the announcement trailer set to Pigeon John’s The Bomb) and you will eventually end up seeing them in Dead Island 2 to hilarious effect.
The story of Dead Island 2 isn’t something to write home about. But then again, it never is with these types of games. There isn’t anything new in the main narrative of Dead Island 2 that you haven’t seen before. Taking place 10 years after the first game, Dead Island 2 begins with your character among others on a flight trying to escape the zombie-infected area until your plane crashes and takes you to the character selection screen.
There are a handful of Slayers to choose from, each with their own personalities, strengths and unique abilities. So not only will your experience have some variety in multiple playthroughs of Dead Island 2 but also if you have friends for co-op it will feel like a proper team with unique characters instead of just one main protagonist being controlled by everyone in the squad. Something that both Dying Light games are guilty of as everyone in your team just selects a mute version of the main protagonist.
After the character selection, you start learning the different gameplay mechanics and meeting the wide roster of whacky characters. The rest of the twists and turns play out a lot similarly as well and if you have played Dying Light 2, the twist early on in the game and what it leads to after about 1/3rd of the game is exactly the same as the parkour zombie game.
That’s not to say that the story of Dead Island 2 is bad or boring, it’s just serviceable enough to keep the game going and keep you on track with the gameplay which is the main bread and butter of the game. It helps that all the side characters are such over-the-top human beings that you can’t help but laugh at how they have survived this long in this world. There is an entire quest involving you trying to kill zombies with style just so someone can record it for their online fans!
While Dying Light 2 presented players with a vast open world with activities spread all over, Dead Island 2 condenses the playable areas of LA and San Francisco to make more dense playgrounds. Although the number of activities is fairly limited in Dead Island 2, the nature of each and the lack of markers/scan abilities means you will spend a decent amount of time figuring out how to complete each side quest or access areas. While this may sound frustrating, it is actually a lot of fun piecing things together to figure out how to proceed or gain access to certain sections of the map.
The game still guides you with map markers for basic quests but the side content requires some memory and detective skills which is a plus in my books. Dead Island 2 is an open-world sandbox much like Dying Light 2, but it is a very different kind of sandbox. Where Dying Light 2’s gameplay involved navigating the environment in creative ways, Dead Island 2 puts more of a focus on killing zombies in a similarly creative manner.
Pick up car batteries and throw them at zombies, open up caustic acid valves to melt zombies into a pile of goo, or do the good ol’ fashioned kicking and punching, Dead Island 2 constantly keeps giving you new ways to kill the undead. That is what brings me to the next thing that I absolutely loved about Dead Island 2.
Dead Island 2 has hands down the best dismemberment system and limb mechanics in the genre in my opinion. Sure other games let you hit different parts of a zombie to deal different amounts of damage but none of them manage to achieve this level. The satisfaction of each hit landing or how those hits not only affect the appearance of a zombie but also their attacks and movement are amazing. The weapon variety, types of mods and upgrades you can equip them and the addition of a Skill Deck which basically act as abilities make up for a very satisfying combat experience in Dead Island 2.
All the different aspects of the combat system are easy to pick up but require effort to master and that mastery ends up rewarding the players as each combat encounter changes from a hack-and-slash session to a beautiful dance with the undead. That varying level of control over gameplay systems means Dead Island 2 should feel satisfying to both casual players and hardcore Slayers.
Speaking of Skill Deck, there are a lot of options to tinker with here to further customize how unique your Slayer can be. While in singleplayer, your skill deck loadout is very helpful as the correct cards can unlock abilities like dodge, slide attacks and more; it is the co-op mode where Skill Deck truly shines. Not only can you customize your Skill Deck around how YOU want to play but also throw in some cards to unlock abilities that also provide benefits to your team. Not very good at zombie slaying? Equip a card in your Skill Deck that allows you to perform a shout that weakens zombies and provides a boost to your teammates so they can kill them for you. The possibilities with Skill Deck in Dead Island 2 truly make the game’s various combat systems come together and shine properly.
Complementing the Skill Deck system are the weapon variety and upgrades. While scavenging for parts might seem like a mindless activity and spamming of the loot button in every building, all that scavenging is worth it when you can modify a Golf club to melt away zombie flesh with acid as you hit them!
Over the course of the review window, I enjoyed most of the time I had with the game. Sure there are some gameplay aspects that could have been improved or modernized a bit. Fast Travel for example took me almost 7 hours to unlock, after about 6-7 main missions. While on its own fast travel isn’t really a necessity but once you have exhausted all there is to do in a section of the map, traveling to and fro just to get to another area can be a bit annoying without fast travel especially since this isn’t Dying Light 2 where you can chain together cool parkour moves.
The technical polish of Dead Island 2 was also fairly decent, which is a surprise considering how most PC ports these days suffer from that. I tested the game on a 10th Gen Core i7 and a 4070Ti so almost the specs that are recommended for a 4K60 Ultra experience and can happily report that for the most part, I was able to get 60-70 FPS. However, the lack of some Nvidia features like DLSS or Raytracing might be a bummer for some people. Especially once you realize that your characters don’t create any reflection in mirrors!
I only encountered a handful of minor bugs like a zombie would glitch through a door or get stuck in stairs but I can count such instances on one hand. Since the game went gold in February, it seems like those extra two months before release gave Dambuster Studios enough time to polish things for a smooth launch. After 9 years of development, it would have been a massive shame if Dead Island 2 still released in a rocky state.
To wrap things up, I think Dead Island 2 is a solid return to form for the franchise and hopefully, this momentum isn’t lost in the planned DLCs for the game. While it may not be an RPG like Dying Light 2 with a branching narrative, there is enough depth in Dead Island 2 with the characters and playstyle to have someone play the game for hours on end and come back with possibly another character or experience the entire journey again for co-op shenanigans.