Dead Island 2 is a game made for two kinds of people: Those that like the idea of slaughtering zombies and those that really liked the first game. If you fall into one or both categories and can afford to, have at it. But if you're on a strict one-game-a-month budget, maybe wait for a sale.
Have you ever had the experience of visiting your childhood home and unearthing a wealth of treasures from your past? Old comic books with torn pages or boxes of dusty dismantled LEGO, manuals long since discarded. The tangible sense of nostalgia one gets from sifting through the little slice of personal history is captivating, a reminder of a simpler time when all one needed to have fun was an Action Man and his flimsy grappling hook.
In many ways, Dead Island 2 feels akin to this experience as a game firmly rooted in the past that manages to still be entertaining in its own right. The only problem is, once you’ve seen everything hidden at the bottom of the cupboard, there’s not much else to really do down there.
Leaving the bush unbeaten
Not messing around with any pretence, Dead Island 2 begins with a plane crash. The last flight out of the zombie-infested Los Angeles, rebranded with the suitable title of Hell-A, is brought down when the infection makes its way onboard. Your character, which you choose from a selection of different stated survivors, is then tasked with surviving the outbreak, completing quests, and finding loot to better build up their zombie-slaying skills.
Dead Island 2 isn’t going to win any awards for originality. Running through hordes of the undead and battering them with baseball bats and katanas isn’t a unique concept, but to its credit, the game is fully self-aware. Rather than designing new systems, the developers at Dambuster Studios smartly elected to improve what was already there and the result is satisfying combat that, despite its repetitious nature, never gets old.
Weapons slash and thud with satisfying (albeit grisly) sound effects, giving hits a solid connection that sells the kind of skull-shattered blow one would like to imagine a sledgehammer would deal to a zombie’s skull. It’s improved all the more by a truly impressive procedural gore system that rips bodies apart based on distance, strength, and angle.
Jaws hang limply and sightless eyeballs dangle from sockets in a technical achievement that is both stunning and likely to make a sensitive stomach more than a little queasy. It’s made all the better by the graphics which are simply stunning. Many interiors feel almost photorealistic while the streets are littered with careful visual details to really sell the idea of an overrun city.
Tumbling out the skill tree
While the brain-and-butter combat is enjoyable, the actual process of growing stronger feels like a step back. The original Dead Island provides players with a branching skill tree that generally offered tangible upgrades for levelling up. The sequel however opts to ditch this approach and instead deal out a literal deck of cards.
In theory, this means that each ‘slayer’ can be wholly unique; there’s enough variety in the skill cards that using the same deck as another player seems incredibly slim. Yet no matter how many cards we earned, it never felt like there was a substantial difference in how we played the game. All the cards offer slight improvements to abilities found very early in the game, meaning they effectively turn into small stat boosts. It got to the point that picking up a new card, many of which are scattered around Hell-A, didn’t really warrant much excitement.
Hackin’ and slashin’
Thankfully, the same can’t be said for the game’s weapons. The sheer variety on offer in Dead Island 2 is impressive and they drop frequently enough that it’s very easy to find a type that best fits your playstyle. Guns are only introduced around the mid-point of the game and while in theory these long-ranged killing machines should be the best option in a zombie apocalypse, nothing quite beats swinging a claymore equipped with an electricity mod into several undead brutes at once. The customization isn’t especially deep but robust enough to justify spending some time at every workbench to truly make your load-out personal.
As for the fluff around the edges, Dead Island 2’s is particularly good. It’s a rote collection of genre stereotypes stitched together with a surface-level satire of modern-day Los Angeles. Some of the characters do stand out as potentially interesting but it’s almost like the game is scared players will be too bored if they hang around any one person for too long. So most of the NPCs (non-playable characters) are insufferable. The result is a narrative that’s largely overshadowed by the gameplay, which isn’t a bad thing. We had a grand time catching up on some podcasts while splitting skulls in Hell-A.
Dead Island 2 verdict
Dead Island 2 is a game made for two kinds of people: Those that like the idea of slaughtering zombies and folks that really liked the first game. In essence, it’s largely more of the same, and given that it’s been over a decade since the original Dead Island, that’s certainly not a bad thing. It’s a captivating rollercoaster ride that manages to be entertaining throughout but, much like your dusty LEGO, once you’ve chuckled at it for a bit you’ll toss it back in the cupboard and move on to something a little more refined.