Dead Island 2
Developer: Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre(s): Action, First-Person,
Platform: PC (Version Reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 21/4/23
A code was provided for review purposes
Dead Island 2 is a game that I was initially sceptical about. While I did enjoy the first title, it soon got to a point where everything seemed just to repeat. Quests would become bothersome, fetch this, fix that, and the glamorous opening of that beach resort playground essentially showcased just how the rest of the game would play. You were given a sense of freedom yet remained on a linear line of quests. And come the game’s conclusion – if you got that far – much like the game’s protagonists, I was willing it to end.
When it comes to Dead Island 2, it’s mostly the same as our experience on Banoi. Yet, Dambuster Studios have managed to deliver a charming and bright sequel that refines the good parts of what made the original great for that opening couple of hours. With this in mind, my first foray into the ruined city of L.A. started off well. But did it last?
Who do you Voodoo?
Taking place roughly 10 years after the events of Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, Dead Island 2 takes place in the not-so-fictional city of Los Angeles. Due to a zombie outbreak, the city has been quarantined, and the U.S. Military is attempting to shuttle the uninflected to various safe zones. The game begins with a very action-oriented movie that showcases each of the six playable characters (Slayers) as they make their way to the evac plane as society breaks down around them. Once on board, they soon find out that a lone zombie has made it onto the plane. In the resulting panic, the military shoot down the jet. As the plane plummets to the ground, time freezes, and we’re then able to select our Slayer for the adventure.
It’s Slayer Time!
Each of the six playable characters comes with their own range of stats and skills. Much like a traditional RPG, how these stats are distributed is different between each. As such, there’s a decent amount of variation between the six that should appeal to most players. During my play-through, I opted for Dani – an Irish punk rocker with a passion for roller derby. Dani’s stats seemed to focus on survivability and dealing copious amounts of damage rather than being a simple tank. While I’d normally play as the defensive-oriented character, Dani – along with her voice lines – soon became the perfect choice.
As you start to journey into the aptly named Hell-A, you’ll soon start hacking at the local undead and completing quests that’ll reward you with experience. This experience then goes towards your character’s level, which increases once a bar has been filled. In turn, increasing your level then gives you access to skill cards which are then equipped to tailor your individual Slayer to how you play. These cards work in a similar way to that seen in Fallout 76.
You’ll have access to a multitude of cards that’ll affect everything from increasing your power and survivability to whether your character’s defensive move is a block or simple dodge. To stop you from simply equipping everything, each archetype has a set amount of slots for you to customise. As such, it’s best to equip those skills that benefit from your character’s unique talents, as well as your own play style. Thankfully whatever you choose isn’t set in stone. You are able to switch out these skill cards whenever you feel.
Aside from the glaring issue that Los Angeles isn’t actually an island, Dead Island 2 offers quite an interesting sandbox. While not truly free roaming, this version of The City of Angels does offer a lot to see. Set across various self-contained zones, you’ll be travelling about the city in an effort to complete the various story-related missions and plenty of side quests. There’s quite a variation in these zones which range from the high-end houses of Bel Air to a fully functioning movie studio. While each set does look the part once you roam in its streets, it’s clear there’s a linear path.
Arguably this is the curse that most – if not all – open-world games suffer from. While I can totally understand why we can’t roam in EVERY house, it does take the shine away from the “zombie apocalypse” vibe. However, away from this, the locations are presented with plenty of wrecked vehicles, blood-soaked residential streets, and abandoned military checkpoints. All told it paints a very bleak picture as to the outbreaks opening hours.
Shoot To Kill…
Much like its predecessors, Dead Island 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously. Late into the game, you’ll be able to craft an assortment of weapons that’ll make Ellen Ripley blush. Starting off with simple melee tools such as garden rakes and baseball bats, you’ll soon be crafting more exotic murder tools such as fire-spitting knives and acid-tipped pikes. While you do eventually get access to guns, in Dead Island 2, melee is the name of the game
Combat itself isn’t too taxing, and quite often, you’ll be slamming into groups of zombies while manically swinging whatever weapon you have. Surprisingly while the game doesn’t take itself seriously, weapons do have a degree of weight behind them. Sledgehammers, for argument’s sake, are quite hefty, giving you cumbersome and heavy-hitting attacks. Knives, however, offer faster attack speed but do less damage. Much like the selection of your skills, it’s all about experimenting with what works for you while feeding into your character’s individual traits.
…(Don’t) Play To Kill
Because Dead Island 2 is so melee centric, it does get a little tiring as the game rumbles on. There are only so many times you can slice off an arm or rip off a jaw before the undead become a simple obstacle to run past. The trouble here is that there’s really not a great selection of base weapons, and zombie classes get introduced few and far between. Once you settle into using a core set of weapons for each zombie type, then you’ll be set for the entire game.
Later on in the game, you do get access to weapons. While ranged weapons do add some variety to combat, they almost feel tacked on when compared to melee weapons. For starters, ammo is extremely scarce, which then relegates the use of ranged weapons for anything but necessary moments. These moments are also few and far between, as you’re never given a safe space to hold up and shoot.
I Don’t Rate Your Chances Of Survival…
When it comes to overall difficulty, Dead Island 2 is a bit of a cakewalk. Most – if not all – zombie encounters are tailored to your current level, and aside from the odd challenging undead (clearly marked by a skull), you shouldn’t encounter many difficulties. If death does come for your character, then you’ll simply respawn nearby to try again.
As you progress, this chance of failure is further reduced as you’ll unlock quite a few powerful skill cards. These cards make you (almost) invincible. This is then reduced even further as your consumable items, such as grenades, shurikens, and meat decoys, are all tied to a cool-down meter. No need to worry about crafting. As such, I wouldn’t say that I felt particularly vulnerable at any stage in the game. Even when you’re having to defend checkpoints while electronic gates close or battling the horde while a fellow survivor live streams the whole thing – nothing is particularly taxing.
…But I Wish You Luck!
Much like its predecessors, Dead Island 2 features full co-op play across the campaign. Unlocked as soon as you make it through the opening tutorial, playing in co-op is a real blast. Each player has their own share of the loot, and progress is shared between both players too. While partaking in some co-op zombie slaying does stop the game from becoming repetitive, it isn’t without its downsides.
One glaring issue I found is that the game’s difficulty doesn’t scale with the extra player. Zombies still remain in the same quantities, the only noticeable is that you get the odd special zombie thrown into the mix. If anything playing the game in co-op does become a lot easier (like it wasn’t already!). Downed players can either be revived by other players, or they can simply respawn after a few seconds with full health and zero cool-downs. This somewhat takes the suspense away as you’ll be able to run headfirst into any situation without any real consequences. Of course, if everyone in the team dies, you do restart from the nearest checkpoint. However, it’s not difficult for the surviving player to go on the defensive for the 5 seconds it takes to respawn.
As mentioned in my intro to this review, Dambuster Studios are on the charm offensive throughout Dead Island 2’s presentation. It’s packed full of vibrant and visceral visuals that give off the glamour of L.A. and the ferocity of a zombie apocalypse. Zombies can be maimed in plenty of different ways. During the game’s opening segments, it’s fun experimenting with the sandbox and seeing just how far these visual effects go. The atmosphere is also built well, with plenty of variation to the locals you visit, albeit with the same ruined ascetics. A personal highlight for me was the final encounter in the movie studio. I won’t ruin exactly what happens, but it involves a giant animatronic spider, a petrol station, zombies, and plenty of explosions.
This over-the-top style also shows within its cast, who all come equipped with some B-movie cliches and terrible one-liners. While each of the main cast (including Sam B.) gives their lines with a degree of weight behind them, these performances are let down by the supporting cast, who mostly remain oblivious to your character’s specific dialogue to rattle out their pre-determined script. While it’s only a small complaint, the lack of reaction does break the immersion.
All in all, Dead Island 2 offers a fresh and updated experience that builds upon all the good points made by its predecessor. With a well-written cast of likeable misfits, Dead Island 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously. As such, it is able to throw satire into its apocalyptic mix. While there’s a lot of good, there are equally a few negative moments too. Still, if you want a co-op experience that’s packed full of blood-soaked horror, all packed into a well-curated sandbox, Dead Island 2 is a great choice.
Rapid Reviews Rating
3.5 out of 5
Dead Island 2 is available right now and can be purchased via the Epic Games Store by clicking here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.