Developing a game is hard work, and for the folks at Dambuster Studios handling Dead Island 2, it has been a journey, to say the least. Finally taking the reins after the game has been crawling from one studio to another, 21 April will be when the team can finally introduce their twisted version of a zombified Los Angeles to the world, and Hell-A is an undeniably intriguing sight.
“One of the attractions of the LA setting is it’s a melting pot, you’ve got people from everywhere, And there are lots of larger-than-life characters in real life. So it’s a good sort of library to choose from,” explained Technical Art Director Dan Evans-Lawes.
And he is not kidding; aside from the six unique Slayers players can choose to embody, the sheer number of zombies are all colourfully informed by the areas and locales that players will visit throughout the course of Dead Island 2.
“We wanted to get across the idea that these zombies are not just faceless monsters; they were people who lived in LA previously. And it allows us to have zombies that are very themed to the different areas in the game.”
Beyond the obvious visual differentiation, the army of undead also provides players with fresh gameplay experiences every time they have the opportunity to meet them up close and personal, which is probably the majority of the game. The added immersion makes Dead Island 2‘s setting feel much more real in that sense.
And when you talk zombies in the game, we have to discuss the F.L.E.S.H system too, or the Fully Locational Evisceration System For Humanoids, which we were lucky to see in action during our gameplay preview. What it means for players is to see the damage they do to their undead opponents in stunning clarity, whether you choose to slice, dice, chop, dismember, melt, bludgeon or break them.
The procedural dismemberment feature is gory and realistic, and it fits the objective of the team in trying to get the zombie game right in Dead Island 2, while maintaining a sense of humour about things.
“We’re doing a zombie game. What do people who like zombies want to see? And obviously, the answer is a shitload of gore. It also ties into the nature of the combat, it means that the zombies are always up close in your face,” Evans-Lawes said.
“So like stuff like the eyeballs like dangling out on the tendons and the jaw like swinging off and all the guts being like really wobbly, and all that stuff takes it to a level where it’s so ridiculous that you kind of have to laugh. And so that’s what we want it to do, disgusting, but also quite fun.”
Having started the development from scratch in 2018, the five years afforded to Dambuster Studios meant the team could make integral decisions that would impact Dead Island 2 in many different ways. The setting of Hell-A and the zombie designs are obviously part of the conversation, but so are the layout of the world and the playable characters, the Slayers.
For Evans-Lawes, the feeling was that “often with open worlds, they’re big but kind of empty and not very interesting,” which is why Dead Island 2 opts for segmented areas that players travel to and fro from, packing as many details as possible into each to ensure that the world will keep players eager to check out.
“We felt like in order to do justice to LA, and the people and their stories, you’re better off going for a more detailed and dense environment where there are lots of little things to find and lots of stories to uncover,” he shared. There’s also the bonus of forcing players to fight more zombies as well.
As for the Slayers, these interesting individuals are more than just personalities that stand out, with their gameplay elements differing too for a sense of freshness when players make a different choice. This has everything to do with the game’s skill system, one powered by cards that give the players the autonomy to change how they want to play.
For Dambuster Studios, this decision was partly down to the signature melee combat that is synonymous with the franchise. There is only so much smashing or slicing you can do before things get monotonous, and the card system makes it possible to mix things up and tailor characters to play the way you would like to.
“People take really, really different approaches to how they want to play, and there are lots of different strategies that you can use. It’s nice to have that flexibility.”
Just like the place where all hell is set to break loose, the studio is keen to allow all of its players to play how they want, and experience the world in different ways. The stage is set and things certainly look positive at this moment, but we will only know for sure once Dead Island 2 makes its way to players’ hands this coming 21 April.