Not all things always have happy endings, and in the video game industry, development hell has ruined plenty of promising titles. That is not the tale of Dead Island 2, though, because after eight years of seemingly being lost in the wilderness, developers Deep Silver Dambuster Studios and publisher PLAION are finally ready to unleash the undead on the world. But like the walking undead, this visceral action role-playing title delivers on violence and gore, even if its narrative wanders between life and death.
The premise sees a deadly virus spreading across Los Angeles, turning its once-human populace into a lethal wave of ravenous zombies ready to tear apart anything alive. Yet, fate has it that the Slayers just so happen to be a possible answer to the chaos. But more than just being immune, the Slayers AKA the player begins their journey to discover the truth of the outbreak and uncover what they truly are while smashing the undead along the way.
As we noted in our earlier preview, the formula is straightforward enough, but it is the flexibility of the various Slayers that help to elevate Dead Island 2 above its predecessor. The six Slayers each boasts two innate abilities, and with 15 other slots that can be further slotted with Skill Cards, no two Slayers will be the same.
Perhaps you prefer speed over power, and a Skill Deck catering to that could easily make your Slayer a zombie-slaying whirlwind that can recover health from maiming limbs. On the other end, a tanky build is also possible, making you a valuable team player that can withstand all of the hurt while inspiring your teammates and scaring the living hell out of your foes. As players progress through the game, more options open up, and this helps keeps things fresh in combat.
Of course, Dead Island 2 wouldn’t be doing the series justice if it did not include crazy weaponry, and the weapon customisation options this time around certainly approach advanced territory. Between the Headhunter, Frenzy, Maiming, and Bulldozer weapons, each can be modded in a variety of ways to add to the fun, and that’s before even considering the firearms.
Adding elemental effects to the mix allows the full use of the game’s hazardous environment to your advantage through fire, water, electricity, and acid. Other modifications, like increasing the force of hits and adding a bleeding effect, are also options to consider for a zombie slayer, especially when you might just meet an enemy that can be immune to one effect or another. There are also secondary tools in the form of Curveballs that ranges from pipe bombs to ninja shurikens, giving players more ways to cut down the hungry horde on a cooldown.
Being alert is a key skill to have in the game, and knowing how best to exploit the environment should be something to master immediately. Turn puddles and streams of water into fatal traps using electricity, utilise gasoline to set up fiery traps, or melt your pursuers into nothing with a well-placed acid bomb; the world is literally your death-dealing playground.
Armed with powerful weapons and the skills to match, Dead Island 2 lets players loose in Hell-A, unafraid of throwing waves of the undead at you in various shapes and forms. The enemy variety is definitely one to enjoy, with plenty of variants in both design and function to spice things up, and an unpleasant surprise is always good for ramping up the intensity.
There are the usual Walkers and Shamblers, unlikely to pose a problem unless they come in huge numbers. Then there are the Runners, agile creatures that can dodge heavy attacks and love lunging at you. Before long, Dead Island 2 will open the doors to stronger zombies like the Crusher and Screamer, keeping players busy with the slicing and dicing, but also emphasising the need for some battlefield awareness to prevent being overwhelmed.
It is this delicate ballet that is Dead Island 2’s strongest feat, allowing its combat to shine and be enhanced by the enemies that are present every step of the way. There are always new weapons to test out and fresh foes to send to the grinder, and it makes for bloody good fun.
The F.L.E.S.H system, or Fully Locational Evisceration System For Humanoids, adds another layer of grim satisfaction to the proceedings. The procedural system in which progressive damage is done to the zombies is always fun to watch in action, displaying a wide breadth of stunning and gruesome representation as you take down the enemies using all sorts of modded weapons.
What is perhaps not as great are the other vital organs that make up the body of the experience. Most missions are largely centred around the same objectives: find something or someone, defeat or defend yourself against a wave of zombies, then rinse and repeat. There are exceptions, especially in the main narrative, that deviate from this setup, but the repetitive nature of it all will not sit well with some players.
That said, there are also opportunities for some puzzle-solving, present in both exploration and in the Lost and Found questlines. The former is best seen in the semi-open-world nature of Dead Island 2, with some locked gates or areas requiring out-of-the-box thinking or the use of precious Fuses in order to reach the goodies within.
As for the latter, it becomes more about extracting key information from paper trails, matching them to the world, and moving on to the next step in finding valuable loot. None of it is essential to story progression, but as a palate cleanser that comes with great rewards, there is no reason not to partake in these activities.
At least the story does provide some fresh impetus to keep going on, fully embracing the Slayers’ perceived immunity and granting some devious powers that will remain unspoiled. Even if you are not particularly interested in how things got to the state they are in, having more ways to dish out the hurt is always a good reason to proceed to the next mission.
Visually, the stunning F.L.E.S.H system is complemented by the dense and detailed design of most of the separate areas that make up Dead Island 2. Rather than using an open-world design, the studio opted for a segmented approach, which made it easier to create believable locales that have undergone some bad times and zombies that simply fit the aesthetic every single time.
Overall, Dead Island 2 knows exactly what it is under the skin’s surface. An action RPG that is all about explosive combat with some sprinkling of worthwhile exploration, and the realisation of zombie destruction on a scale unlike anything seen before. Just check your expectations of too involved a story and overlook the routine, and you might just agree that the series is back with some newfound vigour, unlike the many undead players will leave in their destructive wake.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Time to enjoy life bashing the undead in Dead Island 2, where violence and gore rule the day while other aspects flail in comparison.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 8/10