From the depths of development hell, the long awaited sequel to 2011’s Dead Island has finally risen, bringing with it a gory zombie apocalypse from HELL-A in Dead Island 2. Taking place in Los Angeles some 10 years after the events of the original, players are thrust into the role of one of six Slayers to not only survive the outbreak but to discover its origins and their place in the world that has been overrun by the undead.
Sprawling over a variety of unique and dangerous locations within the Californian apocalypse, the world of Dead Island 2 is packed with optional side quests, hidden locations and violent flesh lusting adversaries at every turn. Surviving alone or in co-op with up to three players turns the SoCal sandbox into a brutal playground where the toys are weapons crafted into sadistic variants with various elemental attributes and bone shattering mods.
Rising from the dead to surpass its predecessor at every turn, Dead Island 2 is the over-the-top bloodbath fans have waited nearly a decade to experience. With a gorgeous world to explore and hordes of undead to slay in satisfyingly brutal, gory fashion, the hype train has reached its final destination.
A cinematic prologue introduces players to the six playable Slayers to choose from, each armed with a pair of unique traits and differing stats that set them apart from each other. Slayer selection has no impact on the course of the narrative, with all survivors leading the player down the same path regardless of their choice.
The story kicks off when a group of uninfected survivors board a plane to transport them to safety from the emerging turmoil of the outbreak. The emergence of an infected passenger casts the survivors hopes of salvation in doubt as the plane crashes, leading players into a series of combat and traversal tutorials to equip them with the tools necessary to survive.
To avoid spoilers, little can be discussed of the main story without giving anything away. The intentions of supporting characters, their motivations and allegiances take the Slayer on a roller coaster of plot twists and interesting developments that remain interesting, if not predictable throughout the course of the 24 quest campaign that can be finished in less than 14 hours.
This play time can be significantly increased with exploration, a variety of optional side quests and tasks that offer new weapons, blueprints for crafting and more XP and cash to upgrade the Slayer and their arsenal. Playing co-operatively with friends also greatly enhances the replayability of Dead Island 2 and offers more mayhem beyond the rolling of the credits.
Throughout the story the Slayer meets several survivors typical of the genre. Quirky characters that border on insane, self-serving manipulators and even washed up, underpants wearing rockstars that are watching the world crash around them from the bottom of a bottle. They’re entertaining, cheesy, stereotypical survivors that bring levity and balance to the apocalyptic tone of Dead Island 2.
Melee combat takes centre stage and though ranged options exist in the form of guns and throwable items, it’s the bone shattering, blood squirting dismemberment from close quarters melee attacks that are rightfully focused on. Every weapon has unique stats that consider damage, force, speed and durability to help Slayers equip the best tool for the job. Eight weapons can be assigned to the weapon wheel and an additional eight can be stored in the players inventory and switched in and out of the weapon wheel with ease.
When a weapons durability reaches zero, represented by a health-bar type indicator, it will break and a new weapon must be selected to continue the fight. Broken weapons can be dismantled to provide crafting materials or repaired at workbenches at a cost. Choosing what weapons to hold onto is challenging given the size of the inventory that can’t be expanded though there is a Storage Locker that allows weapons to be stored for later.
The Storage Locker can be found at a handful of safe areas, accompanied by a fast travel map, workbench and in some cases a trader/merchant to buy new weapons and resources and to sell unwanted items. What makes the Storage Locker more valuable is that weapons stored can be accessed in your other playthroughs, for example, playing as Carla and storing a crowbar will make that same crowbar available to a different save file played as another Slayer such as Jacob. As all weapons have a level requirement to equip however, you may not be able to use that weapon unless the player has reached that level with the different Slayer.
Workbenches are a Slayer’s best friend. Broken weapons can be repaired, they can have their stats increased to match the player’s current level and they can be upgraded by crafting a wide variety of mods that apply a range of stats buffs and elemental damage. Some mods also come with a negative trait such as reduced damage, force or durability though the positives typically make the trade-off worthwhile.
Crafting materials are found everywhere, lying loose on the ground, dropped as loot from slain zombies and in the ridiculous amount of containers and chests that litter every single location.
A tier system is in place for all weapons, ranging from Common to Legendary, with higher tier weapons obviously coming later in the game. As mentioned previously weapons also have a level requirement to wield. Players gain XP by completing main and optional quests and from defeating enemies, with stronger enemies and some of the more dangerous variants offering higher outputs.
The mods and blueprints that can be bought or unlocked can be applied to all weapon tiers except Common, with higher tier weapons offering additional mod slots to create even more high impact toys to play with.
Complimenting the core combat system is the excellent card-based Skill Deck system that allows players to equip unlocked cards to five different categories that apply all sorts of exciting abilities and passive buffs. Cards are awarded for story progression, completing quests and some can be found in the wild through thorough exploration. Additional slots for each of the five categories become available over time and allow for some fun experimentation and builds. One of my personal favourites is a drop kick that sends zombies flying and this particular skill can be stacked with additional cards that apply fire and higher damage in general.
Some cards can only be equipped if others have already been selected while some require the player to choose between one ability or the other. For example, Slayers can select the ability to block and counter melee attacks or they can opt for an evasion move instead. Both serve the same purposes in avoiding damage though they each offer different options in terms of mobility or how the player wants to stand their ground when surrounded by a horde. The block is great but it leaves the player stationary while the evade keeps them mobile, it’s these subtle choices that allow players to feel more in control of their build that certainly lend towards replayability and experimentation with different builds in subsequent playthroughs alone or with friends.
The excessive violence and brutality in Dead Island 2 offers up countless means to dismember zombies, leaving their jaws dangling after a high impact shot to the face, limbs flying after being cleaved through with a sword and layers of flesh being whittled away by the over the top force and persistence of the Slayer to eviscerate every enemy. Beating zombies down until only their skeleton remains is disturbingly satisfying.
Environmental awareness is significant not just for keeping tabs on the flesh-obsessed zombies but for capitalising on the diverse manners of which to inflict elemental damage with electricity, fire and toxic waste. Enemies can be forced into water and electrocuted via electrically charged melee attacks, throwing a car battery into it or destroying electrical boxes just to name a few methods while fuel can be ignited to turn the area into an inferno. The flexibility on offer to destroy the enemies is varied and satisfying, rife for experimentation and maximising the chances of survival when outnumbered.
Slayers traverse the world by sprinting, climbing, crouching and sliding. Unlike the original Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, there are no cars to drive, the world must be explored on foot or via fast travel maps to previously visited safe areas. Keeping players grounded furthers the immersion of the dangers of a world in turmoil and removes the safety net of added protection.
The streets are constantly populated with enemies and they constantly emerge to prevent Slayers from ever feeling particularly safe. The variety on offer features familiar types from Dead Island while introducing new variants to keep things hectic. Spitters, crawlers and towering hulk-like Crushers introduce new types of threats to each encounter that make crowd control just that little bit harder. A handful of boss battles throughout the story introduce even deadlier threats that can’t simply be clubbed like their street level counterparts and each offer exciting encounters that feel rewarding when overcome.
In a world littered with lifeless bodies, death and decay, Dead Island 2 presents a surprisingly beautiful sandbox for the apocalypse to unfold in. The streets of LA are joined by beaches, theme parks, piers and glamorous but abandoned mansions that are all so distinct and ominous in their own ways. Grotesque and visceral gore and detail animate the undead in a manner that is so excitingly disgusting and raw that it almost feels weird to say that death and decay has never looked so good.
The sound design is on point in every regard, presenting the type of squeamishly satisfying crunch and splatter with every strike and defeat of a zombie. When coupled with the blood splashing visuals the audio-visual presentation is everything you’d expect from an undead nightmare.
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Striking sound design
+ Excellent Skill-Deck system
+ Fun combat and customisation
+ Highly replayable
– Predictable story
– Feels familiar in many ways to others from the genre
– Supporting cast fail to stand out
* A digital code was kindly provided for the purpose of this review *
Developed by: Dambuster Studios
All digital photography was captured in-game by Games of DAYNE on Xbox Series X