Dead Island 2 has been a long time coming.
The franchise was created by Techland, which was originally developing the sequel until it decided to create a new IP via Dying Light in partnership with Warner Bros. Dead Island 2 was subsequently picked up by Yager with a planned release date of 2015, then shipped off to Sumo Digital, and then finally landed in the hands of Dambuster Studios, which is just about ready to release this long in-development project.
Unsurprisingly, in preview Dead Island 2 feels like a game that’s been in development for the past 11 years – for better or for worse, depending on how you feel about the current climate of endless open-world games. Its mission and general world design feels relatively dated, albeit in a comforting way, much like Hi-Fi Rush just a couple months ago brought us back to the PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 generation of action games.
Thankfully, Hell-A (Dead Island 2’s version of Los Angeles) is a bright and colorful world, much like the original, which is highly contrasted by destruction, tons of blood, and shambling corpses around every corner. One thing that makes Dead Island 2 so inviting is just how much color is on display, and even though you’re out there covered in blood and guts while killing zombies, the game is constantly vibrant and fun to look at.
You pick one of six characters, each of which have their own unique ability and personality, you unlock skills as you progress through the story… you know, the whole shebang with your typical AAA open-world action games. At this point, I don’t really feel the need to walk you through all the typical stuff you can expect from these games in 2023.
Dead Island 2’s main differentiating feature is the gore system, which is honestly as incredible as the marketing has made it sound. The zombies quite literally come apart as you smack them, with individual limbs breaking and eyeballs popping out, and even their internal organs are rendered and bounce about as you wallop them with your weapon of choice.
It doesn’t really add much to the gameplay itself, as Dead Island’s main competitor, Dying Light, also has limbs that can be broken or lopped off to slow down zombies or change their attack patterns. But I can’t say I wasn’t constantly impressed by the level of detail on display.
From what I’ve played, the missions themselves are pretty standard, but I will say that it definitely has its fun and surprising moments that left a lasting impression. One specific mission takes place during the aftermath of a wedding, and you end up fighting a super zombie bride set to a perfectly matching tune.
Another mission has you going through an entire movie set, and it even has special effects that can be used to help you take down the zombie hordes. It’s moments like that that help keep Dead Island 2 fresh and left me wanting to progress forward in preview to see just how wacky the missions will get.
The main issue I have with Dead Island 2 as it stands is that I just want to be able to interact with more of its world. A lot of the weapons you can find in the world just aren’t all that exciting, at least in the early game.
It’s your typical pipes, knives, wooden planks, golf clubs, axes, etc. And you can upgrade them to have elemental effects or other buffs, but that’s all stuff we’ve seen before in both Dead Island and Dying Light by now.
At one point during my preview, I was battling zombies in a big mansion, and while I had an electrified machete at my disposal, I went into the basement to find that the home had a bowling alley. With how zany the world can be in Dead Island 2, I was hoping that I’d be able to just walk up to the bowling ball, pick it up, and use it against the zombies, but it wasn’t interactable. Another house belonged to a famous actor, with trophies and pans and all kinds of other things littered about, but the game only lets you use weapons that are highlighted as usable.
It took me out of the experience a bit to have such a static world, especially when that world is screaming at you to be interacted with and with how physics-heavy the combat feels. Things that you think should break often don’t, and the way you can move through the world is also quite restricted, which, again, compared to its contemporary Dying Light 2 feels outdated at this point.
The combat feels good and it’s fun to play, but I was personally hoping for a lot more creativity to set Dead Island 2 apart more from just being set in a different location from the first game, especially when we just recently got Dying Light 2 as well.
If you’re just hoping for more Dead Island to play with friends, with a bit more wackiness on display than the dark and dreary Dying Light series, then you probably have a lot to look forward to with Dead Island 2. The game feels polished and good to play, but given how long the game has been in development, it’s just a bit too paint-by-numbers for my taste.