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Back in 2001, gamers were shocked when Soldier of Fortune’s revolutionary GHOUL engine was unleashed on the world.
GHOUL allowed for unprecedented levels of extreme gore – letting players target individual limbs or ‘gore zones’ which would cause devastating damage to enemies.
A shotgun blast to the leg would take it clean off. A Desert Eagle shot to the head would cause it to explode. You get the idea. Solider of Fortune had long been the marker of video game gore – the ultimate, never truly challenged or beaten. Until now…
Enter the FLESH engine in Dead Island 2, which the team told me before my playthrough is ‘this generation’s Solider of Fortune’. FLESH is arguably one of the most sophisticated gore engines out there, and playing through the 20-minute demo was a perfect showcase.
Slashing an enemy with a katana left huge, bloody lesions in their torso. More powerful strikes removed their heads entirely or left gaping holes in their skulls. These aren’t drawn-on ‘decals’, but real, believable wounds that make you wince when you see them.
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Then there’s the skin mechanics. Acid-projecting zombies often miss you, causing the corrosive blobs to melt their undead friends right in front of you. At one stage, I watched a larger enemy get electrocuted so much his eyeballs looked as though they had popped out of their sockets.
For those used to The Walking Dead, this sort of violence won’t come as a shock. The fact is that I’ve never yet seen a videogame capable of this level of hyper-realistic carnage, nor did I realize just how much more immersive it made the game feel.
The demo we played sees you battle through a beachside resort in the game’s setting, LA. As you walk along the pier, the undead swarm you and you’re forced to use your surroundings to keep them at bay. There’s plenty to use – you can kick-start generators, pour water over live wires and then lure the undead to their doom.
Strategically-placed propane tanks (of course) are dotted around key battle areas to help clear swarms of weaker enemies, too.
While there are firearms – we tried both the pistol and an assault rifle, most of the combat seems geared towards melee-focused short-range weapons. It’s here where you can have the most fun.
A well-timed dodge causes an enemy to get ‘stunned’. A quick press of a button lets you grab hold of them and perform a finisher – which lets you soak up the FLESH engine in all its glory.
Should you get surrounded, a flying drop-kick can be used to clear some room. There’s even a Fury mode, which sends your character into a zombie-style rage where they deliver incredible damage.
It all felt incredibly responsive, well-balanced and rewarding. The section we played didn’t have tons of ammo, which caused us to have to think fast and adapt, rather than just stay back and take them down from a distance.
To break up the action, there are Far Cry-style in-game cinematics which really helped sew the narrative together, rather than it feeling like a repetitive brawler.
It’s been more than 8 years since we heard about Dead Island 2 – and there was a lot of hype to live up to. But this playthrough, albeit short, gave me a real sense of hope about what’s to come.
This isn’t just another zombie game – they’re pushing the boundaries, both with scale and the gore system. And that’s bloody brilliant.