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I was 15 when the original game launched, and thanks to the chaotic development cycle of the sequel, I wasn’t sure the time for a full Dead Island 2 review would ever truly come. But here we are, 12 years on, and despite skipping an entire console generation, Dead Island 2 feels like a proper sequel in every single way, doing just enough to carve its own identity and hold its own amongst its peers.
But 12 years is a long time and as such, constantly comparing Dead Island 2 to the first game likely won’t serve the intended purpose for many of you reading this, thanks to it being so long you’ve largely forgotten what it was like, or you were too young to play it in the first place. And despite it coming before Dying Light, the parkour-focused game quickly took the crown on launch of being the best first-person zombie-slayer, so in a world where Dying Light 2 exists, what does Dead Island 2 bring to the table?
First things first, there’s no ‘island’ anymore. Dead Island 2 takes place in LA – aptly named ‘Hell-A’ – and begins early on in the zombie apocalypse. Very early on – as in, within the opening tutorial mission – you find out you’re immune to the zombie infection, so there’s no risk of turning even if you get bit. Your mission turns into hauling yourself across ‘Hell-A’, to find a doctor who can hopefully create a cure from your blood.
Dead Island 2 isn’t open world in the truest sense of the genre, instead being segmented into 10 different regions, of which the story takes you through in quite a linear fashion. When you’re done with the story quests in each area though, you can explore each one at your leisure – densely packed, but fairly small zones which can be sprinted through from end-to-end in just a minute or two if needed.
This is very much an action game rather than leaning into any potential horror elements zombies can bring, but that’s not to say it’s for the faint-hearted if you’re easily creeped. There are a couple of moments – namely the night-time traipse around a Hollywood film studio and the ‘Heart of Darkness’ set-piece in the sewer – that can certainly have you on the edge of your seat and provide a few jumpscares.
As expected, it’s a cliche story, and everything that you expect could possibly go wrong, does. While a couple of twists and turns keep things spicy, including the introduction mid-way through the story of fury mode and an actual in-universe explanation for why you’re able to start pummeling zombies with your fists and vomiting acid on them, you’re not really here for the story. It’s the vigorous, meaty, limb-chopping combat with modded weapons and ragdoll physics that keep you hacking and slashing through this apocalyptic LA – especially with the force feedback and haptics on the DualSense controller.
Slice and dice
For the first few hours, combat won’t reach those heights though, because it isn’t until you’ve leveled up several times and have unlocked more slayer abilities that things really start to shine. Despite being immune to the infection that has swept Los Angeles, you’re still very much at risk of dying early on, especially if you stumble upon a Crusher – the first special zombie type you’ll encounter. Make it to the endgame though, and you’ll be blitzing through every undead foe with ease.
Your style of play will somewhat depend on which of the six slayers you choose to play as, but you’re not locked out from any abilities or weapons this way. Each one has slightly different stats and a few unique slayer cards, but no matter who you pick, you can utilise blades, blunt weapons, guns, and everything in-between.
While most of your time in Hell-A will be spent introducing undead brains to the business end of an electrified garden rake, in order to create these wild and wacky weapons, you’ll be picking up a lot of loot non-stop. Metal scrap, adhesive, gunpowder, wire, zombie body parts, ensuring you’ve got enough crafting materials will slowly but surely become very repetitive. While you automatically pick up any cash you’re next to, the fact you must laboriously manually pick up all manner of crafting materials slows the pace of the game down considerably.
Too many zeds
Slaying zombies may be the bread and butter of Dead Island 2, and it’s certainly satisfying to do so, but it cannot be understated how many of them there are, to the point where they’ll respawn in areas you cleared literally five seconds prior. In fact, you can finish emptying a building full of undead, take two steps out the front door, turn back around, and nigh on every zombie you killed has respawned.
The reverse also sometimes happens, where you can spot a zombie ten paces in front of you, glance to the left to loot or kill another foe shambling along, and the other one will have despawned by the time you look back. With such small regions, filling them with enough zombies isn’t an easy task, but having them essentially materialise – and dematerialise – right in front of you is immersion breaking. Not to mention when there are multiple walkers attacking you simultaneously that look identical because the game only has a limited amount of zombie skins.
If you did play the first, Dead Island 2 is everything you’re expecting it to be; non-stop zombie killing with plenty of over-the-top characters and vibrant locales, which is everything the first offered but on a much bigger scale. There’s very little innovation here and scale-wise, it doesn’t offer as much as Dying Light 2 which has you galloping around neighbourhoods and through back alleys, but it is much more garish, easier to get into quickly and play for a short while, and much better suited to laughs in co-op with your mates.
Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.
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