“I Gotta Zombie Army, You Can’t Harm Me Who Do You, Voodoo…”
When Dead Island was released in 2011, my buddies and I would finish school, load up our Xbox 360s, slay zombies, and have fun exploring Banoi. It was nothing groundbreaking, and while I wouldn’t say it was a cult classic, it made a good impression on gamers. In the dawn of Techland’s success, they announced Dead Island 2 in 2014. However, we would have to wait nine years for it to release!
It was anyone’s bet how Dead Island 2 would turn out. Being abandoned and picked up by more game companies than the turnaround at 343 Studios, the zombie slaying co-op ARPG fell into the hands of Dambuster Studios. This team was responsible for the 2011 mediocre FPS Homefront, as Techland went off to develop Dying Light.
This parkour excentric zombie survival game would be a darker, more tonal shift from Dead Island. The game received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and honestly, it’s pretty hard not to compare Dead Island 2 and Dying Light 2: Stay Human. So how was it?
This will be a simple one, folks; if you want to get your kicks off slaying zombies, you’re in for a treat. Dead Island 2 is the most fun I’ve had in years slaying zombies, and that’s coming from a veteran zombie slayer who’s played Dead Rising, Call of Duty Zombies, Resident Evil, Dying Light, and Left for Dead. However, if you’re looking for a dark atmosphere, characters are pushed to their absolute limits within their constraints. Then you’re going to want to look elsewhere.
So, without further ado, let’s grab our electrified Baseball Bat and bash our way into the Dead Island 2 review.
Beautiful Graphics and Disturbing Gore
Let’s start off with the color-popping visuals of L.A. or Hell-A, as Dambuster Studios coins it. When the Dead Island 2 announcement trailer was released in 2014, I was not looking forward to it. At the time, I was already feeling the fatigue of the zombie genre paired with “zany” pop culture, references, and toilet comedy that was most famously featured in the Borderlands series.
The trailer showed that Dead Island 2 was moving in that direction, and I wanted nothing to do with it. However, I shall eat my words for the great zombie slaying game we received for the most part, anyway…
Hell-A looks stunning. I cannot believe how good this game looks and runs on my GTX 1070. It’s unheard of that a new release fires with all cylinders on my PC. The crisp Californian rays highlight the million-dollar Youtuber and Hollywood mansions of Bel-Air in the Hollywood Hills. The Ferris wheel on Santa Monica pier glows with neon vibrancy reminding me of Tallahassee Woody Harrelson’s Zombieland character decimating zombies at the carnival.
Although compact, these environments are filled with details containing short narratives that help pick apart the characters surviving in Hell-A. However, the zombies and gore are the real centerpieces here. Smashing, liquidating, tearing, and dismembering zombies has never looked so good in a zombie game.
This is thanks to the Flesh system Dambuster Studio’s coding concoction that brings the gore and zombies to life. The Flesh feature allows you to dismember zombies in grotesque detail. Smash a zombie over the head with a baseball bat, and their eyes will pop out of their skull, beat their legs with a golf club enough, and their legs will tear off. This may sound typical for a zombie game, but you’ve never seen it in this detail before. You can see chunks of flesh hanging off, melted faces, and freakish burns, to jaws hanging by a thread. It’s impressive and stunning in a grotesque, gory way.
The carnage and destruction you can inflict on the Hell-A zombies will paint the environment red with blood, which is very striking. Clean, sleek, expensive Youtuber mansions become red with vibrant blood and body parts. It’s everything a horror body gore fan would want in a zombie game.
To finish up, the detail and gorgeous graphics in environments, characters, weapon models, and zombies immerse you into Hell-A, making you feel like you’re watching an interactive B-horror movie flick, and it’s glorious.
Gameplay: Powerful and Fun Combat
The gameplay is the bread and butter of Dead Island or more peanut butter and jelly, as it really pulls the weight in the game. It shines through Dead Island 2’s problems and elevates the game, making you overlook its protrusive issues. The melee combat in Dead Island 2 is enjoyable and arcadey, and weapons have weight and feel distinguished.
Everything I mentioned about the environments and flesh system makes the melee combat so much deeper. Theres great feedback from swinging a hammer into a zombie’s head or impaling a zombie’s mouth with a pike. Not only do weapons feel and look good, but there are a variety of weapon types:
- Bulldozer Weapons: Brutish weapons that bash and knock over zombies that make you feel like a king or queen of Hell-A as you pulverize multiple zombies at a time.
- Frenzy Weapons: Speed-focused weapons that are best used in combination with critical hit modifications that feel visceral and manic to use.
- Maiming Weapons: weapons that focus on dismemberment to chop zombies into tiny pieces.
- Headhunter Weapons: Precision-based weapons that are designed for head-aimed attacks to make you feel like a ninja.
There is also a nice choice of ranged weapons such as Shotguns, Pistols, rifles, and Nailguns. Although they don’t have the best hit detection, they have great feedback. You feel like a boss blasting zombies away with a shotgun! Not to mention all these weapons can be modified to your liking.
The addition of curveballs and projectile items can be used to manipulate the world and apply effects to zombies. From self-explanatory Bait Bombs, Grenades to status inflicting Chem Bombs that can be used to clean up the environment by extinguishing fires or amplifying electrical damage.
This is all extremely fun. However, it’s not perfect, as the game starts slow; like a snail crawl slow, as you are limited to only a few weapons and crafting modifications. I’m surprised I haven’t heard many critics mention the lack of weapon diversity. Now there are many ways to kill zombies when including environmentals too; however, halfway through the game, I was starting to get a bit frustrated, and by the end, I was disappointed.
As a melee-focused game, there are practically endless possibilities for weapons that would make sense for the areas and locations. For example, I came across dozens of guitars throughout the game, from the stage and function room in the Halperin Hotel to the rocker’s mansions of Beverly Hills, and not one was I able to pick up and swing.
There was a missed opportunity with Ricky, the rocker in Beverly Hills who rewards you with a sword for retrieving his guitar. Even a mic stand would make more sense than a sword, and it could have been a chance to have some fun with feedback in combat. Dead Rising 2 nailed this a decade ago, so why can’t Dead Island 2?
My point is that the game’s satirical fun parody theme is not entirely represented in the combat. Sure, it’s brutish and hella fun, but by the end of the game, you’ve seen the same rotation of weapon types over and over, just in different tier colors and with higher damage numbers. There are, however, a few legendary weapons that are very distinct from the regular weapon selection, but you will have to wait until much later in the game to get your hands on them.
Thankfully the wide variety of zombie types keeps the combat feeling fresh and fun, especially towards the later half of the game, where you are attacked by many types and sub-types of zombies requiring you to mix up your approach and weapons. If you’ve played a zombie game before, you’ll be familiar with almost all these types. Remember, Dead Island 2 is no innovator. It just excels in presenting established zombie game elements of the old 360 and PS3 days of gaming.
In Dead Island 2, you will have to fight against runners, crawlers, burning, electrified, caustic, and explosive zombies, as well as your big zombie game types that are coined as “APEX Zombies.”
- Crushers: giant gym bros that hit you to the floor.
- Bursters: suicide exploding zombies that require you to pick them off with ranged weapons.
- Screamers: Witch-like zombies that scream to attract more zombies into combat.
- Slobbers: Huge overweight zombies that spit projectiles and cover the floor with elemental liquid.
- Mutators: Zombies that mutate into grotesque beings that have high attack speed and damage.
- Butchers: Zombies with sharp, hardened arms that can deflect attacks and regen from eating corpses.
Dambuster Studios keeps you on your toes by throwing elemental APEX Zombies into the mix, ensuring the combat stays fun and engaging.
- Overall, Dead Island 2 has enjoyable melee combat that keeps the gameplay fun by introducing new features and mechanics just as boredom begins to creep in. However, it lacks weapon variety.
Generic Music Saved by Visceral Sound Effects
I’ve put over 25 hours of playtime into Dead Island 2, so I’ve spent a lot of time listening to shambling undead, getting their brains squished under my foot, to serrated metal whistling through the air before slicing into zombies. I’ve got a lot to talk about here, so let’s get to it.
Overall the audio quality in combat is fantastic and is a testament to the many high-quality moving parts contributing to Dead Island 2’s successful combat. So if you’re one of those gamers that cranks up the volume in Mortal Kombat to hear the bone-crunching attacks, you’ll love Dead Island 2.
Make no mistake, though, Dead Island 2 has its share of audio issues. The most alarming of them all is the audio within buildings and houses. An odd compression effect is very noticeable and doesn’t sit right as attacks feel like they’ve been recorded in a giant tin can.
Now that I’ve mentioned the worst, it’s time to mention the best I shall not spoil the mission for you. However, the introduction to the Butcher Apex Zombie is fantastic as Dambuster Studios finally nails that satirical tone while adding a bit of dark horror that finally gave me a scare, and the use of stereo audio is used masterfully to bring out this horror.
The music of Dead Island 2 matches the tone of the game, with goofy music playing after completing a mission or side quest. However, it’s not afraid to raise the tension with pop-punk music, complete with singing when fighting bosses. This was very hit or miss for me as it worked well in some places, such as fighting my first Screamer in Beverly Hills to missing the mark in Venice Beach, where the music jarred into a very quiet area. The game could have benefitted from more atmospheric sounds like zombie hordes wailing in the distance.
Overall I’d rate the combat audio excellent with some room for improvement while rating the music and ambiance poorly as it seemed like a lazy way to raise the tension in the story. Leading me to one of Dead Island 2’s most significant flaws; the narrative.
Narrative: B-Movie Horror Infected with Millenial Writing
Dead Island 2 doesn’t really try anything new its got your bog standard zombie apocalypse story… a bunch of survivors attempts to escape the outbreak zone but their plane goes down, the main character gets bit and discovers they’re immune, holding the cure for the virus in their veins the slayer must locate the authorities so that they can create a vaccine all the while trying to secure a way out of Hell-A for a bunch of survivors.
Yeah, it’s nothing new in the story department, which would be fine, as uou don’t always need a mind-blowing story in a video game. Simple can work just fine if executed correctly. Unfortunately, Dead Island 2 fails due to its frustrating and annoying characters. There are only a couple of characters in the game that I liked, and thats includes the playable characters.
There are six playable characters in Dead Island 2; I completed the story with Carla, a motorbike stunt driver. I must admit I very much enjoyed the opening cutscene as you get an insight into each of the slayer’s backgrounds, from how they manage to board the plane to escape Hell-A. After this, they’re not too distinguished from each other in their dialogue, with a few differences here and there.
Any time survivors reflect on how screwed they are in their situation, break down, or need you to complete a task, your character destroys all sense of horror and seriousness by spewing out drivel. The best way I can describe Dead Island 2’s dialogue is an overloaded Twitch chat. While the internet and celebrity culture of Youtubers and Hollywood movie stars is the main focus here, it’s just too much.
Dead Island 2 shoots itself in the foot every time; here are some examples without ruining the story:
Exploring the sewers, my character is presented with an old unstable bridge. As they walk across it, it begins to crumble, and my character (Carla) describes her situation as “a whole vibe.”
In another part of the story, you meet up with a marine who reveals they are planning to go down with the ship; so to speak, your character has no remorse or care. You simply wander through Hell-A without a care in the world; while this sucks for the story, your character is having just as much fun as the player killing zombies, but ultimately, it takes away from experience.
The characters are not all bad, though, as the setting allows you to meet some interesting fellows like Curtis Sinclair, an old retired western movie star who still has the fight and class despite his old age. To the return of Sam B, one of the protagonists of Dead Island who plays a significant role in the story, to Jimmy Montanna, a tv star known prominently for his lead role in “The Badge,” a parody of cop shows that run for a seemingly endless amount of seasons who has a great story arc if you complete his side quests. However, these characters are too far between.
Simple UI with Odd Settings
The Dead Island 2 UI is simple and easy to navigate; you can view all the collectibles, challenges, and Zompedia entries you’ve completed throughout the game. There are a ton of UI options in the options menu. However, tutorial notifications are thrown in with challenges, Zompedia entry updates, and blueprint unlocks. This was very frustrating as the game would remind me every five minutes that I could block zombies or remind me of the controls after picking up a Jerry Can or Car Battery. This continued from the start to the conclusion of the game, at which point I had killed almost a thousand zombies.
From a graphical point of you, there are many tweaks to be made to get your game running smoothly on low-end machines; however, on a GTX 1070 and 16GB RAM, I only had to increase the FOV and uncap my framerate. Everything else worked perfectly for me, and the game ran smoothly on high graphics.
Good Progression Keeps the Slayer Engaged
Progression feels good in Dead Island 2 as you are constantly picking up new powerful weapons and given new abilities and mechanics. However, I will admit the game starts very slowly.
Fury Mode band-aids over this problem; halfway through the game, the player’s character gets new combat abilities that allow you to harness your infected blood in a devastating performance of rage. Tear through hordes of zombies easily as you rip, ground pound, spit acid, and scream zombies to death using your customizable Fury Mode.
I had a blast in Fury Mode. It could have easily been a throwaway mechanic; however, the skill cards keep it interesting, which is more than I can say for each of the Slayer’s personal skill set and skill cards.
We’re well into the meat of the review now, and I’ve barely mentioned the slayers that the player will be controlling. This is because despite the slayers having their own attributes, abilities, and dialogue, it’s not unique enough to make a huge impact in gameplay. Sure, you grow with power as you unlock new skill cards and unlock new abilities; however, I could safely bet there are a bunch of people out there who went through entire missions without updating their character’s build, and thats because it’s not required.
Whether it’s due to the game’s relatively easy difficulty or because combat is all in the weapon you’re holding, skill cards don’t feel like they impact combat.
Lastly, I want to talk about Dead Island’s quests and levels. Now it’s refreshing to run through detailed levels and take a break from open-world fluff. You will be glad to know that you won’t have to climb dozens of pylons to scout an area or collect endless Codexes to complete quests. However, there are collectible journals in the game. I must say the audio journals are the best of the collectibles as they vary from the first day of the outbreak to zombies accidentally interacting with microphones, it makes the world feel more alive, and I wish these audio journals played more of a prominent role in the game like the audio logs of Halo 3: ODST.
I have a love-and-hate relationship with the levels of Dead Island 2, as there is an abundance of backtracking here more than in Dead Space 1! If you can believe that. I don’t necessarily have a problem with backtracking in games. It can be rewarding to revisit an old area to explore otherwise locked areas beforehand. However, Dead Island 2 has a serious problem.
Once you’ve completed a story mission, you unlock new side quests from previous areas, meaning that I would have to return to a previous area every time I complete a story mission to complete the next side quest. I can see that it is to control the pacing of the game. However, it becomes old fast. Returning to an area becomes a chore, and the poor writing and lazy characters make this aspect feel even worse for value.
I did, however, enjoy the many challenges featured in the game. While many of these you just completed by playing the game, it was fun to check them off the list and earn rewards for my slayer, such as new weapon mods and permanent stat boosts like extra critical hit chances and agility. This gave a tiny bit more character-building for the slayers.
At first glance, there appears to be a lot of value in replayability in Dead Island 2, with six slayers to choose from, all with unique abilities and dialogue. However, looking closer, I discovered this was all but an illusion. Yes, there is some diversity in abilities and attributes between the slayers, like Bruno’s stealthy focus on high critical hits and low health or Carla’s Mosh Pit and Dig Deep abilities to increase her damage and health when surrounded by multiple zombies.
But it’s very superficial. As I mentioned earlier, no abilities stand out other than Fury Mode, bulky slayers, and low health high attack slayers.
Dead Island 2 tries to make up for its lack of replayability with the Zompedia, challenges, and collectibles. However, the player can complete all of this along with the side quests and Lost and Found quests post-story, making the unique dialogue between the slayers and survivors of Hell-A the only reason to return and start a new game.
What about difficulty levels? I hear you say. Well, there are no difficulty levels! This honestly is a fatal flaw with the game. I was very disappointed to complete the story and expect to unlock a new game plus mode like Hell-A mode. But I got nothing. This game is screaming for difficulty levels, and I could see players getting an extra ten to fifteen hours of value out of Dead Island 2. Still, unfortunately, this is not the case, and I think this idea was dumped due to the lack of different kinds of weapons in the game.
Dead Island 2 Rating
Dead Island 2 won’t win any awards for innovation or its narrative, but not every game has to be a blockbuster. Dead Island 2 shines in its combat and gameplay, and it plays to its strengths; the game knows what it is, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more. As a result, the game is tight and is a blast to play, a refreshing take on the oversaturated zombie slaying Co-Op RPG genre.
I’m not saying that Dead Island 2 is worth its full price; I recommend waiting until a sale to pick it up; the fun-addicting combat and detailed environments drag the game’s score up. Gamers who hold narrative and characters above all else should evade this game at all costs, while those who get a kick out of zombie slaying games will get a lot of value here.
Dead Island 2 is a carnival ride. It’s short and exhilarating, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome, growing only tiresome as Dambuster Studios feeds the player with side content to extend its length and serve as a method of repeating the bash, maim, and loot cycles of the game. Dead Island 2 feels like a rollercoaster climbing before descending with speed and velocity but absent of the fun anticipation of the drop while climbing.
Dead Island 2 Alternatives
- Dying Light
- Dying Light 2: Stay Human
- World War Z
- Left for Dead 2
- Zombie Army 4: Dead War
- Dead Island: Riptide
- Back 4 Blood
- Killing Floor 2
Key Points to Consider
- Dead Island 2 runs like a bomb; my GTX 1070 averaged a high framerate of 60+Check game, only dropping with many enemies on the screen.
- Brutal melee combat that hits hard and rarely gets tiresome, thanks to the game’s core Flesh system, zombies can be broken down in the most body-destructive gore feature of any zombie game I’ve played.
- Engaging environments that, although compact, fill the space well with unique set pieces with smart navigation to make you go, “Ahh, thats clever.”
- Many enemy types and sub-types that require different approaches to kill kept me engaged as I switched weapons to take advantage of elemental damages, swap out an ineffective weapon, or from melee to ranged.
- Dead Island 2 constantly gives you new ways of engaging zombies, from fun Curveballs (throwables), weapon mods, and Fury Mode to keep the gameplay fresh.
- Poorly executed narrative and B-horror movie attempt: The game’s satire of the celebrity culture of Los Angeles, privileged Hollywood actors, and Youtube Stars fail to hit the mark. Most interactions with survivors, including your own character, come off as annoying and shallow, ultimately harming the game’s story.
- Lots of backtracking: as you complete main missions in new areas, you gain side quests for previously visited areas. This becomes a chore as you complete a side quest only to come back later in another side quest. Just give me all the side quests in the area at once!
- Very expensive for what you get, although I estimate that theres 30 hours of gameplay here to collect all the collectibles and complete every side quest, not to mention replaying the story as a different Slayer. I’d save your money and purchase Dead Island 2 on sale if you have fun with zombie games.
- The compact level design becomes more apparent as cracks begin to show in the game’s twilight as loading screens break the game flow frequently, and the survivors teleport to locations.
Question: Will Dead Island 2 Feature DLC?
Answer: Yes, Dambuster Studios announced that DLC would be coming to Dead Island 2. Players that purchase the Dead Island 2 Gold Edition can play the DLC as soon as it releases. The Dead Island 2 story is left on a cliffhanger, and post-story, your character can often be heard explaining to other survivors that they need to find someone.
Question: What Platforms Is Dead Island 2 Available on?
Answer: Dead Island 2 is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series consoles, and PC. However, old-generation consoles will be capped at thirty frames.
Question: What is the Level Cap for Dead Island 2?
Answer: 30; I completed the main story at level 24. However, this can be expected to increase when the new Dead Island 2 DLC releases.
My twenty-three-hour Dead Island 2 PC experience was powered by a GTX 1070, 16GB RAM, and an I7 6700K Processor. Despite having low-end specs for this generation of gaming, my PC ran Dead Island 2 on high graphics with a fast framerate that dipped only when many zombies were on screen.
I was stunned by how well Dead Island 2 ran with its popping visuals and meticulous detail injected into the environments. This can be chalked up to the compact areas highlighting another reason why I think Dambuster Studios made the correct decision to stray from the open-world approach.
I completed the storyline and many side quests as Carla. I did not use the Alexa features in the game or experience the multiplayer gameplay.