Dead Island 2 Review

Dead Island 2 Review
Written by Vince Abella

Dead Island 2 has been in the works for around a decade, and all signs have pointed to a disaster in the works. But thankfully, Dambuster delivered on what they promised: A fun zombie apocalypse game. An exceptionally gory one too. It isn’t one of the best games ever made, but it is quite possibly one of the most unambiguously fun this year so far, with a shockingly great technical performance to go along with it. 

Dambuster had a lot to live up to, as zombie games have evolved very much since the original Dead Island, a game that has not aged well with sluggish traversal and relatively weightless combat compared to its contemporaries. Dying Light took the reins for a while with both it and its sequel being highly regarded for their combat and movement, Call of Duty has proven to be insanely popular with some playing the series less for the multiplayer experiences and more for the easter eggs and wild stories that come with the products, and The Last of Us games having fast, lethal and terrifyingly designed infected. Not to mention the recent Resident Evil games, particularly the Remakes, taking the world by storm. What does Dead Island 2 do to stand out? 

Hell Hath So Totally Come to L.A.

Hell Hath So Totally Come to L.A. Dead Island 2

Not a lot. Other than being a bit funnier, having surprisingly tight level design and its beautifully violent blood and guts, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does is refine familiar elements to what can be easily defined as perfection. 

The aforementioned level design isn’t exactly an open world, but is more comfortably what can be called open levelled, with the game relying on smaller, more constrained yet distinct areas compared to a sprawling map, and it is all the better for this design choice. It allows for more thorough exploration and highly detailed environments, not just in the (impressive) graphics department, but in environmental storytelling. Influencer houses, apology video scripts, rich mansions and abandoned hotel rooms each tell their own story, adding to the shockingly impressive worldbuilding of the title. Each area is small enough to be easily travelled with enough zombies to populate the empty streets of “HELL-A” (their words, not mine), and large enough to have little nooks and crannies to explore in between quests. This world is not only brimming with half-eaten brains, but a dash of personality exclusive to Los Angeles. 

With zombies populating the streets, they have to look, sound and feel great to kill, and Dead Island 2 certainly delivers on that front. Beach bodies, muscly beasts, and brides are abound, and all can be killed in gleefully grotesque fashion with the game’s FLESH (Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids) system. It allows for zombies to be destroyed limb by limb, with excruciating detail too. Seeing a zombie’s eyeballs, jaw, or broken arm hanging as it tries to leap at you never gets old, with each slash or smash having a brutal result. It risks being gratuitous, but fun toys and a light tone keep it firmly on the fun side of gory this side of Mortal Kombat. 

Who Do You Voodoo?
Dead Island 2 City fire

Thankfully, the game has personality to spare with a colorful cast of both playable and non-playable characters, not all of whom are memorable, but serve to bring some energy to 

what is a very literally dead world. There are more playable characters compared to the original, and while they don’t carry the obvious weapon focused, they are stat-focused instead, with some having smaller health bars in exchange for more stamina. It keeps the game relatively fresh on repeat playthroughs, even when there is no real impact on the story choosing a different character has. It does help especially when the lines the playable characters do have give insight to their histories and personalities. Nothing along the lines of Left 4 Dead 1 and 2’s classic cast, but more along the lines of Back 4 Blood’s decently characterized immunes. 

The side characters are where you will live and die on this game’s narrative, and while some are forgettable, there’s a handful that have nice moments of humor and heart. Emma Jaunt and Sam B are the easy highlights, both providing nice humor and a shockingly touching story with them, and the influencer Amanda Young was a pleasant surprise, especially with her characterization and quests. The story lacks a true main antagonist for most of its story, and while the final reveals towards the end are shocking and interesting, they aren’t as memorable as the journey to it. Fortunately they do a good job at keeping anticipation for more zombie-slaying. 

All You Can Eat Buffet
npc in dead island 2

The technical aspects of the game are where it shockingly shines, with great performance on a PS5 with beautifully gory visuals. Dead Island 2’s FLESH system shows itself to be a quietly revolutionary one as it remains unendingly satisfying to slowly deconstruct a corpse with well placed wrench smacks to turn it into a skeleton you’d see in a science laboratory. 

That is to say, you can “carefully” smash up a zombie to rip the flesh off its bones in a way that is less gratuitous and more campy, perfectly fitting for the game’s style. It helps a lot that the game set around these decomposing bodies is a lot of fun to play and feels like the perfect refinement of numerous other zombie games’ gameplay. 

The combat has a weight to it that unlocks potential for fun very early on, though the game’s lack of challenge in some parts is a bit frustrating, but is thankfully made up for by the sheer fun factor. It could use a few more zombies in some areas too, and there isn’t a lot of depth to the combat, but where there’s a lack of depth, there’s joy in the whacking. A lot of it. Each 

weapon has enough weight that each slash and thwack feels so much more satisfying than the game’s contemporaries. Weapon customization options are present and while not revolutionary, keep things fresh enough past the campaign ending to keep trying to find new ways to obliterate the infected. Somehow, in the more than dozen hours I’ve sunk into the game’s roughly 10 jour campaign and a brand new character, it refuses to get repetitive thanks to the FLESH system. 

Guns do make a return, and they control a bit clunkily, but it is still satisfying to land a well placed shot on a zombie that just obliterates a part of their body. It takes a while to get to the guns, but they are a great addition once they arrive, and aren’t instant life-saving tools, but provide enough of a punch to take out some of the more troublesome zombies that would be a bit harder to deal with using the melee weapons. Both types allow for modifiers to make them even more stupidly overpowered, and landing hits will feel even more impactful when you equip upgrades that have thankfully easy to find materials. 

The game also does unlock with a card system that provides more depth and variety to the proceedings, and while it isn’t the most engaging system ever made, it helps to personalize

your zombie slaying experience. Cards and abilities unlock at a steady enough rate that you feel like you’re earning something big when one of the main abilities finally unlocks. Survivor and slayer cards help make you feel even more powerful, making the already breezy game more of a mindlessly fun experience. Once you have a fully decked out character with the right weapons and setup, it is very easy to feel like you are the unstoppable hero that everyone regards you as. Maiming zombies turns from something done for fun into something that can prove to save your life when it ends up healing you thanks to a card, using one of the special abilities to knock a group of zombies back could give you the time to recover that you desperately need. It’s not a deep system, but it adds immensely to the fun, and is a welcome shift from the skill tree system that trickles down upgrades very slowly.


A Not-So Dead City
Dead iSLAND 2 is Alive

One of the more subtly amazing aspects of Dead Island 2 is its impeccable level design, with some good pacing for the levels and well-thought-out areas. Each area has a distinct feel to it that makes going through each part of L.A. feel like a fresh new journey through hell. From movie sets to abandoned influencer houses, each building is laced with a delicate brutality to it while having some shockingly good environmental storytelling. 

The streets of L.A. all feel like real places you’d find yourself in rather than a bland sandbox of destruction, and while it I’d that, there is so much more to it. Levels encourage natural progression and going through a new area feels like a refreshing change of pace from the last, and its areas are small enough to make sure the game’s pace isn’t slowed down by tedious backtracking like in the first, and large enough to go find side quests here and there and take in the bloody sights. This mentality of quality over quantity is something different from the original that opted for larger levels at the cost of being monotonous when traveling from one area to another. It is here in the level design that Dead Island 2 uses its secret weapon of knowing when enough is enough, and refuses to end up like it’s bloated infected, feeling just as gleefully, violently alive as its main human cast. 

verdict of dead island 2

Dead Island 2 proves itself to be one of the year’s most fun experiences, with some incredibly fun ways to kill the many infected. It has a campy tone to it that makes the impressively brutal gore system more satisfyingly gruesome than gratuitous, and the story doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the rest of the title. Its technical qualities are shockingly great, with solid visuals, careful level design and good performance on a PS5 console. This is one trip to HELL-A that’s easy to book a return ticket to.

Score: 9/10


About the author

Vince Abella

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