Ever gone out on a barbeque with friends? You know, where you enjoy just jabbing each other over drinks while hanging out at someone’s porch, or lawn. Exchanging stories and light insults while one of your Chad friends goes man the grill to make sure there’s always something hot to eat. Whether it be hotdogs, burgers, kebabs, or steaks, it’s very enjoyable because it is hot off-the-grill with the company you have surrounded yourself with. It’s nothing complex or sophisticated, nothing original or new, it might as well be store-bought food and you just happened to want to have a little gathering for that weekend. It’s just a refreshing experience to have something simple and easy to digest after a while. Something that’s just interested in being a good time rather than your next gaming habit for the next two to three years, because we all know we’ve had enough of that.
Another thing that we’ve probably had enough of by now is Dead Island 2’s development time. It is on the proverbial grill for over 10 years, many were afraid that it was going to be way overdone. Like, the fate of Duke Nukem Forever, where its content and mechanics would be way too dated to be recommended to anyone. The gameplay of Dead Island 2 is indeed dated, but it somehow was able to pull in something that was still fun and rather engaging. Like Evil West, just because it doesn’t incorporate the newest gaming trends doesn’t make it difficult to play. It just needs to know how to work within the limitations that it gave itself and accomplish the goals it sets out to do. Also, the gorgeous graphics does indeed help. What’s a bit concerning is how Deep Silver positions itself as a title in the market. The general consensus of games that go up in price point includes the innovations that have come through the years, giving it a way to claim the premium price on the market. Does Dead Island 2 earn that same right despite it being rather unambitious? Let’s take out our maces, batons, katanas, or what-have-you and let’s find out ourselves.
We start the game where we are introduced to six individuals that get aboard a plane meant to escape from HELL-A. Predictably, things go south, and as the plane flying them to safety becomes everyone’s airborne coffin, you pick one of the people introduced to you to play as, not a survivor, but a slayer. An apt term for what’s ahead of us.
Production (4 / 5)
So for starters, let me go ahead and say that I’m playing this on the PS5, where my experience is generally a pleasant one. The frame rate was pretty stable no matter where I was, even when there was a considerable amount of zombies to fight or flee from in my field of vision, I don’t think the performance ever really suffered. Environments feel very well-crafted, the neighborhoods feel reasonably lived in and abandoned, as some doors are left unlocked, busier areas are very messy or there are messages hastily written on walls or windows to signal where safety might be. Minor weird detail, the game seems to believe you are a vampire, as you never have a reflection in the mirrors. Is that a glitch? Is it on purpose? I don’t know. It just struck me as weird, but it wasn’t really a problem.
How Dead Island 2 made use of lighting helps in completing the atmosphere of the game, your model and weapon in hand also respond depending on the light that’s hitting it. It also makes the more absurd situations that play out in story missions really stand out. Whether it be the flames of the airplane crash you just barely survived or a wedding reception for the beefiest bride I’ve ever seen, they’re always able to put together a colorful scene for the situation they have set up for you.
Character models are also great, they don’t look like they’re just put together from some character creator for the most part. You’ll have characters that have significant marks like tattoos, different types of builds, and generally just look like unique people for almost everyone you encounter. However, the real stars of the show are the ones that you turn into a burning, sparkling, ruptured, dismembered mess, the zombies
While they do look like they generally go through a character creator conveyor belt, they are able to present enough variety to not only keep it fresh but also represent the area where they are found. It could be swimsuits since they came from a pool party to full-on military gear because they couldn’t fight off the horde. Also, the places you go through feel very close to their real-life counterparts. It certainly helps that the textures of most objects and the skybox are gorgeous and nothing really ever feels out of place. And if you look around for the details, you’ll see little jokes here and there that do show how fond the creators are of the game.
Even if the first-person perspective looks particularly tight in Dead Island 2, there doesn’t seem to be much of a need for on-screen radar or a mini-map. You tend to be aware of threats because of the sounds they make which gives you a general idea of how many undead bodies there are and how close. The sound design also lets you know if there’s a fire or a live wire nearby. The music, while there isn’t a lot, is pretty great. To be honest I found the title screen music quite enthralling and some music during boss battles and missions does make me want to go toe-to-toe with the rampaging zombies more seriously. Finally, the voice work fits each of the characters they play out great. I think this is owed much to the script and direction. While most of the characters play out worn-out tropes, they never go too hard or stay too long on it. Rather than dreading hearing their next conversation, I was okay and wanted to know what happens next.
Mechanics (3.5 / 5)
This title doesn’t really go off the beaten path when it comes to pressing buttons and what those buttons do. You run around, you can swing both swift and strong, and you can guard, parry, and dodge. As you strike your previously human foes, the durability of the weapon chips away, and it’s for that reason that you can keep up to eight of them on-hand.
You will have an assortment of melee weapons that slash, stab, and smash, and you’ll also eventually be able to shoot at them with guns. However, they don’t carry the same punch as a bat in the face would, as if the bullets hardly make them flinch. You’d think a metal object moving at the speed of sound would have a stronger effect on them, but whatever. On top of that, the amount of ammo you get to carry burns out so much faster than you can clear out a group of zombies, so they’re used sparingly at best. Due to this, almost all guns, including shotguns are relegated to mostly taking out enemies from a distance. So rather than weapons, they’re more of situational tools.
Even if melee weapons run on limited durability, they’re repairable. You can upgrade them as well, and you can mostly get away with about two decently powered weapons to get you through the next section. You’ll want one meant to take out generic enemies, and another designed to deal with the more elite, boss types.
When you just try to keep your inventory under control, you’ll know how to manage against the game’s love to throw you all sorts of random weapons to keep yourself from being overwhelmed. The loot economy also gives you a set of rarities to go through, where the higher ones are not only stronger but also more expensive on the side of upkeep. Given all these things, Dead Island 2 attempts to maintain a level of tension between your loot, your money, and the power of the weapons you carry.
It’s not a bad system, and balancing can use some tweaking. However, what I really wished would be that the augments be a little more interesting. All of the upgrades just point to dealing more damage, there are the more interesting upgrades by endgame, but getting the required loot for that is actually pretty difficult. There’s also the chance that you’ll be encountering zombies that are just outright immune to certain types of damage and if that turns out to be your best weapon then, too bad, right?
To top this all off, you can customize your character with a set of cards, that you get a larger assortment of as you progress. They’re not specific stat numbers but are attached to the sort of actions you can do and the bonuses you enjoy along with them. Personally, I went with just building on constantly parrying enemies because you can pretty much parry or block almost anything in this game, it was a pretty easy time to just stack attack and defense every time I did it successfully. And to sweeten that deal, I get uninterruptible counter-attacks if I manage to stagger an enemy off a parry, which is again not really all that difficult. It’s like I was jumping from one target to another and doing kill animations as if it was an easy mode in God of War.
The formula in the end is fairly simple, you fight off a bunch of zombies and move on before you’re overwhelmed, rinse and repeat until the area is cleared. To mix this up, the developers designed the levels to have climbs and descents, as well as environmental hazards for you to avoid or make use of. Given that the enemies are just laser-focused on turning you into their next meal, it was pretty simple and rather entertaining to set up traps to take out the bulk of them in one go. I would turn the zombies themselves into the traps, as making use of the augments can make them burn, shock, or melt each other if they’re clumped too close together, and that’s almost always the case.
And that’s really it, Dead Island 2’s gameplay loop is really simple when you break it down, so those looking for more depth or variance might end up being disappointed that zombie clean-up is more about launching rockets and less about rocket science (and no I never got a rocket launcher in this game).
Content (4 / 5)
Dead Island 2 is unashamedly about killing zombies. Like how Armored Core missions are pretty much about destroying anything that shoots back. That’s why when you pick your character, it’s “choose your slayer” rather than “pick your survivor.” You get to pick one out of the six individuals that get introduced to you at the start, where they do have some differences on base stats and some skill cards will be exclusive to them. Some will be more like tanks, others more of speedy scouts and more, I obviously went for the tank archetypes because that’s what I normally roll with.
Now you might be wondering how there can be tank types in a zombie game. The whole horror and suspense of the zombie genre is that everyone gets a one-hit-death situation on them, right? Even if you get so much as a light wound from them, you’re just waiting to be turned into a zombie! Well, as it turns out, you play a character that is one of the special ones that can’t be turned even after getting bitten. Effectively turning the zombie horde from an unstoppable force of horror to a walking army of pinatas waiting to be turned into loot for you to make use of.
While you might think that all you’re getting are randomly decorated carcasses for you to turn into an assortment of goodies for you to pick up. There are four other special types of zombies that perform quite differently from your generic undead groupie. They take longer to kill, hit harder, and have unique functions for themselves. They do mix up the formula quite nicely to break up the monotonous flesh landscaping job that Dead Island 2 has given you.
And despite the game literally giving you one job, the campaign finds many ways to make that job feel a bit more interesting. Either by attaching stories of the characters you get to know to the new quest or just introducing something new to the table for you to play with. Either a new enemy, weapon, skill, or situation to deal with. Even during side quests, the content doesn’t feel like it’s just phoned in. Some thought was put into it to let the challenges within it coincide with what the side quest would be about. It certainly helps that the characters are varied caricatures of the type of people you might run into when you go around Los Angeles. Also, while they do make jokes about them, it doesn’t feel too heavy-handed. Yes, there are washed-out rock stars, paranoid housekeepers, and clout-chasing content creators, but they’re eventually given a chance to be fleshed out. They’re not just single-minded characters that are there to play out their jokes, they actually change how they respond to you as time passes, and they reveal that there are people they care about. So in the end you kinda start appreciating the world of Dead Island 2 despite it being a zombie Hellscape. It doesn’t overstay its welcome either, wrapping up the main story within twenty hours.
The world of Dead Island 2 may seem like your typical open-world shenanigans, but it’s actually more like five large stages stitched together. You don’t ever get the ability to traverse the areas in great leaps and bounds like a superhero, but you do get fast travel. I guess it’s a bit like the Yakuza series in a sense, where there are much denser, much more intricate spaces for you to inspect and go through. If you’re thorough enough, you might find hidden rooms, loot, and even find or progress quests. More than enough rewards for me to look at every wall and guess if it’s a fake one. Once you have a thorough understanding of what the neighborhoods you wander around are like, it’s much easier to quickly go from point A to point B.
The only content I wasn’t inclined to engage with was the lost and found list, which only gives you a general area to search for someone or a series of clues, which then rewards you with random loot after. Everything else I found rewarding enough, but this last one wasn’t something I was going to do more than a few times.
Features (3.5 / 5)
Dead Island 2 does have an online component, but it’s quite limited in how it can do that. You can play online with other people, so long as both of you are using PlayStations or Xboxes, or are both on PC. In other words, no cross-play. A bit weird, but I think we’re all aware by now that the platforms put a premium on being able to play with kids in the other neighborhood. Not that I actually experienced the online component as I was actually quite satisfied playing through the whole thing in single-player mode. But it’s possible to play as a party of three in case you wanted to be the zombie-slaying musketeers with your friends.
While it has a rather short campaign, the title allows you to continue playing through the world of Hell-A after clearing the story. This is not only your opportunity to finish side-quests that you decided to skip out on (I particularly hated the one with the food blogger, which drove me insane), but they also show you that an even higher rarity of weapons exists, legendary. If you are willing, you can enjoy the min-max hamster wheel they have presented in front of you, where you can go on and farm for the best gear and attachments to mow down the undead with.
What made this idea kind of attractive for me is the fact that the game hardly has any bugs at all, maybe some collision bugs that got me stuck in geometry maybe once but that’s about it. The game never crashed, the frames stayed stable, and any problems with quest lines were fixed by just quickly reloading the game or me paying attention to what I was supposed to be looking for. A rather painless experience so long as I wasn’t being asked to look for a specific object in a room.
Deep Silver may have taken a decade to push this game out into shelves but they haven’t forgotten what the game should be about. A rather zany adventure with some light jibbing with the cast as you slice, smash, or shoot through hordes of zombies.
One might wonder, is that all there really is to it? And well, the answer is yes, like I said, this is more like doing a barbeque out with friends. The burgers and hotdogs aren’t really all that complicated, they’re just simple good fun that you want to do with your friends. You press buttons and numbers come out to satisfy my lizard brain as I tirelessly work through mob after mob of angry partygoers, surfers, and backstage personnel. Somehow it knows how to pace itself to keep things just interesting enough to keep me going, whether it be a new enemy to fight, a new weapon to try out, a place to explore, or just something in the story that makes me care about going a little further to see what happens. And once it’s shown its cards, it knows that the magic won’t last long and tries to move on to the next thing and isn’t scared to say it’s done. It’s an uncomplicated good time that I wouldn’t recommend reading into too deeply. What I would set my eyes on is if you’re okay with this kind of experience being gated at around 70 US Dollars. There are PS5 offerings that are definitely larger and more fulfilling experiences at the same price tag. This asking fee is probably the real issue that’s holding me back from giving this general recommendation.
The only argument I can present in its favor is that it isn’t the usual live service experience we get from other titles, that have you dealing with a game that hardly works at launch and just promises fixes and improvements over the coming months. It’s a fully working game that can provide a rather satisfying experience without having to pour hundreds of hours or make a habit out of playing to enjoy. Maybe they can do something to make the deal a bit more attractive by adding free content down the line, but we already know that’s not their model.
Now, I enjoyed my time with Dead Island 2, and I’m not really bothered by the play hours considering there are many decent free-to-play titles out there if you want something to sink your time into. But if you find 70 dollars as a high ask, I’m not really going to blame you. It’s definitely worth it as a discount deal or as part of some subscription bundle.
Dead Island 2 is short, sweet, and splattered, scoring a 3.8 out of 5.
Available on the PlayStations, the Xboxes, and the Epic Games Store.