Dead Island 2 – Surprise Hit incoming?

Over the past few weeks, I have been allowed to play through roughly six hours of the upcoming Dead Island 2. While I was a big fan of Dead Island from 2011 and its follow-up Dead Island Riptide, my interest in the series goes back much further. 

 When Dead Island was announced in 2006, Techland, developer of the original Dead Island, showed off this real-time flesh damage video that was eventually cut from the final product. That and the game centering around a family trying to escape the island were also slightly changed. I believe the cinematic trailer we got of the family fighting in the resort room was their nod to what was originally the story. But since seeing their announcement video in 2006, I had this fever-pitch hype for Dead Island. What we got was way different, but overall I did have a lot of fun with it. 

Fast forward to 2014, we got a trailer for Dead Island 2 from Yager Development since Techland was focused on Dying Light. In 2015 Deep Silver announced that Yager and Deep Silver had parted ways from the project. The following year Sumo Digital announced that it had taken up the mantle to develop Dead Island 2. Eventually, in 2018 Deep Silver announced that Dambuster Studios, an internal Deep Silver team, had taken charge of the development of Dead Island 2. After years of seemingly development hell, it was hard to envision a world where Dead Island 2 would shock and awe upon release. So while my initial expectations for Dead Island 2 were not good. I was worried about the years of studio changes and that we had seen so many zombie games in the first-person RPG genre. So what must it do to show us that Dead Island 2 was ready to rock our worlds? It turns out they knew all along… 

 I have never been so delighted to be so incredibly wrong. So before I dive into it for those who want to keep themselves in the dark, I will leave you with this, Dead Island 2 was terrific. It gives us a perspective we haven’t seen in video games before, a pure pulpy action movie over the top Hollywood take on the zombie genre with some fantastic system to keep things constantly fresh.

I was given access to all six Slayers, but for the preview, I decided to pick Ryan, the exotic dancer who also had the highest level of toughness. So during the selection screen, which is presented in a hilarious way that I wouldn’t want to ruin for people after a brief but bombastic cutscene, you can scroll through all the slayers, and it’ll give you a brief description of them as well as their unique abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. With Ryan’s ability to gain health from blocking and counter-attacking, I knew he would be the right choice for this. At the same time, during my full playthrough, I would go with Dani, this badass punk chick whose abilities seem more fit for getting up close and personal. 

 During the brief intro, our character is infected with the zombie virus. The missions during the opening that I played revolved around them wanting to go to the authorities to let them know they were immune. Things don’t go as planned, and it turns out the Army that had set up checkpoints throughout HELL-A is all run down, but it is okay. During the opening sequence, we meet a group of survivors, their Hollywood home acting as a hub where we can use workbenches, craft new items and weapons, and make a few upgrades. 

As you run around HELL-A, crafting items will be littered through the environment. Thankfully, they get this faint yellow highlight when you get close, so they stand out a bit and are everywhere. Along with items being scattered everywhere, you will also come across an array of weapons, from wrenches to knives to katanas, and my favorite was a hammer. One of the best decisions Dambuster Studios made when it came to the whole crafting and upgrading of weapons was for a little bit of money; you can instantly level up your weapon to match your level. This means if you find a weapon you love at the beginning of the game (Which I did), you can theoretically carry it through to the end of the game with you. During my time with Dead Island 1, Dying Light, and Dying Light 2, this is all I ever wanted, and including it here made me really happy. That being said, there is weapon degradation, so every once in a while, you’ll have to repair your weapons, and unlike some other games in a similar genre that have a limited number of times, you can improve weapons. However, that’s not the fact here. You can freely repair and add upgrades and remove them as you see fit. They have gone the extra mile to ensure that nothing will get in the way of players having fun in the way they want, and it is for the best.

 The RPG mechanics in Dead Island 2 are minimal because when you level up, your health, strength, and stamina go up. But Dambuster mixes things up in a big way here by adding these skill cards. In the past, we have seen games like Back 4 Blood have these kinds of skill cards, but how they are implemented here makes each character feel unique. As you level up, you will unlock these cards that change how your hero will play in battle. For example, throughout a few levels, Ryan will change how his block and counterattack work, along with more passive skills like getting more health back or boosts to attack. They never felt intrusive in a way, and it doesn’t seem like they are systems in place to make them predatory, looking at the original state of BattleFront 2. In fact, I decided to switch the cards around to help change up my play style.

 The most significant focus point in Dead Island 2 will be its insanely fun, pulpy, and action-fueled gameplay of slaying zombies. Expecting a typical zombie slaying experience, I was incredibly delighted to learn about this new procedurally generated body system. Tired of a running zombie? Cut off its leg, bruiser type keeping you down? Get rid of that arm. Each zombie’s body is generated so that physical damage will be done to them as you hit them, including breaking bones, limbs getting sliced off, and heads getting caved in. What surprised me was when I ran around with my hammer and hit a zombie in the side of the head, and its eyeball popped out. Still stuck on the retinal cord, it sat there swinging around as the battle raged. One of the things Ryan does best is his counterattack, and I did one barehanded and punched a hole in the zombie’s face. It was gory and glorious. It’s leaning into the Hollywood production of everything, and it’s the perfect mood for the game. It helps bring this levity to an otherwise desperate scenario. This is also before I mention the other types of zombies. There are your typical shamblers and runners and then come in the big ones. The big stand-out one is built like a brick shit house bruisers. They can take you down quickly but are slow. If you use your head, you can take these beefcakes out. Also, we get to see a zombie bride beefcaked out, which did something to me. I can wait to see what other kinds of special infected await us deeper in the game.

 Story-wise, Dead Island 2 takes place a few months after the events of Dead Island and Riptide. While trying to escape HELL-A, our slayers get trapped and are trying to survive and find out why they are immune and how to escape. A familiar face shows up, and hopefully, we will see a few more and get some closure on what happened to our past heroes from the series.

So far, Dead Island 2 is doing a lot of things right. First, its gameplay is high-speed, furious, gory, and glorious. The setting is outstanding for a zombie apocalypse story, and lastly, that story doesn’t take itself too seriously. These characters are having fun in this world, and that helps us, as the player, embody them and have a blast just kicking ass.

 I came away really impressed with Dead Island 2 after playing it for roughly 6 hours, I can’t wait to dive back in on release and lose myself in its world, and that was without trying out the multiplayer aspect of it. I can already think of a few people I can’t wait to play this game with when Dead Island 2 is released on April 28th on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.

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