Dead Island 2 is a game that certainly understands what it means to be undead. Despite being announced all the way back in 2014, the game is only just getting ready for release this coming April, and with a different studio than the one that started the project. With Dambuster Studios at the helm, the game has been completely reworked from the ground up, and we had the opportunity to take a peek at what they've created before it comes out. Read on to find out more about Dead Island 2, FLESH, and the violent world of Hell-A.
Dead Island 2 Preview - What Is This Game?
Dead Island 2, much like its predecessor, is a first-person zombie-murdering game (I hesitate to call it an FPS) but, unlike its predecessor, it was developed by Nottingham-based Dambuster Studios. Beyond that, another key factor that is a bit different this time around is the complete lack of an Island since the game is set in LA. Still, it’s honestly best that the developers don’t feel constrained by title convention because what they’ve done with the setting is excellent, and the hyper-stylized streets of “Hell-A.” fit the game's overall tone and style perfectly.
The tonal mismatch was one problem that plagued the first title in many places, partially thanks to an incredibly dramatic trailer that failed to sell the irreverent, tongue-in-cheek tone that the gameplay was actually aiming for. This time, that problem is 1000% solved. The tone is set out clearly from the start, even right down to that first trailer back in 2014, which is one hell of an impressive feat. In the end, the Hell-A setting makes the perfect backdrop for a gory, b-movie-inspired zombie-murdering simulator, and that is probably the most honest description of Dead Island 2 that you’re going to find anywhere.
One big focus of the game that is immediately obvious when you boot it up is the new gore system that Dambusters have been working on. Codenamed FLESH (which may or may not stand for something), this procedural system allows you to cause realistic damage to zombies as you fight them. In a game like Dead Island 2, with a heavy focus on melee and lots of squishy enemies to smack about, it really adds a lot of weight to the combat. It works with a bunch of different types of weapons too. Blades will slice through skin and clothes, eventually removing limbs. Blunt weapons can fracture and break, while burning or corrosive weapons reduce the skin to a bubbling mass of pain. It’s frankly quite disgusting, but that just makes it more entertaining in many ways.
Dead Island 2 Preview - B Movie Charm to Cause Zombies Harm
As we said above, the game is aiming at a b-movie sort of vibe, and with the excessive amount of gore going on, they certainly achieve it. This is akin to an 80s video nasty or grindhouse flick, with a sort of ridiculous amount of gore being offset by a very tongue-in-cheek presentation, another element of which is the set of main characters. As you start out the game, you have to select from one of 6 different ‘Slayers,’ excentric survivors who are attempting to escape Hell-A but end up trapped inside it. They each have their own distinct personalities and backstories, as well as different gameplay focuses, but it’s their reactions to the events of the story that are more important to the overall tone.
While each of the playable slayers in Dead Island 2 is a distinct person, they all have a tendency to take things less than seriously. Whether approaching dangerous situations with bravado, seeming annoyed all the time, or constantly wishing for a drink, they each have different, but equally cynical approaches to the over-blown culture and zany characters you meet on your journey. Combined with the immensely enjoyable hack-and-slash combat, it makes for a very replayable experience. It’s fun to just run around, listen to what your characters have to say, engage with the weird people you meet on the way, and bash a few zombie heads in on the way. With six different characters to choose from, there are legit reasons to go back more than once (I certainly did.)
A lot of work has also gone into the world, as well as the characters and gore physics. After all, LA is known for being filled with interesting stuff, and Hell-A is no different. You can come across mansion houses where ex-rockers are shacked up on all the drugs in existence, as well as movie sets and fancy hotels. All of these environments have been stuffed with different stories and opportunities for you to discover. For example, one particular story mission sees you heading for a hotel, but on the way, you pass through an empty ‘Influencer house.’ On your return journey, you get an optional side mission to murder zombies in specific ways to please their online followers, and there’s nothing more satisfying than dropkicking an influencer zombie off the roof of their over-priced residence to the street.
Dead Island 2 Preview - The Future of the Combat
So far, so gory.
Dead Island 2 feels like it’s shaping up to be a fun experience with an interesting USP in the FLESH system, but there are a few points that aren’t fully explorable in the preview that we need to keep our eyes out for. Firstly, combat, while fun, does take time to get going. In the early days, you’re limited to finding weak weapons until you can unlock customization, also making a return from Dead Island 1. These weapons are fine against your regular Shamblers and Runners, but when it comes to taking on tank zombies, it feels like you’re throwing gravel at a literal tank. Luckily, if you hunt for decent weapons and use your environment to your advantage, they’re not too tough. What we’ll have to wait for the full release to find out is if this problem is true for any later special zombies you have to take down.
On that front, we do at least know there will be bosses to take on, with the premiere boss featured in the preview being a giant Zombified Bride you have to take on in a wedding reception hall. This fight has many similarities to fighting the tank zombies, but with a few interesting twists. It was also kept much more interesting by having a lot of different environmental factors available to you, something which can be found pretty much everywhere you go. There are always opportunities to mix water and electricity, fuel and fire, and occasionally even acids. These different elemental combos can have major effects on the zombies around you, and sometimes you won’t even have to attack enemies directly at all if you’re smart about it.
The Final Thought
All-in-all, my time with Dead Island 2 has made me nothing but excited for the game. As someone who admittedly loves the simple fun of laying into a bunch of enemies with a cricket bat, the FLESH system has really made the experience come into its own. Along with a story so full of fun and wacky characters that I’ve done my best to avoid spoiling above, it equals one of the most cathartic and endlessly playable games we’ve had for a while. Of course, we will have to wait for the full title to know if this quality extends even further, but if I was a betting man, I know where I’d be putting my money.
TechRaptor previewed Dead Island 2 on Xbox Series X with a code provided by the developers. It will also be available on PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox One on April 21st, 2023.