Dead Island 2 Review

Dead Island 2 is finally here after near-enough 10 years of waiting. Can it surpass the original? Read our review to find out.

Published: April 18, 2023 10:00 AM /

Reviewed By:

Dead Island 2 Key Art depicting a character sitting on a donut-shaped pool ring with a cocktail and a bloody katana, as zombies jump into the pool from almost all sides.

Well, it’s been a long-time coming, but Dead Island 2 is finally here. After being trapped in development hell since its original announcement in 2014, the original first-person tropical zombie-murdering marathon is here in all its glory. Although, it has dropped the actual Island part of the description, with the setting in LA sort of rendering that a bit of a lie. Oh well, the real question is, can Dead Island 2 deliver on some of the promises that the original title showed? Let’s jump into Hell-A to find out. 

Dead Island 2 Review - Setting and Story

Dead Island 2 screenshot showing several zombies on a beach near the sea with a fallen beach umbrella lying nearby.
As you can probably tell, trying to get a non-blurry screenshot of a zombie's face can be a bit of a challenge. 

That’s right, Dead Island 2, developed by Dambuster Studios, is set in the heavily stylized Hell-A, a satirical slice of LA dropped into the middle of a standard video-game zombie apocalypse. You have six different characters to choose from, with the shocking decision this time to give all 6 of them a personality. This is a good move when compared with the first game, which basically featured one personality split between all four of the characters. 

As the game begins, all six playable characters are attempting to escape Hell-A on a plane when one of the less considerate guests turns, causing the plane to crash out of the sky. Badly hurt,  you have to take up refuge with other survivors and try your best to find another way out of the city. Upon being bitten, you discover that you’re immune to the virus and become the resident badass hero who does all of the going out into the apocalypse and spending your time mashing zombies into a pulp with a variety of creative weaponry. 

Dead Island 2 Review - Slaying Your Way Through Hell-A

Dead Island 2 screenshot showing an abandoned restaurant with a pool of oil lying on the ground near a forklift.
Some of the elemental effects you can get by playing around with the environment can be devastating if used correctly. 

As mentioned above, the six different player characters each have distinct personalities, though they’re all the type of people who will heroically go out into an apocalypse to save people and try and get them out alive. It’s also interesting that each character has something secret motivating them that you learn about as the game goes on, and it’s genuinely interesting finding out about them. That said, there are some characters that are more enjoyable than others, and everyone is likely to have a different favorite (if it’s not Jacob or Dani, you’re wrong.) The voice acting is a big part of the success of these characters, too, since you have to listen to them one-liner their way through the game. The only slight complaint in that department is that some of the characters do almost sound like different people from line to line occasionally. 

As you can probably tell from the story and the characters, Dead Island 2 goes for a pretty irreverent tone to the whole “zombie game” thing. It’s not quite tongue-in-cheek, though. It’s a bit more like a B-movie that is aware it’s a B-movie but has committed to taking itself seriously either way. There are plenty of pop-culture references, especially if you’re into horror movies, and the entire thing plays just like an action comedy-horror movie, right down to the gameplay and a lot of the later plot elements too. As long as you’re into the idea of wading through over-the-top gore with big action set-pieces and dramatic moments, then you’re in for a rollercoaster of a time. 

Dead Island 2 Review - Gameplay 

Dead Island 2 Screenshot showing a zombie crouching in a pool
Sometimes, you'd have to be made not to take advantage of an opportunity that was laid out before you. 

Much like the first game, Dead Island 2 is a first-person action game with a focus on melee combat, the idea being that you’re close-up and personal when body parts start flying off or melting. Obviously, this renders the ‘scare’ factor a bit moot, but that’s sort of the point. These zombies mostly aren’t threatening, bar the obligatory specials you come across; they’re simply a squishy gore wall for you to carve your way through with your overpowered caricature of an action hero. In theory, it all spells a lot of fun, but how does it actually pan out? Pretty well so far, to be honest. 

The proper attention to detail has been put into combat to make it simply fun to keep doing it. There’s a proper feeling of weight as you knock zombies around and a huge variety of different methods you have at your disposal. As well as melee and ranged weapons, you have access to curveballs: rechargeable ranged attacks with a variety of elemental flavors. These curveballs can often be combined with elemental effects in the environment, like barrels of acid or oil, to create devastating effects. You can seriously chew threw entire hordes of zeds by chucking a bunch of oil at them, then setting it on fire or dousing them in water and electrocuting them. The best part is all of these different attacks and effects have different impacts on the zombies you’re fighting. 

Dead Island 2 Review - Gore, Viscera, Gallons of the Stuff

Dead Island 2 screenshot showing a key lying in an insane pool of gore and viscera.
It's quite insane the sheer amount of gore and viscera that can end up on the screen at any given moment. 

One particularly fine detail of the game has gone into the zombies themselves. Dambusters has talked about this new procedural system used to generate the zombies, creating a decent bunch of different variations, but more specifically, allowing the zombies to realistically be melted, mutilated, or burnt as you hit them. Arms go flying, the skin literally melts away from muscles, and eventually, the skeleton pokes out of missing parts. It really adds to the slightly over-the-top atmosphere that the rest of the game brings to the table since the level of gore on display is as extreme as a splatter movie and should be taken about as seriously. 

It all adds up to an enormous amount of catharsis as you run around the several smaller open-world maps that compare the game world, each constructed loosely based on real-world locations. You blast your way through piles and piles of the undead, completing missions to help other survivors and looting weapons and parts to upgrade them with new abilities. There’s a weapon crafting system where you can create mods out of bits of wire and stuff you find poking around, as well as crafting new consumables like ammo and healing items, and it doesn’t take long for guns to make an appearance, though they don’t draw the same level of attention as they do in games like Dying Light, thankfully. 

Dead Island 2 Review - Showing Some Progress

Dead Island 2 Screenshot showing a map in the style of a 'map of the stars homes.'
Even the map has it's own distinct style, but it's still useful for getting around. 

Dead Island 2 also features a card-based skill system, where you unlock different skills and modifiers as you go through the game. This includes the special Fury attacks that you had access to in the first game, though this time, it isn’t locked into a specific character archetype. That goes for almost all the unique aspects of the characters, which makes them all a lot more flexible, even if makes the different characters feel closer in terms of gameplay style. However, each slayer does have unique abilities, mostly related to how they control, rather than any standard advantage with weapon types. For example, Jacob gets damage bonuses by attacking in rapid succession, making a hyper-aggressive play style more his thing, while Dani performs an AOE explosion when she uses heavy attacks and regains health by killing zombies in quick succession, making precise, hard attacking more important. 

As well as picking up cards, you can level up your character with experience points you get by completing quests and taking zombies down. This primarily affects your health and damage, as well as the level of weapons that spawn, meaning you’re always finding progressively stronger weapons to take down zombies in more impressive ways. There’s also a nice ramping up of powerful modifications, especially with the added bonus of taking ripped-off zombie parts and using them to get crazy bonus effects. This also extends to your abilities, with especially powerful mutagenic-dependant abilities having drawbacks to balance them out. 

Dead Island 2 Review - Graphics and Sound

Dead Island 2 Screenshot depicting a bulky zombie kneeling on the gorund inside a building during bright sunlight
These guys might seem threatening at first, but they're pretty pathetic once you get them to this point. 

In terms of graphics and sound, Dead Island 2 comes out pretty great. While it’s probably not the highest graphical fidelity amongst any game out there, there’s a specific style and tone to everything that makes it feel like it’s part of the same world. It’s pop-culture inspired, hyper-colorful, and has just enough of a touch of realism that you can get immersed in the game and enjoy yourself. The designs of the special zombies are also well-done, with each different type of zombie easily distinguishable from the other at a moment's notice (in most cases.) 

Sound-wise, there’s a great mixture of high-energy music for general combat, some horror stings for the darker moments, and of course, specific tracks for specific moments to heighten the intensity. There’s also a cavalcade of well-made sound effects, whether it's the flesh being struck with a baseball bat or a cartoon lightning zap noise. There are also some added features related to sound with the Alexa Game control. This technically makes it possible to control the game with your voice, but I couldn’t get the service activated and working correctly during our time reviewing the game. 

Dead Island 2 Review - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Dead Island 2 Screenshot depicting a lone zombie wandering around dark Bel Air streets at night
What is this? A 90s Jim Carrey movie...but with zombies. 

Well, there have been a lot of positives for me so far in Dead Island 2, there are a few places where the game does fall short. Firstly, as of the time of writing, there isn’t much going on in the end game other than a couple of the missions that unlock at that point. There are no end-game areas to explore after the credits roll, no big splashy easter eggs. While the gameplay is overall fine, it did lack any massive “wow factor” to write home about. It was all a whole bunch of fun, but there wasn’t anything during the game to really push it to that next level. That said, there’s the promise of updates post-launch that might give it that added pep. 

There’s also the storyline and ending. While the writing of the characters and dialogue is pretty stellar, the plot goes full B-movie with some of the weird stuff that happens with the subplot about your immunity to the virus. That said, it doesn’t actually end up factoring into the ending all that much, and the ending itself is ripped straight out of a cliched action movie, and it could not have been more perfect. The final flaw for some is simply going to be that it’s a lot of pretty much the same thing, and if you’re not into it, that’s probably going to put you off. It also won’t help if you end up picking a character that you don’t gel with since they’re such a strong part of the experience. 

The Verdict

Dead Island 2 is a hell of a lot of fun, even if it lacks that final little push it needed to propel it into greatness. You can while away a stupid amount of hours hacking and slashing your way through Hell-A, laughing along with your Slayer, crafting new weapons and using new combos, and discovering exactly what happened to the many long-dead inhabitants of the city. If you’re not into watching zombie parts go flying in all directions, then you’ll probably not get into it, but if you’re a Splatterhouse fanatic or a closet sociopath, then feel free to get stuck in. 

Dead Island 2 was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the Developer over the course of 72 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.

Review Summary

Dead Island 2 manages to pull off an incredibly fun experience, and delivers on some of the missed promise of the first title. That said, there's not much here beyond hyper-active zombie slaying, so if that's not your bag you probably wont enjoy it. (Review Policy)


  • Combat feels great and very cathartic
  • Slayers are mostly genuinely fun characters
  • Lots of stuff to explore and mini parodies/stories to discover


  • Not much in the way of an end-game
  • Zombie-mutilation is pretty much the only string to the game's bow

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| Staff Writer

Will has been writing about video games professionally since 2016 and has covered everything from AAA game reviews to industry events and everything in… More about William

More Info About This Game
Learn More About Dead Island 2
Game Page Dead Island 2
Deep Silver
Release Date
April 28, 2023 (Calendar)
Action, Horror
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