For games that are in development as long as Dead Island 2, the end product often ends up being a hodgepodge of different ideas and mechanics that never quite reached their maturity. Dead Island 2 initially began development in 2012, over 10 years ago but the game would not see the light of day for another 11 years as it was passed around from studio to studio. The game was eventually handed over to Dambuster an internal Deep Silver studio that made the game as we know it today. Despite the long development cycle and the numerous studios that left their mark on the game, Dead Island 2 is a surprisingly consistent game.
The sequel is a worthy follow-up to the 2013 original, taking everything great about that game and dialing it up to 11. The melee combat is much improved, providing a visceral experience that is unmatched along with some extremely well-written characters, memorable side quests, and a largely satisfactory world, the game does suffer from some monotony and a few setbacks but all the other elements are executed so well that they more than make up for them.
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Dead Island 2’s Mixture of Gore and Whimsy is its Best Asset
Dead Island 2 is set seventeen years after the events of the original in a now zombie-overrun Southern California. The state is now under quarantine as a deadlier virus is making the rounds, turning hordes of people into the undead. You get to choose from six playable characters (Slayers) each offering their own unique set of skills, perks, and their own unique personality that permeates the entire experience. Your choices really just boil down to whatever stats you prefer and what build you’re hoping to create. The characters are well voice acted with Jacob being a particular standout.
Dead Island 2, like GTA 5 takes a satirical approach in its story, which is oftentimes so over the top and bonkers that you have a hard time following where the narrative is headed, but that’s to the game’s advantage because the true standout point for Dead Island 2 is its colorful cast of eclectic characters. Each character represents a Hollywood stereotype, playing on the long-established tropes once explored in the fifth Grand Theft Auto entry, but here it is done so in a way that’s more blatant and obvious and it works extremely well with the game’s tone and hilarious direction.
The mixture of comedy and whimsy and gory zombie killing works together extremely well. They’re two extremely contrasting ideas that worked as well as they did in 2009’s Zombieland and its sequel but with Dambusters fingerprints all over it. Whether it’s a drunk Rockstar who’s oblivious to the world around him or a social media influencer whos more concerned with views and fame amidst a zombie apocalypse, the NPCs are something that never gets tiring in the game and really provide the meat of the experience within Dead Island 2
Combat Feels Weighty and VIsceral But Monotonous at the Same Time
The characters and story are just one piece of the puzzle and secondary ones at that. Dead Island 2 is an action game first and foremost and consequently, its combat sits at the very forefront. Like Dying Light, Dead Island 2 is heavily reliant on melee combat. Each blow feels incredibly weighty and visceral and every swing of your weapon connects perfectly. There is a great variety of weapons on display, you start out with standard bats and planks but the weapons get more and more complex and excessive as the game progresses. You’ll wield anything from an electric sword to a blade-embedded bat and Wolverine claws, each weapon feels unique but ultimately I found that it all devolved into mindless button presses the more I played the game, while there is variety in the weapons themselves there isn’t much variety in how they function.
There are unlockable perks and buffs that grant you passive and active boosts but they do little in the way of changing up the combat, however, what they do is allow you to create a build that is uniquely your own, the interlacing of RPG elements does wonders to make the entire combat feel more robust although the ultimate task of button mashing does get rather repetitive. Guns also felt like they didn’t get enough attention during development, perhaps intentionally. They take the backseat here as they do in the Dying Light games. They never quite pack the punch you would expect a firearm would and oftentimes felt very inconsistent and inaccurate. It almost felt like they were added in as an afterthought and with ammo being so scarce I constantly found myself switching back to my melee weapons, this just made really made me question the relevancy of guns in the games. I much rather would have preferred a melee-only combat.
The F.L.E.S.H. System is Unmatched in its Details
Melee combat, however, is accentuated by what I think is the best gore system in any video game ever. The F.L.E.S.H system as it’s dubbed by the developers adds an amount of depth to zombie slaying that is simply unmatched. Each blow from a bat, each swing from a sword, and every swipe with the Wolverine claws procedurally breaks down the flesh, cloth, and bones of zombies in the game. Blood and guts spew everywhere as you rip through a zombie in extremely gory detail that always makes you wince and cringe. The gore system in the Callisto Protocol comes close but doesn’t quite match up to what is achieved here in Dead Island 2 and I won’t be surprised if other studios start emulating this in the near future.
Dead Island 2 excels in offering a diverse range of enemy types, keeping the gameplay exciting and unpredictable. The game features ten distinct types of enemies, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses, ensuring that players never feel too comfortable or complacent during combat. Whether you’re facing off against a basic walker or a heavily armored soldier, each enemy type presents its own set of challenges, requiring players to adapt their strategies on the fly. This variety adds depth and replayability to the game, as players must constantly evaluate their tactics and adjust their approach based on the enemies they are facing. Additionally, the range of enemy types ensures that no two encounters feel the same.
Dead Island 2 Does Environmental Story Telling Perfectly
Perhaps the biggest departures Dead Island 2 takes from its predecessor is its move away from open worlds to a relatively linear progression. While this may be seen as a regression by some I think it’s an incredibly smart move to do this. There’s this level of intimacy and detail that is just not available in open-world games. Dead Island 2 relies heavily on environmental storytelling that I think just would not have had the same impact had the game been open-world. It goes hand in hand with the game’s highly detailed flesh system and overall results in a product that seems like there was a lot of love and work put into it.
Although the smaller and narrower level design of the game may feel restrictive, especially if you’re used to playing the expansive Dying Light series, it ultimately offers a unique and immersive experience. From exploring a former movie studio to stumbling upon a zombie bride whose wedding was ruined by the outbreak, the game’s environments are rich with storytelling and an atmosphere that surpasses expectations for a zombie game. The game delivers a remarkable and effective level of storytelling through its environments, which is a rare and impressive feat, especially within this genre.
Dead Island 2 is a worthy follow-up to the original. The sequel dishes up an ample amount of gore and zombie-killing action but is often marred by the monotony of its combat system. However, the clever writing, over-the-top characters, and general whimsical nature of the game more than make up for it.
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