When they do release, “development hell” games are rarely in a state that players would want to experience. But with Dead Island 2, Dambuster Studios pushes away ten years of development hell issues like a zombie lunging for its neck to offer an undead role-playing game that is undoubtedly flawed but also entertaining and even creative.
A first-person action-RPG called Dead Island 2 is set against the same zombie apocalypse that wreaked havoc in the first game’s narrative. It relocates the show from the mythical island of Banoi to Los Angeles, which, as you may remember, is undoubtedly not an island. Given the franchise’s name, it’s a strange choice, but once you start playing, you can excuse it because the game’s semi-open environment proves to be one of its best features.
Although not all of the game’s various locations are enormous, a few of them are large enough, and regardless of their size, each one is stuffed with secrets, side missions, and opportunities to veer off the beaten road. Dead Island 2 avoids a full sandbox-style open world in favor of more specialized places with fewer repetitive components that are smaller in size. In the end, the game benefits from it since it frequently achieves an engaging balance between width and depth.
Indirect paths are frequently used in the game’s world design. Fences on the pier create fresh set pieces and keep you zigzagging around the unexpected world as you explore it. For example, one fence will force you to duck through the arcade and past the bumper cars to get to the other end. Storefronts are frequently explorable on the beach and can provide you with excellent weapons, money for upgrades, or other optional secrets. In LA, there aren’t many straight streets, and around every bend are more monsters and the treasures they guard. Backtracking occurs frequently, especially when completing the game’s 24 primary tasks and 40+ side missions. You won’t be able to see and accomplish everything on your first trip in any zone, and the numerous locked doors you’ll leave behind will make going back a worthwhile endeavor because side quests frequently reveal new paths.
It takes more than just strolling through the opulent Beverly Hills or the Venice Beach boardwalk to navigate “HELL-A”‘s world. The numerous zombies who stand in your way must be bludgeoned, beheaded, maimed, or otherwise decommissioned. Dead Island 2 does a great job of developing its first-person combat with a compelling combat system that feels hefty and well-considered, as well as a wide array of enemies and weapons. Even after completing the game’s main quest, I continued to find additional weapons, including several named weapons that stand in for the greatest possible prize. The crafting system has dozens of blueprints that can customize each weapon several times over, giving them recognizable but still exciting status effects as well as buffs to your chosen “Slayer” of the game’s roster of six heroes. Each weapon, whether it be a firefighter’s axe, a wrench, a baseball bat, or one of many others, feels different.
The zombies do well to match, given the wide range of weapons available. It doesn’t take long for the distinction between walkers, runners, and shamblers to be supersized crushers, confusing screamers, and other things. Many of the same zombie classes from the first game are returned in Dambuster, however they now have a wider range of special abilities, such as electrified screamers who can’t be killed by electricity because, well, that’s already their whole point. Even yet, the game also has a number of novel zombie species that have never before appeared in the franchise.
Although it’s fantastic to give the combat more weight and variation, this isn’t particularly novel for the genre. The damage model in Dead Island 2 is its hidden weapon and something Dambuster can be proud of. Each layer of every monster in the game can be removed with a katana, mallet, or any other weapon you choose to equip. The game’s enemies all exist like the ugliest onion in the world.
If you hit a zombie with a baton, their jaw might come loose like keys on a lanyard, or their skull will fall away to reveal the brain. It will produce quite different outcomes to fry them to a crisp with electricity or to melt away their skin with Caustic-X, an in-universe muck. This means that every slice, gash, and smash will need to be planned out, in addition to how and where to deal damage to every enemy in the game. I’ve played dozens of zombie games, and this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in one. Even while I’ve never really been a fan of gore for its own sake, I’ll agree that, regardless of the media, using homemade Wolverine claws to rip a hole in a zombie’s head adds a certain level of flair to the genre that is hard to find elsewhere.
Each confrontation requires conscious effort due to the different swarms of zombies and all the fascinating weapons. Rarely will you be able to just turn off your brain and stomp through a group of zombies to reach a goal they are blocking. To my surprise, each battle requires a deliberate, strategic strategy and continues to be challenging throughout.
But there are certain limitations to all this adulation. One of the reasons for this issue is that it occasionally can feel unjust. The game hardly ever lets you rest, and enemies spawn swiftly. This is typically okay in the two- or three-player co-op mode of the game because you have assistance and it gives the world the sense of unease that a zombie apocalypse should. However, in single-player, some of the encounters and the constant spawning of enemies could make you feel as though you’re swimming upstream in a torrent of blood and guts. It can be challenging to push through the horde to get to the adversary whose re-death will truly prevent the horde from persisting, even though the game does a good job at telegraphing this.
Second, the gunplay in the game does not merit any of the accolades I gave the melee combat. About a third of the way through the tale, guns start to appear in the game. While these weapons have a ton of variety and are enhanced by user customizations, guns are cumbersome and frequently feel like a liability. Strangely, firing them from the hip feels better than aiming down the sights.Every time the sight is utilized, there is a heavy unpredictability that causes a mismatch between where you were aiming from the hip and where you might be aiming from the sight. It acts like recoil that happens before a shot has even been fired. This slows down gunplay because it necessitates continually re-lining up rounds anytime you choose to aim in the first place. However, shotguns should at least be alright because they rarely require aiming, yet they have always felt weak.
Even then, I’d merely try to line up headshots from the hip, knowing that aiming more than that would probably only result in me wasting ammo. The hunting rifle, the game’s greatest gun, was my go-to anytime I felt like using any weaponry. However, you may be better off if you play with little to no weapons; you can still win the game.
Exploration, combat, and upgrades all excel, which is beneficial given how forgettable the tale is. Dead Island 2’s writing issues, despite the fact that it was written by a different team than the first game, are shared by both. These issues include grating dialogue, an unsatisfactory final act that veers past a level of campiness that could have been endearing and into groan-inducing territory.
I struggle to think of many characters other than Amy, the heroine I have chosen, or Sam B., who returns from the first game. A mysterious army of anti-heroes frequently appears to mimic narrative interest, and a fictional performer by the name of Emma Jaunt also has a key role, but none of it is really effective.
The tone of the story is lighthearted in a Grand Theft Auto kind of way since it makes fun of rich American socialites above all else and uses them as the punchline for its jokes. The script frequently delights in sending zombie teeth barreling for the jugulars of streamers, actors, and other persons believed to be the shallow wealthy elite, even though some of these characters are made out to be wonderful people. However, this is only the air of a story. I actually like reading some of the various items because it gave the game a sense of life, but whenever cutscenes threatened to tell a tale, I found myself groaning like the undead.
It’s a small marvel that Dead Island 2 has been released at all for a game that has been in development for more than ten years. The fact that it has reached a point where players may enjoy it throughout its plot and beyond—even though the story itself is an afterthought—is a testimony to the team that brought it to an earlier-than-expected conclusion. Dead Island 2 suffers from a mediocre story, bad gunplay, and some balancing flaws, but its colorful environment and intricate melee combat mechanics elevate it above the first game—possibly the most significant thing I can say about it after all it’s been through.