We had already established in our preview of Dead Island 2 that it had the potential to be something pretty good. Now, with the full release set we feel we must retract our previous statement: Dead Island 2 isn’t pretty good. It is very, very good. Decapitating and maiming zombies has rarely been this much fun.
Few games have a development journey as fabled as Dead Island 2. Depending on who you ask, as many as four different developers have worked on a version of Dead Island 2 since its reveal in 2014. That would normally be a massive red flag as to the state of the final release. But the only red here is found in the gallons and gallons of blood and gore that now cover the streets of LA. It would be no understatement to suggest that Dead Island 2 is one of the most violent video games of all-time. But before the fun police choose this as the next game to push their vendetta, it is all in the name of self defence against the hordes of the undead. And it is all manner of fun.
Around ten years have passed since the events of Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, and those that weren’t involved in the events of Banoi are none the wiser thanks to a major cover-up. So when the zombies come rolling into LA, it is a bit of a shock to the residents. And with one final flight leaving the lockdown area, it is imperative you get on it.
What follows is a memorable opening as you choose your character during a zombie outbreak on the plane as it crash lands back in LA. From the six you can choose from it is best to choose the one you like the least. Each have unique base stats but it is the levels of depravity to look out for. None of them are what you would call ‘nice’ but there is also a large amount of inane chatter to themselves on your journey. But, if you want to hear quips about zombie paedophiles, look no further than Jacob.
After surviving the plane crash your chosen Slayer is invited to Hollywood star Emma Jaunt’s house up in Bel-Air. And perhaps more crucially, you are immune to the deadly zombie virus. How do you find out if you are immune? Simply get bitten by a zombie and don’t turn into one.
Arriving at Emma’s house also introduces one of the survivors from the first Dead Island game, Sam “Who Do You Voodoo, Bitch?” B. A fellow immune person, his wisdom after surviving the events of Banoi proves invaluable to surviving in this newly nicknamed HELL-A.
What follows is a bloody, visceral romp through the streets and sewers of LA. You will start in Bel-Air, before heading to Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier. These are iconic locations but you will have never seen them in this light before. That is, covered in gore and viscera from both human and zombies alike.
The original Dead Island stood out for being an idyllic getaway covered in blood, something that Dead Island 2 continues. Seeing these affluent and recognisable locations overridden by the walking dead never gets boring. But look around you and Dead Island 2 is a veritable playground for you to kill zombies in a large variety of ways.
Dead Island 2 allows you to really get creative over your zombie killings. As well as being able to upgrade every weapon with a range of elemental effects, you can take advantage of the thousands of environmental opportunities too. And you don’t need to look too far; find a jerrycan full of water, petrol or some other illicit substance and you won’t be far away from something electric or a flame source. These can also be combined together creating chain reactions that, if executed successfully, mean you can just sit back and watch the carnage unfold before your eyes.
As you progress, some zombies will have elemental resistances, along with weaknesses to certain body parts. Aimlessly slashing and bashing away will usually yield results eventually, but smart Slayers will learn to utilise the information provided in the Zompedia.
Speaking of body parts, Dead Island 2 has them in abundance too. Zombies are anatomically accurate, albeit with parts added or missing for visual effect. But what this means is that if you repeatedly attack the same body part, you can remove chunks of flesh or even the entire appendage with a bladed weapon. I have seen eyes popping out after hitting a zombie across the skull, jaws completely ripped off, tibias, fibulas and more gore than perhaps anything I have witnessed before. It is glorious and gorious and sadistically satisfying seeing an arm fly off in slow motion as you dismember thousands of the undead.
Dead Island 2 will never let the slaughtering go stale either. Even in the last few missions you are encountering new zombie variants and gameplay mechanics to keep things interesting. My only gripe with this is that the returning Fury Mode unlocks a little bit too far into the adventure. But this is only because going in hand-to-hand combat with the zombies is highly effective against some of the Apex Variants (the various mini-bosses found throughout) that up until that point I had struggled with them and their larger amount of HP. It isn’t a fool-proof method by any means, but it is also never not fun.
It also does a great job of weaving the narrative into the gameplay mechanics. The skill cards we criticised during our preview certainly do get better over time once you start experimenting with them. After unlocking Fury Mode, you begin to learn a bit more about how your body is reacting to the virus pumping through your veins, and can choose to explore this a little bit more. Autophage skills become available that will increase some abilities or base stats at the cost of health and stamina. How deep you decide to explore these new abilities is up to you, but you can unlock some unique skills this way.
You are also informed that specific pieces of zombies can be used in upgrading your weapons in the same way you would traditionally using blueprints. Again, these offer unique abilities that are fun to experiment and play around with, providing you have the necessary consumables for fabrication.
Using these storytelling methods helps Dead Island 2 tell a different zombie apocalypse story. The original Dead Island focused on a fairly generic outbreak story, and whilst Dead Island 2 is still a sequel to that, the evolved storytelling and gameplay means this is the new starting point for inevitable sequels and DLCs.
Sure, there’s a zombie apocalypse happening, but Dead Island 2 might be the most fun end-of-days yet. The dark humour, gratuitous violence and sandbox-esque playground of LA allows you to come up with some beautiful and brutal zombie kills. Things are kept fresh with a wide variety of different zombies, some of which are introduced in very tense set pieces as standout moments. But for every tense moment, Dead Island 2 delivers a delightfully bloody romp that has been well worth the wait.
The zombie apocalypse awaits in Dead Island 2 on the Xbox Store