Dead Island 2

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Dead Island 2 review
Dan Lenois


Dead Island 2 leaves me dead inside...

Twelve years later, the Dead Island franchise stalks among us once more...

Developed by Dambuster Studios, (after Techland, the developers behind the original Dead Island, stepped away from the franchise,) Dead Island 2, the long-awaited sequel to 2011's Dead Island, attempts to recreate the sadistic charm of its predecessor, albeit with mixed results. The premise of the sequel doesn't try to go too far afield from that of the first game. You get to select your character out of a number of preset options, all of which are pretentious exaggerated stereotypes that desperately try to convince you that they're funny, only to be met by silent indifference. Were one to sum up all the dialogue you'll hear from the protagonist in one word, it would be: excessive. Everything comes across as needlessly excessive. Your protagonist will react to pretty much anything and everything throughout the world, and while that might be a nifty feature if the dialogue provided was varied and cleverly written, neither of those fundamental conditions are fulfilled here.

A story as mindless as the zombies...

Story has never been the main draw for a Dead Island game, but the sequel seems to try a little harder than its predecessor and spinoffs to push the narrative to the forefront, which ultimately proves one of the game's greatest mistakes. Many primary and secondary characters, both on the protagonist's side, and the antagonists', do things for poorly explained, or completely unexplained, reasons. Many intriguing narrative setups are teased throughout the campaign, and ultimately never go anywhere. The game ultimately ends on a cliffhanger that singlehandedly openly contradicts the entire point of everything that came before, making the player feel as if all their hard work had been a complete waste of time. As far as rage-inducing bad story campaign endings go, this one almost contends with those of Bioshock Infinite and LA Noire. And all this is without mentioning the grind that got you there to begin with.

Bashing in undead brains may be as traumatizingly beautiful as ever, but shooting them is not...

Combat is extremely satisfying here in Dead Island 2. From the weapon models and animations to the sound effects, to even the proprietary GORE system the developers use to accurately but stylistically show gore and bodily impact of weapon damage on the AI zombies, everything is as close to perfect as you could've asked for. The only major drawback is how the developers chose to approach weapon balancing, including weapon degradation. If you're using a melee weapon, it makes sense that it will gradually suffer damage and break, but that doesn't mean you have to approach the creation of a weapon degradation system from the perspective of making it as realistic as possible. While players might care about realism to some degree, few playing a game like Dead Island want said mechanic taken to an extreme, where it breaks after merely a few kills. Without exaggeration, if the player were to keep the same preferred melee weapon at all times, they would have to take it back to a safe house to be repaired after every single fight against half a dozen or so zombies.

Guns deal only a modest amount of damage and are only particularly efficient at dealing tickle damage against powerful enemies that would be too dangerous to engage directly via melee. Given the immense scarcity of ammo as a lootable resource, the limited ammo inventory offered by traders, and the fairly high resource cost to craft said ammo yourself, the logical conclusion would be that the payoff to all these obvious nerfs would be that any gun would absolutely decimate regular zombies, and would prove the best tools when encountering a boss. However, when a single normal zombie can take on four direct critical headshots without dying, and enemy bosses can absorb entire clips without losing even a tenth of their health, you have to wonder whether the developers really thought through their balancing philosophy. Playing through the entire campaign, including a decent chunk of side missions, as a solo player, it seems as if the game was only ever designed for the maximum team size of three, with no thought to solo play. If you're planning on playing this solo, you better be prepared for one hell of a grind.

The world is a big and beautiful place...

As a semi-open world game, you'll have access to several small open world locations, no larger than a square block of streets with a few explorable buildings and alleys tossed in for good measure. The handcrafted approach to each location makes each one stands out as a distinct set piece. From sandy beaches to classic Hollywood-era film sets, there is a tremendous amount of beauty to be found in each location, a stark contrast from the hideous undead abominations that now populate them. Going off the beaten path and exploring is highly encouraged, as many useful weapons and resources can be found through scavenging, with the player being able to sell off their junk to NPC traders at any one of the many safe houses found throughout the different locales.

In contrast to the protagonist themselves, the supporting cast of characters largely follow The Breakfast Club model of being mere stereotypical caricatures, before eventually fleshing out into more relatable, or at least sympathetic, human beings. You might not necessary trust many of them, as everyone has their own priorities, and the unspoken agreement is that you'll all betray each other if it suits you, but you do begin to feel something for most of them, even if only just a bit. This is helped in large part by the mostly stellar voice performances and motion-capture animation.

Out of the grave

Dead Island 2 is a remarkably solid game, one that doesn't make any attempt to reinvent the wheel, but nevertheless is a more than satisfying mindless casual zombie-killing gorefest. It won't be a game held up in years to come as the go-to model for open-world zombie games but given its decade-long tenure in development hell, it's nothing short of a miracle it ever managed to crawl across the finish line as anything less than a complete mess.

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fun score


Engaging visual style, decent weapon models & animations, rewarding exploration


Excessive grind, lacklustre combat system, low-quality dialogue & story