Dead Island 2 is a gory and satisfying sequel to the 2011's Dead Island. It features robust melee combat with a distinguishable array of weapons sprinkled with a surprising amount of customization options for you to make a beast of a zombie slayer.
Its overarching narrative sometimes takes itself too seriously. It delves into the survival horror tropes made famous by games like Resident Evil. Still, most of the time, Dead Island 2 is a fun, smashing, and satirical depiction of a modern-day zombie apocalypse.
However, it isn't perfect, and some trivial gameplay and quality-of-life missteps stop Dead Island 2 from being one of the most enjoyable zombie-slaying experiences of the generation.
Dead Island 2 ditches the tropical landscapes of the original for the more sophisticated locales of Los Angeles. HELL-A, the fictionalized zombie-infested version of LA, is a playground of opportunities, full of carefully placed traps for you to take advantage of and cause mayhem.
Every corner of the many dilapidated streets of the city of angels is now overrun with demons, zombies, to be specific, and you're the nephalem tasked with cleansing the corruption.
It's an enjoyable job because everything from visuals to sound design as well as the feel of weapon smashing, slashing, and piercing an undead flesh, is top-notch.
The many districts of HELL-A are visually distinct but have a structure semblance, and you will see a lot of identical interiors. Every area is also full of locked doors that are home to new weapons and resources, and you will constantly be on the lookout for keys to open up these places. Seldom you may also encounter NPC survivors that will have side quests to offer.
Story & Presentation in Dead Island 2
Dead Island 2 takes place ten years after the events of the original, during yet another zombie outbreak that, this time, engulfs LA. You play as one of the six characters, each with a unique personality and set of skills that favor different playstyles.
The story begins as you (the main character), alongside a bunch of movie celebrities and Hollywood residents, take the last plane out of LA when unsurprisingly things go south, and your character gets infected. It's immediately evident that your character is immune to the zombie bite, and their blood is possibly a one-way ticket to a cure.
Dead Island 2 takes you through different districts of LA, like Beverly Hills and Venice Beach (while scavenging resources, crafting makeshift weapons, and helping survivors along the way), to find an enigmatic Dr. Reeds, who may have ways to develop the cure to stop the apocalypse.
For a game primarily about finding unique and creative ways to slaughter hordes of zombies, I was surprised by how well some of the voice work is, including side characters.
The writing isn't something to die for, though the main character's one-liners are snappy and had me laughing more than once.
It isn't the story nor the dialogues that stand out but the satirical environmental storytelling of LA's many residents. In your journey, you will explore million dollars mansions of actors, and content creators, whose houses are full of objects and notes that showcase their lavish lifestyles.
One Youtuber's house, which I explored early on in the game, had the "Woke up like this" sign imprinted on their bedroom wall, a not-so-subtle reference to the common modern-day influencer practice, which had me laughing hysterically. Such light-hearted moments plague this zombie land and are quite memorable. They also make looting and destroying these luxurious houses a guiltless affair.
Dead Island 2's tale of the zombie apocalypse works well in moments that project the idea of embracing the apocalypse rather than enduring the apocalypse. One such endearing moment is when you meet a carefree agoraphobic man who lives underground and watches horror movies all day in his shell instead of worrying about escaping the world's end.
The idea that an apocalypse can be liberating instead of limiting is depicted several times in Dead Island 2's 20 hours long campaign. It's quite a refreshing take on a genre full of overly serious plots, and I found myself constantly enthralled by these moments.
Of course, by the end, the narrative does divert towards save-the-world theatricalism, which is okay because, in Dead Island 2, the story isn't the main focus.
Dead Island 2 Gameplay
A quick disclaimer before we go further. I didn't get to try Dead Island 2's online co-op mode and my impressions are strictly based on the single-player aspect of the game.
By the time credits rolled, I had slain 2,786 zombies, and I was nowhere near done. Dead Island 2's combat is brutal, intricate, responsive, and satisfying in a way that its predecessor wasn't.
There are several different weapon types in the game, and each has a distinct weight and feel to it. There are light-weighted Katanas that are ideal for slashing limbs. There are hard-hitting metal bats whose heavy blows can crush an enemy's skull. And then there are Pole Saw, which can pierce an enemy's eyes out. Every melee weapon in Dead Island 2 feels unique and powerful in its own way.
You can enhance these weapons by applying weapon mods and perks to them. Mods apply elemental effects and status to your weapons, whereas perks add more passive buffs that favor different playstyles.
To fabricate new weapon mods and perks, you're going to need the blueprint for the said item, which you can acquire by exploring the world and completing side missions. I was constantly encouraged to explore every nook and cranny of HELL-A for another new and powerful toy or tool to enhance my existing toys.
If toying around with weapons wasn't enough, Dead Island 2 also has an extensive Skill card system that unlocks new abilities and maneuvers for your character. My favorite is the Drop Kick. Kicking a group of zombies into an electric pool to fry them up is utterly satisfying, and it never gets old. I only wish the developers had gone a bit far and added a few pro-wrestling moves too.
Some skills are exclusive to certain characters, whereas others are available to all. Most Skill Cards and skill slots can be acquired and unlocked by completing main missions, whereas you can find others while exploring the world.
There's a staggering amount of Skill Cards to unlock and use in Dead Island 2. Not only do they keep combat fresh till the end, but they also allow you to craft your perfect build. Around three-fourths into the story, the game introduces an entirely new skill type that makes your character even more powerful and makes zombie killing more cathartic.
Guns are also part of the arsenal in Dead Island 2, and while they aren't as responsive and satisfying to use as the melee counterparts, they are useful. It all clicks when you slash an enemy's arm off using a Claymore sword, drop-kick them into a fire pool, and blow their head off with a fire-spewing shotgun in a slow-mo effect.
To keep things interesting, there are also several in-game challenges, which you can complete to earn money, resources, weapon perks, mods, and even new Skill Cards. These challenges focus on different aspects of combat. For instance, blueprint challenges unlock new blueprints, whereas weapon challenges unlock new weapon mods. It's a great incentive to keep you playing the game even after completing the story missions and side quests.
Speaking of side quests, I was quite surprised to find out that these weren't exactly fetch quests. These weren't story-rich quests either but just silly yet fun ways to get to know some of HELL-A residents. A few of these quests also reference some of pop culture's greatest. One quest, in particular, is about transporting a malfunctioned baby bot to its owner, whose voice attracts zombies. It reminded me of BD-1 from Star Wars, and it's just one of many iconic references you will find in Dead Island 2.
Some NPCs will have more than one quest for you to offer and will appear in different districts at different parts of the story. Most of these quests end up with you killing hordes of zombies, but that's okay because that's something Dead Island 2 is really good at.
However, not everything about the gameplay is perfect, and Dead Island 2 stumbles in the most inconvenient ways possible. For one, you don't unlock fast-travel until halfway through the story. Even when it's available, you have to walk a lot since you can only travel back and forth from a fast-travel poster, which is only available in a few locations throughout a district.
It also doesn't help that traversal is pretty underwhelming in Dead Island 2. It's even more shocking when you think of it from a sandbox perspective. Games like Dying Light 2 have set the standards very high for traversal in first-person sandbox-style games with its parkour abilities and grappling hook. This feels like a step down even more because, in Dead Island 1, you could actually hop onto a vehicle and go from point A to point B.
The structure of the main quests didn't sit right with me, either. At the same time, there are memorable set pieces and cutscenes between combat encounters, and almost every main mission objective involves looking for clues, turning on the power, and finding keys to a particular door. I get why this would be the case in a post-apocalyptic video game, but surely it could have been replaced with something more engaging. It becomes repetitive very quickly and is particularly obnoxious in the latter half of the story, where you traverse through the endless dark and narrow corridors.
It's unbelievable how many locked doors and safes there are in Dead Island 2. It's like everyone was expecting an apocalypse and just had enough time to lock every bedroom in their houses before escaping HELL-A.
The rate at which you find these keys is very uneven. Most of these keys are on other zombies, who you must find and kill to get them. What's weird about this is that it's incredibly hard (sometimes downright impossible) to find some of these named zombies.
Some appear randomly near the source, whereas others appear on the map's opposite end. Some of these named zombies won't even appear until you have cleared certain story missions. It breaks the game at times because there's clearly no environment cue to suggest that you shouldn't try and enter any particular location or look for the keys to a locked room until you have progressed further into the story. It sucks, and I wish the developers had given this more thought. All in all, Dead Island 2 is mediocre when it stops being fun, and these are some aspects of it where it's the opposite of fun.
Performance & Fidelity in DI2
I played the PS5 version of Dead Island 2 and had a consistently good experience. Surprisingly, there's no Quality and Performance mode to choose from, which has become the norm for AAA games this generation.
The good news is that the preset setting targets 60 FPS and 4K resolution on the PS5 and Xbox Series X. On PS5, even during the most intense segments, where dozens of zombies plague the screen and numerous flickering effects are in motion, I didn't notice any FPS drops.
Thankfully, there were no major visual or technical glitches either, except during one cutscene in the latter half of the story, where one character's lower body sunk in the environment. It was funny and not game-breaking in any way. It was also the only major glitch I encountered in my 40 hours of playthrough of Dead Island 2 on PS5.
Dead Island 2 Review Verdict (4/5)
Dead Island 2's engaging combat, the sheer number of customization options, and its laid-back satirical world-building make it a worthy sequel. There are a few gameplay and quality-of-life issues that make this a somewhat frustrating experience though nothing major that would rob the overall fun factor of this game.
The review code was provided by Deep Silver.