So much of the original Dead Island lives rent free in my head. It was a game my friends and I gorged on for a few years after release, setting up our TVs and Xbox 360s all in the same room, and it remains a high point of my gaming career. So, imagine my excitement when in 2014 a full sequel was announced. Some nine years later, I am still waiting.
That wait is nearly over though. In fact, the wait is already over as I was fortunate enough to play the first five or six hours of Dead Island 2. Strap yourselves in.
Much has happened since the events of the original Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, and I was not expecting to be concentrating so much on the lore of Dead Island. That was until a returning character re-appeared to inform us that what was happening in LA was not the first time this has happened. Thanks to government cover-ups however, the events on Banoi have never been made public.
Without giving away exactly who it is, their appearance in Dead Island 2 is primarily to check in on old flame, Emma Jaunt. Emma, along with your chosen slayer(s), manage to get onto the last flight out of LAX before the area is locked down. However, this plane doesn’t stay airborne for very long in this impressive and explosive introduction to Dead Island 2. Emma, being a successful actor, has a house in Bel-Air that acts as a bit of a safe house for you and other slayers.
Like the first game, you quickly discover that the playable slayers are all immune to the deadly zombie virus. Being immune is one thing, but you can still be eaten, mauled, bashed, stomped, set alight, electrocuted, poisoned, slashed, charged, blown up and more pretty easily in Dead Island 2. Choosing the right slayer for your playstyle can make all the difference.
We had access to all six during the preview, but I went for the ones that, on paper, would complement my playstyle the most: Jacob (as featured on the cover art) and Carla. Each one has their own stats but more importantly each has their own unique skill cards. These look like tarot cards if they were drawn in a pulpy, grindhouse sort of way. Each character has access to two unique ones from the very beginning of the game. Other skills cards are earned from levelling up, completing quests or finding them out in the open. You only have access to a few slots to fit them in at first, but as you progress more will open up. But the best part is that these can be switched on the fly, so if a particular tactic isn’t working on a set of zombies, you can quickly change to another approach.
You can create some interesting combinations if you have a large selection of cards but during the preview, we were only treated to a handful of them. These skill cards eschew a more traditional skill tree but by their own merit, aren’t exactly breaking new ground either.
That thought process stayed with me through the entire preview build as well. Eight years since the announcement and various stages of development hell can probably do that to a game though. Still, I for one am just grateful there is even a Dead Island 2 coming out.
There was something starkly oxymoronic about the original Dead Island, having this idyllic getaway covered in all sorts of viscera that helped it stand out amongst the rest. Dead Island 2 does that very well as well, splattering the lifestyles of the rich and famous with gallons of blood. And this time around, the blood and guts will be more obnoxious than ever.
Thanks to Dead Island 2’s innovative new FLESH system, choosing where to attack on an enemy’s anatomy is just as important as the weapon you choose. Aim at a zombie’s legs to incapacitate them from shambling towards you any further, or remove their arms to stop them grabbing you.
But the FLESH system goes a lot further than that. Repeated blows to a zombie’s head with a blunt weapon can leave them with their jaw literally about to fall off and you can see it swinging freely. Another hit will remove it entirely. Make use of a bladed weapon and you can see exactly where you have just sliced on a zombie’s body. We have been told that the enemies are anatomically correct, so expect to see organs and other innards escaping a body as you swing away.
Weapons can once again be modified using blueprints to create some truly dangerous looking weaponry. And yes, that does mean that everyone’s favourite mechanic is also present: weapon durability.
Guns are in Dead Island 2 also, but these can be few and far in between. The Dead Island series has always been more about melee combat. This was explained away in the original being a desert island where guns were never really necessary. In Dead Island 2, it is just a thing we need to anticipate.
During our time with Dead Island 2 we saw a whole host of different zombie types from the slow moving shamblers, to the more modern runners and everything in between. There are also some special infected that feel par for the course now in zombie games – a big brutish one and another that spews poisonous vomit at you were seen in the preview – but the set-pieces that these were introduced in are very well designed and have us looking forward to more.
It feels wrong to use the term alive when we are concerned with the walking dead, but despite that, there is a lot going on in the world of Dead Island 2. Alongside the generally unlikable cast of characters – again, pretty much par for the course – the various districts of LA feel like playgrounds for you to do your most creative zombie killings. By utilising the wide variety of environmental hazards that appear around every corner you can cause a lot of damage and preserve your weapons. It will be interesting to see how creative players get when the full game releases.
And there isn’t all that long to wait either – Dead Island 2 releases on 21st April 2023. After the delays, developer changes and all the worst luck, it is almost here. From what we have played, Dead Island 2 isn’t going to be rewriting the playbook on zombie open-worlds, but I don’t think the series has ever been concerned with that, instead opting for something fun, pulpy and gratuitously violent. And that’s exactly what we appear to be getting.
Dead Island 2 can be pre-ordered on the Xbox Store now priced at £59.99, with that then playable come release on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. It’ll also be on PlayStation and PC. Stay tuned for further coverage in the lead up to the full release alongside a full review. For now, let us know in the comments if you are excited for the return of Dead Island.
Huge thanks go out to Deep Silver for allowing us some access to Dead Island 2 on Xbox.