Dead Island 2 Hands-On Preview. Dambuster Studio resurrects a fallen franchise and takes it to Hollywood. Find out if the dead are walking or running to glory in PlayStation Universe’s Dead Island 2 hands-on preview.
Dead Island 2 Hands-On Preview – The Hollywood Undead Rise Again
It may well be an entirely different beast from what it was originally supposed to be, but it’s still somewhat surreal to actually have Dead Island 2 in my hands. It’s gone through multiple publishers and studios since its initial announcement nearly a decade ago, before finally settling in the hands of a veteran development studio in Dambuster (formerly Free Radical of TimeSplitters fame). What is apparent from this long gestation is that it’s a game that has learned from its peers whilst trying to retain something of what Dead Island once was. A chunky hands-on preview of the game really allowed me to get a proper taste of Dead Island 2’s flavor.
One constant remains from its original form. The setting of California. Now reduced in scope somewhat to just Los Angeles (affectionately dubbed Hell-A here). As is series tradition, the game begins with the player character (one of a selection of badass zombie killers known as Slayers) crash landing. After stumbling from the wreckage, our protagonist finds survivors, and Los Angeles has a bit of a walking dead problem. This funneled tutorial reintroduces the basics (including that tried and trusted bloody melee combat) until we arrive at a swanky home in the hills where others have grouped together.
Doom in the Dark
It’s soon discovered the player character is immune to the zombie infection, and having a can-do attitude, sets about trying to rescue the fractious group of Hollywood pond life and bottom feeders they find themselves with from being marooned on the West Coast for good.
Exploring a sliver of Los Angeles in its ruined state is definitely among the highlights of Dead Island 2 so far. Anyone who’s watched movies set in L.A. or played a frankly ludicrous amount of GTA V/Online will be very familiar with the decadent areas on display. That breathtaking view of the city below in the distance offers an alluring chance of escape from the bloody drama in the hills, but the truth is it probably contains more undead.
The lighting, even at this stage, does a great job of highlighting the sun-kissed beauty of the day and the unsettling gloom of night. Moving around during the day isn’t exactly safe, but night is so dark in places that it’s very easy to lose your bearings and get ambushed.
The undead is largely of the slow kind. Not quite the shuffling ghouls of Fulci or Romero, but imbued with a relatively frightening turn of pace that means the distance between you can quickly be closed. Dambuster has got one of the fundamentals of a zombie apocalypse spot on. You always need to keep your head on a swivel or find yourself surrounded.
It Begins With a Spark
Melee is once again the dish of the day in Dead Island 2, and some measure of precision is needed to take zombies out in an efficient manner. Limbs can be taken off to slow their progress, and blows to the head have the best shot at taking them out for good. As the threats become more prominent and varied, utilizing your environment becomes crucial for survival. You may be a badass Slayer, but you won’t get far swinging wildly at the shambling masses.
Dead Island 2 is tough. Throughout my time with the preview, it felt like survival. The number of times I ended up dead in mere seconds was alarming, but things can turn that quickly when your focus is drawn away from the bigger picture. Weapons break quite quickly (but can be repaired) so other means are needed. Luckily Dead island 2 is big on environmental damage. See a pack of zombies stumbling toward a puddle? Hit it with your electricity-infused weapon to fry them all in one go. You can pick up water, oil, and toxic waste containers that can be thrown or poured over an area to make impromptu traps, saving valuable weapons, ammo, and time.
Coupled with this is a skill card set that let’s you chop and change between a series of skills that may suit one situation better than another. For instance, the dropkick (a favorite of former Dead island devs Techland in their spiritual sequel Dying Light) can be applied to launch advancing enemies back into those aforementioned environmental hazards. Or just clear some space for you. Other skills have buffs for your natural abilities. So a bit more stamina or health from certain attacks, or escalating damage with certain weapons. You can only carry a few, to begin with, but more slots open up as you go.
A New Dawn of the Dead
Before closing out this preview, I have to give special mention to a particular system. Dambuster has implemented a degradation system to the zombies that see chunks of flesh stripped away from them in combat, and it has an incredibly varied grisly set of results. The sight of it is something of a gory spectacle, and as a certified gorehound, I’m impressed by it in its current stage. Hopefully, it’ll be a bit more prominent in the final game, but it gives combat a grim intimacy.
There’s rough edges to this build of the game, but so far, nothing pops out that spells the kind of disaster some other long-gestating projects have. A clean slate was clearly needed, and Dambuster looks to be having fun with that freedom without changing the fundamentals of the series.
Dead Island 2 is due for release on April 21, 2023 for PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.