Dead Island 2 hands-on preview – Undead aspirations

Dead Island 2 is something, man. I don’t think anyone expected this one to ever be released. Now here we are, three studios and almost nine years later and they kind of jumped us with this one. All the sudden, a few listings popped up last year and revealed we were going to see Dead Island 2 in the immediate future. While there was a moderate delay from February to April, the game is now gold and getting a little extra polish before release. Thanks to the awesome folks at Dambuster, we’ve gotten a few hours of hands on time with Dead Island 2, and the results may surprise you like they did me.

Dead Island 2 Preview, Starfield Delayed, Xbox

The first thing you’ll notice; this game is actually gorgeous. One of the most impressive features is the facial animations and character models, each has been incredibly crafted and detailed. The motion capture also seems very well done and worth the investment by Dambuster which adds more immersion to the experience. This extends to the environments as well, with lots of attention put into the feel of these locations. While I’m sure they aren’t new to video games, running around the rich mansions of LA is pretty awesome and the atmosphere is really well set.

Of course, this atmosphere is nothing if you don’t get the zombies right, and by golly they have. The focal point of Dead Island 2 is going to be your undead opponents, and Dambuster has nailed them. They’re visceral, and generally feel just right in amount; the streets aren’t usually overwhelming with them, and you can usually get away from a pack if you need to. The design to these creatures is what stands out the most; the decaying flesh, the blood-covered mouths, the missing limbs and features; it all lends itself perfectly to your expectations of a zombie. I occasionally jumped when one grabbed me in a QTE or was right behind a door I opened, because they are terrifying to behold up close. Even the sound design leaves you feeling uneasy, with pained moans and the disgusting squelching of fluid and flesh.

Beyond this are the different types of zombies. You’re going to run into the run of the mill shufflers and fast runners, along with heavies that are best left alone, but some of the ways Dead Island 2 changes up the pace with the undead is interesting. There are some who are perpetually on fire, leaving you to worry about catching on fire when attacking them, or maybe they’ve got an electrical effect that goes off intermittently. It’s something you have to take into account, along with fighting other zombies at the same time, and it makes fights much more engaging.

Dead Island 2 – Extended Gameplay Reveal [4K Official]

I was even able to use it against some of them, utilizing the electrical enemy to damage some of the other horde, or hitting an army soldier zombie who had grenades on his belt in order to cause a bit more damage when they eventually exploded. These are all denoted on their name bar, so you won’t be surprised beyond your first encounter, and you can use it to your advantage. One I was taken aback by, the swarm zombie. This one is a zombie with a bee hive in its rib cage, and they don’t die until you kill the host. In fact, I didn’t realize this fully and was having to run away from the swarm, so it’s best to take it out quickly.

To do that, your arms are going to get tired. That, and you need to learn to dropkick. Throughout the first section we played in preview, it was all melee weapons, with nary a projectile in sight (although from the trailers it seems those will come later). Sure, you can throw what’s in hand, and there are a few lethal pieces of equipment you will find along the way, but nothing you’ll be able to depend on to take out the horde. A lot of what you do is dodge and hack, and to be fair, that’s more or less the route the first game took. There’s a lot to like here though, with an ultimate gorefest at your disposal. Hacking specifically at a limb causes them to come off, a well timed strike at the head towards the end of the health bar leads to decapitation, and more, all with lots of blood and guts flying around. If you like ripping zombies apart, you’re going to love Dead Island 2.

Unfortunately, weapons are still breakable, but repairing them is pretty easy. There are workbenches littering the areas you’ll travel, and for the most part I had one nearby every time I had an important repair to do. There are also mods and perks available that will give nice benefits, like the trusty machete that can have an electrical mod as well as a perk that adds force to your blow that can help in staggering or knocking a zombie down. The perks do have a detractor from what I’ve seen, like with said perk taking away some durability from the machete. There’s a give and take you’ll follow, and that’s just how it works in the zombie apocalypse.

A lot of what you’ll do in the world is give and take. Just because you can reach an area doesn’t mean you’re ready for it, and I learned that the hard way when I entered the lobby of a hotel only to die several times. The zombies follow a level system like you do, so going up to some nines as a seven isn’t a good idea. Surviving means you go back to where you came from and do a few side missions or beat up on some of the undead until you’re a bit closer to being able to handle the next ones. Thankfully the game is forgiving, respawning you close by and with some of the foes still taken out, but with the caveat you’ve lost whatever you’ve used during the fights.

Fighting through LA is a bit different than I expected, and largely because Dead Island 2 isn’t a standard open world game. I’d refer to it more like Deathloop, there are open levels with connecting gates leading you to the next area, but it’s not a true open world. I like this choice, not just because it differentiates Dead Island 2 from other zombie games, but because it makes things a little bit linear. Hopefully this means the game will be able to offer a richer and possibly deeper experience as opposed to the padded ones we often get in open world video games.

It’s definitely present in the side missions, which so far have felt like fun, full-fledged engagements rather than appetizers. One of the homes you’ll find in the opening area of Bel Air houses a gamer mansion with a bunch of obvious content creation spots. You’ll come across a side mission here eventually, where a “Tiktoker” is blowing up zombies for videos. Because she can’t film and fight, it’s up to you to slaughter these baddies in the creative ways she suggests. It’s a good start, and I hope the remaining side missions live up to the impression these first ones have made.

The story missions so far have also made a good impression. I still don’t have a full grip on everything going on beyond “we need to evacuate”, but the tone the writers have gone with is already fantastic. So many zombie games go with a serious tone, which is understandable, the whole world is ending, but it’s hard to take seriously a lot of the time. Thankfully, Dead Island 2 very rarely takes itself seriously, finding a few moments that make sense to do so and injecting a ton of corny and campiness into the rest. Does it always work every time? No, but I’m more receptive to it given the way they’ve introduced the game.

Lastly, let’s discuss our leading characters and the ways you’ll upgrade their abilities. An interesting thing returns from the first game in the form of multiple people you’ll choose from to begin your deadly trip. There are six, and each one not only looks different, but plays differently as well. For instance, Amy is a paralympic athlete and she’s highly mobile, which results in her getting the dodge ability quickly and over all moving around well. Ryan, however, is a hulky male stripper who’s a lot stronger and able to pack a heavier punch. There are benefits to all, but playing to your style in Dead Island 2 is going to work best for you. That, and you have the ability to start a new save with another character whenever you want; you just won’t be able to swap between them.

All of that leads into your skills, which are card based. I’ll be honest, I don’t like these systems, but this one seems to be taking the least painful approach. You’ll earn cards through natural progression, or through picking them up as you go, but no matter what there is a finite limit on what you can equip. This means you’ll have to choose carefully based on how you want to play, because it doesn’t matter how good the “extra health with a perfect dodge” card is, if you don’t dodge and just charge in half-cocked it’ll do you no good. Knowing what you want to do and preparing for those possibilities is the best way to play Dead Island 2.

So far, Dead Island 2 is shaping up to be really solid. It’s absolutely stunning to look at, and tearing zombies a new one is always fun. There are some things to iron out with a few bugs and some performance issues I encountered, like some stuttering in the frame rate, but those are all things I expect Dambuster knows about and is currently tackling. Dead Island 2 is certainly in much better shape than anyone could have expected, and that’s even accounting for the hype from nine years prior.

Dead Island 2 will release April 21st, 2023, and is available now for pre-order. You can do so physically and digitally for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and on PC via the Epic Games Store.

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David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.

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