Dead Island 2 Review – A Bloody Shame

    Title: Dead Island 2
    Developer: Dambuster Studios
    Release Date: April 21, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Deep Silver
    Genre: Action Role Playing

If asked what game you think will never be released, Dead Island 2 would surely be the answer for many people. Having been passed between multiple studios with a rocky development cycle of nearly a decade, Dead Island 2 is a title that many assumed would take a miracle to release. Well, at long last, the follow-up to 2011’s Dead Island is about to be unleashed, thanks to developer Dambuster Studios and publisher Deep Silver.

Don’t be fooled because Dead Island 2 is a game whose name doesn’t match the title one bit. This highly anticipated sequel is set in the sunny hills of Los Angeles, California, nicknamed Hell-A, whereas the first game was actually set on an island called Banoi. If anything, calling it Dead Island: Hell-A would have been better than just appending a 2 at the end of the name, but I digress.

Despite being a sequel, Dead Island 2 doesn’t require you to experience the events of the first entry to enjoy it, although there are some returning characters and references made. For example, Sam B, one of the main characters of the first game, makes a return as an important side character that you meet. The overall premise of the sequel remains largely the same, where the main protagonist finds out they are immune to the virus and figures out how to escape this nightmare whilst kicking some zombie butt.

Dead Island 2 is set around a decade after the events of its predecessor, and the United States government has put California under strict quarantine due to the zombie outbreak. You are given the choice of choosing between six playable protagonists: Amy, Bruno, Carla, Dani, Jacob, and Ryan. You cannot switch characters mid-game, so you must stick with your chosen character for the entire playthrough. Each slayer comes with two unique abilities, and I personally stuck with Dani, a retail assistant turned roller derby enthusiast with a sassy attitude. She came equipped with the Bloodlust and Thunderstruck abilities, which allow her to regain health after killing zombies in quick succession and cause her heavy attacks to trigger explosions on impact, respectively.

Dead Island 2

Just like the first game, Dead Island 2 focuses a lot on melee weapons for the majority of the playthrough, as firearms aren’t even introduced until you are more than halfway through the campaign. Still, a plethora of deadly melee tools are at your disposal, each with a different specialty. You got your meaty bludgeon hammers and fire axes that can stagger zombies easily, but you also have your super sharp katanas and knives that excel at maiming zombie parts.

Weapons all come with durability and must be repaired at workbenches if you want to use them again. They can also be customized with mods and perks that allow them to deal extra damage or come with an elemental factor such as electricity or poison. That all sounds good on paper and all, but there lacks a certain impact and weighty feel to swinging away at zombies.

You also have access to this feature called curveballs which are portable throwables that are on a cooldown, such as a pipe bomb or Molotov. You are also encouraged to use objects in your environment to your advantage, such as gasoline to pour on zombies to set them ablaze or car batteries to electrocute them. There’s another mechanic that has you aiming for specific zombie parts to chop off to build specific weapon mods, similar to Monster Hunter. When guns are introduced, they are extremely underwhelming and choppy to use, and ammo is insanely difficult to craft and expensive to buy.

Dead Island 2

So this really isn’t an RPG, but you can level up to increase your maximum health and unlock slayer cards, which act as the skills and abilities that your character can use. For example, you don’t even have a dodge ability from the start because it’s a card that you must unlock and then equip. Further, a different card allows you to perform a flying drop kick on a zombie, which is pretty neat. There’s a high variety of cards that can be collected per character, some of which are granted upon progressing the narrative, leveling up, exploring the world, or defeating bosses.

Some cards can only be equipped by certain characters, which I guess is this game’s way of encouraging you to replay it again on a different protagonist. Thankfully, Dead Island 2 isn’t a terribly long game, as I completed it in around 11 hours. This is probably due to the fact it’s not an open-world game, and there’s only a total of 24-story missions. At launch, there is no New Game+ after beating the campaign; what a shame. I imagine it would be a lot more fun and replayable with your buddies in co-op, but I wasn’t able to test that feature for this review.

Dead Island 2

I really hope there’s some sort of patch before launch because the gameplay right now is extremely unbalanced. Dead Island 2 is a hard game and in all the wrong ways. First off, there’s no difficulty-level selection, which is totally fine, but this game really struggles to find its identity. On one hand, it seems like a mindless hack-and-slash zombie slaying experience where you can just swing your weapons around endlessly at the undead. On the other, it tries to spice things up by introducing tons of mechanics that force you to be more methodical and strategic. You have a stamina meter, a dodge mechanic, and even an ultimate ability that transforms you into a zombie temporarily. These are all novel features that just aren’t implemented very well here as a whole. It’s a technical ebb and flow that you need to figure out for yourself as you play.

Still, expect to die a lot because zombies, especially brutes and bosses, can one-shot you, regardless of your level. This isn’t a role-playing game where you can equip better armor or increase your health points, either. You can grind side quests or kill zombies on the street for some extra experience but just know that killing one zombie grants around 40 points, and leveling up takes over 100,000 points at later levels. Go figure. To make matters worse, enemies are extremely spongy and require an endless amount of bullets or weapon swings to bring down.

Dead Island 2

Managing one or two zombies at once works most of the time, as you can juggle between strafing and being on the offensive, but the gameplay completely breaks down when groups of enemies swarm you. Hitboxes are highly inaccurate, and sometimes you see the Death screen even though your HP never dropped to zero. The final boss battle is especially disappointing, considering it’s a recycled variant of an existing zombie type and spawns an infinite number of mobs at you. The game’s just not fun at this point, but hey, at least you don’t lose anything upon death other than your time and patience.

There’s nothing standout-ish about Dead Island 2’s performance on the PlayStation 5. It runs mostly fine, with smooth frame rates and decent graphics. Load times aren’t very fast, with certain sequences taking upwards of ten seconds to load, and close to none of the features on the DualSense controller are taken advantage of. Thankfully the game doesn’t require an online connection to play for those solo fans, and it does support up to three-player online co-op.

Unfortunately, there is no cross-play multiplayer, so sorry for those with friends on different platforms. I did run into some minor visual glitches during my playthrough, most notably in a cutscene where a character sunk underneath the floor, and I was talking to the crossbow hung across their invisible body. It was more hilarious than anything, but a bug nonetheless. For a $70 game, it’s also a disappointment that I can’t even see my reflection in mirrors.

Dead Island 2

It’s 2023, and I expect every game, especially triple-A ones, to have some list of accessibility features. Given the sunny and extravagant vibes that this fictionalized LA gives off, the colors on the screen truly pop off to give a bright and warm feeling. But that also means the text from various items blends in with the environment to the point where I couldn’t see what I’m reading.

There’s also no way to increase the text size on the screen, so I ended up just spamming the Square button and picking everything up, and figuring out what it was later. Please note that I am not referring to the subtitles from spoken dialogue, which can be customized in terms of size and background opacity, but instead the various items and consumables that are scattered in the game world.

Dead Island 2 also has these weird investigative sections where you have to interact with objects in an area to proceed, which again is frustrating due to the aforementioned concerns. Most console shooter games also come with some sort of aim-assist feature, but again there is none of that here. I’ll let this one slide, considering this experience is more focused on melee combat than ranged. I don’t personally have any issues with this feature, but Dead Island 2 falls in line with what games like Saints Row did last year, and that is the excessive amount of quips and cringy dialogue spoken by the protagonist. You can’t turn this off.

Dead Island 2

Dead Island 2 is all about breaking skulls and bones, but it won’t be breaking any bloody records. At the end of the day, it’s just dumb old fun, killing zombies in a badass gory fashion with your buddies. The high asking price and frustratingly unbalanced gameplay prevent me from recommending this as a day-one purchase, but I have confidence it will find its bearings among its zombie-slaying fans someday.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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