Review: Dead Island 2 – Vacay and Slay in Sunny Hell-A!

A Long Development Journey

Dead Island 2 has been highly anticipated for a long time. Initially announced in 2014, the game has gone through various development hurdles, changing hands between multiple developers and publishers. Now, after more than eight years, the game has finally arrived. So, what does the game have to offer?

Fans might have been worried that Dead Island 2 would suffer a fate similar to Duke Nukem Forever, but I’m happy to say that isn’t the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Dead Island 2 delivers exactly what fans of the previous games would want: a full-fledged sequel that improves upon the original’s formula in every way.

A still from a Dead Island 2 trailer from 2014

What is Dead Island, Anyway?

For those new to the Dead Island series, let me introduce you to the core concept. The games take place in expansive, open environments teeming with zombies. Your objective is to survive the apocalypse, interact with various characters, and face harrowing situations. There is a diverse range of zombie types, including slow walkers, powerful hulks, agile sprinters, explosive zombies, and venom-spitting creatures. You can also craft unique weapons by combining different ingredients, such as a nailed baseball bat or an electric machete.

While this concept may not sound groundbreaking in 2023, it was quite innovative when the original Dead Island was released in 2011. The game arrived during a boom of multiplayer co-op experiences and showcased impressive zombie designs made possible by the technical capabilities of that era’s gaming platforms. Dead Island also had a charming goofiness that added to its appeal. Players encountered amusing fetch quests like finding duct tape or retrieving a lost teddy bear for a little girl (although, admittedly, priorities seemed a bit skewed). The voice acting, featuring talents like Steve Blum attempting an Australian/New Zealander accent for the inhabitants of the fictional location of Hanoi near Papua New Guinea, added to the overall odd charm.

Steve Blum doing his best Kiwi accent as John Sinamoi

Dead Island 2 dramatically improves the franchise’s formula in every department. The story, gameplay, sound, visuals – heck, even the shifting the setting from the fictitious Hanoi to LA drastically improves the overall game. A must-slay for fans of the genre.

From Hanoi to LA

Dead Island 2 refines everything from its predecessor, replacing the goofiness with perfectly-executed satire. The game ditches the fictional setting and instead takes place in the real city of Los Angeles. You’ll navigate through Beverly Hills mansions, luxury hotels, and even influencer studios, providing a more realistic and engaging world.

The game opens with an impressive cutscene that introduces the playable characters, who are a diverse and unruly bunch:

  • Amy: A one-legged girl who excelled in athletics before the zombie outbreak, known for her leadership skills.
  • Jacob: A London-born stuntman whose appearance is reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz, favoring strategic and accurate gameplay with critical hit buffs.
  • Dani: An Irish roller derby and punk rock enthusiast who recently moved from Boston, dealing massive close-quarters damage.
  • Ryan: Disguised as a firefighter but actually a stripper and owner of a dance company. Agile and skilled at evading zombies.
  • Carla: A tough-as-nails motorcycle racer, known for her resilience.
  • Bruno: A “modern-day gentleman thief” who excels at attacking zombies from behind and taking risks.

Sir, Please Remain Seated…

Regardless of the character chosen, the game follows a similar narrative. After a plane crash in Los Angeles, the survivor encounters other stranded individuals in need. Movie star Emma Jaunt and her assistant attempt to help a trapped couple, but when zombies swarm the area, they offer their home address (in case the survivor survives) and flee. The player then must showcase their combat skills and narrowly escape. While the fate of the couple is unfortunate, it was evident that their chances of survival were slim.

From there, players embark on a campaign that feels both fresh and familiar. The streets of LA are infested with various types of zombies, and as you progress, you’ll acquire weapons, learn new skills, and unravel the sinister plot behind the outbreak. The story, while not groundbreaking, manages to blend horror, action, comedy, and even emotional moments. Though not all characters receive in-depth development, some interactions are intriguing in what is left unsaid. For example, Patton, a movie fan living in the sewers below LA, requests to watch his favorite horror movie with the player, providing a subtle but powerful moment.

Patton, unable to leave his dwelling due to PTSD and agoraphobia

So Detailed, it’s Almost Unsettling

Visually, Dead Island 2 is stunning, offering diverse environments with intricate details. The game’s opening sequence, similar to Bioshock’s memorable underwater crash, features a plane crash with swirling ash and embers, mangled bodies, and gory scenes amidst twisted metal and fire.

In terms of gameplay, Dead Island 2 surpasses its predecessor’s reliance on fetch quests. The missions in the sequel offer a wealth of variety, often surprising players with unexpected twists and outcomes. You might go to check on a survivor only to find a cryptic note or a friend-turned-enemy. The unpredictability keeps players engaged and curious about what’s coming next.

The opening plane crash

WetCrunchySFX.MP3

Sound design is often overlooked in survival horror/action games, but Dead Island 2 excels in this aspect. The game features audio cues that provide important information to players, such as the presence of special zombies, incoming hordes, changes in the environment, or the durability of weapons. The combat sound effects are especially satisfying, with appropriate sounds accompanying different methods of dispatching the undead, creating a visceral and immersive experience.

While the game offers co-op multiplayer, the maximum player count has been reduced to three. The reasons behind this change are unclear, but it may be an attempt to strike a balance between claustrophobic terror and overcrowding. However, it would have been great if more cooperative mechanics had been implemented, such as boss fights requiring careful strategizing between multiple players. Hopefully, future installments in the series will focus more on multiplayer experiences.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, my experience with Dead Island 2 has been thoroughly enjoyable. It stands out among the crowded gaming landscape and offers improvements in every department compared to its predecessors. While not revolutionary, the game captures a refreshing and nostalgic essence of zombie games. Beneath its seemingly standard zombie FPS exterior, there is plenty of fun to be had. Whether playing solo or with a friend, exploring the undead-infested streets of Hell-A is a worthwhile adventure.

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