Hands-on Preview – Dead Island 2

This has been one of the most surreal events ever since I started writing for this website. For years, the name Dead Island 2 was used as a moniker for vaporware, something that was never, ever, seeing the light of day. In short, a Chinese Democracy of the gaming world. But here’s the thing: Chinese Democracy eventually saw a release. A middling release, but a release nonetheless. The same can now be said about Dead Island 2. I got to play it way in advance, in a preview build kindly provided by Deep Silver, and couldn’t believe the famed nonexisting game was so close to being released, to the point of being playable. The thing is, was it worth the wait?

The original Dead Island was released way back in 2011, and for its time, it was quite an impressive showcase. It wasn’t the most polished of games, but for its time, it was ambitious. It was an open world mixture between an action-adventure, an RPG and a survival horror game. It tried to aim for as many demographics as possible, and you know this is a recipe for disaster: you end up losing focus, pleasing no one. Still, as clunky and bloated as it was, it sold really well, and I can confirm from the entirety of our staff that it has managed to garner lots of fans from all over the world. Dead Island 2 doesn’t try to change the gameplay that much. In essence, it’s the same foundation, but more modernized.

Dead Island Swords

Nice katana. It would be a shame if it disintegrated after a few slashes to the skull.

I started playing the game, and was greeted by a controversial introductory cutscene. No, it wasn’t anything like the iconic trailer for the first Dead Island, but I’ll talk more about it later. After selecting my character from a plethora of, uh, “unique” beings, I noticed that the game was largely unchanged. First-person, with a focus on melee, with weapon degradation forcing you to constantly look for new weapons and health items. More of the same? Well, yes, kind of. The size of the maps and amount of interactivity within each mission was impressive, and so were the visuals. The gameplay did not wow me at all, though.

I think this stemmed from the poor combat. It didn’t matter the weapon I was wielding, and the kind of zombie I was fighting against; none of the weapons felt fun to use. Smashing a lead pipe onto a zombie’s skull had the same sound effect and visual impact as me just flicking their noses with my middle finger. This goes against something seen in other zombie-themed games, namely the fantastic The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners. In that game, when I shoved a hatchet onto a zombie’s skull, man, the physics made it feel like we were dishing out some damage. In Dead Island 2, not even the fact the graphics engine impressively showcases their bodies decaying with each attack made the combat feel juicier.

However, this wasn’t the main issue with this particular preview build of Dead Island 2. It wasn’t anything related to its technical integrity or coding, as I was downright impressed with its visuals and performance on my PC, with the game running at a silky smooth 60fps on very high settings on an RTX 3060 laptop GPU. The problem stemmed from an issue I’d like to call “Saintsrowitis”. It tries to be comical and quippy, in a nearly Marvel-esque manner, right from its initial cutscene. Man, did I not digest that well.

Yep, just like last year’s Saints Row game, Dead Island 2 tries to be overly hip, “down with the youths”, with poor joke timing, an excessive amount of quips being thrown at inappropriate moments (would you try to come up with quips right after fighting against a zombie inside a cramped corridor?), and the kind of character design that felt like it was approved by a committee of middle-aged executives assuming that’s how 22 year olds look and act like nowadays. The kind of crap that immediately dated Saints Row to the early 2020s plagues Dead Island 2‘s design, and that really annoyed me. The game was one step away from shouting “how do you do, fellow kids?” while pointing its cap backwards and doing a lame air guitar choreography.

Dead Island 2 Preview

You can use these borderline ridiculous flying kicks to stun enemies first and foremost. They didn’t feel as impactful as they should have felt in the preview build, though.

That being said, I ended up enjoying this particular preview build of Dead Island 2. It didn’t bother me with its open world design, despite being released during a time where said level structure isn’t impressive anymore. Its story is indeed interesting, its setting is amazing (a zombie-ridden California? Sign me in!), its performance was stunning. It’s just the weak combat and overly Buzzfeed-y vibe that bothered me, with the latter simply not mixing well with an apocalyptic setting. I am still looking forward to play the final release, slated for April 21st, 2023. I can’t believe that the damn thing is finally seeing the light of day.