Review – Dead Island 2
Not to provoke an existential crisis, but back in 2014, nine years ago, Dead Island 2 was revealed to the masses. It was with a quaint little teaser, showing off a man with a visible bite mark, jogging through Venice Beach as the infection took over. After turning into a zombie, he gets obliterated by incoming survivors in a vehicle I can only describe as a murder mobile. It was gnarly as flip, but then, in the following months, there was nothing but deafening silence. It seemed like this game had vanished from the face of the earth.
I’ll be honest, I was bummed because I really loved the first entry. When half a decade, let alone the full ten, goes by without a peep, it’s cause for worry – that’s until it suddenly re-emerged. It’s actually real, and it’s here to play, but is it good?
GRAB THE TENT, Y’ALL!
The horror aesthetic is front and center in Dead Island 2, but the writing won’t cause shivers or chills to roll down your spine. This experience is going to be one full of campy ridiculousness. Instead of tension or dramatics, it’s a mixture of serious content with a very healthy amount of silliness. The only apt comparison I can muster is likening it to one of those niche, B-rated movies. It won’t be striving to tell a harrowing tale of the zombie apocalypse.
What it hopes to achieve is to create something that, at its core, is stupid fun. That’s precisely the ride we’re hopping on, although along with my delight, I did also find genuine intrigue. I was strapped in, eager to see what would occur next, and while I had zero expectations of being rocked by the reveals, there was always this guaranteed satisfaction awaiting me.
Sure, the core plot isn’t going to astound or have the player chewing their nails in anticipation, but dammit, if it isn’t successful at evoking a speck of empathy. I could easily put myself into the shoes of those living through this nightmarish reality. Granted, it won’t be award-winning, and I wasn’t ever ugly crying, but the heart is impossible to ignore. To read, in a couple of cases, the final moments of someone’s life helped bring a breath of vigor to this world. It made it feel tangible and like a fleshed-out universe. That helped nail down how dire this situation is – seeing last goodbyes, individuals sacrificing themselves for others, or being steeped in denial, made it feel authentic. Hell, the evolution of a character arc left me thoroughly impressed – I did a 180 on them.
TALK TO ME, YO!
As for the dialogue, It’s unadulterated chaos, and I mean that as a compliment. The vulgarities are slung freely in every direction, and F-bombs drop frequently – they might as well be classified as nukes now. It’s not handled in a way that comes across as amateurish, though.
In actuality, it adds a heap of believability. No one in their right mind will remain calm and collected when people are being eaten – not due to a sexual fetish either. Obscene language is utilized as a means to exhibit the panic and urgency flowing through these characters’ veins. I adore it simply because it draws me into what’s going on. There are even a select few within the cast that I felt a slight connection slowly building. It won’t be a strong one, but I was definitely rooting for their survival.
In total, there are six different, as Dead Island 2 refers to them, Slayers. Each of them has an attitude that’s all their own. Their responses to incidents will always vary from one another. It won’t be massive night and day differences, of course, but it’s enough to motivate me to replay. My introductory session saw me choose Dani, a tattoo-clad woman sporting a Punk and 70’s aesthetic. She also has quite a foul mouth and is a go-getter.
In contrast, in my second go around, I chose Bruno, and while I didn’t complete that run of the narrative, I was immediately exposed to someone mild-mannered – a stark departure from who my initial choice was. Hell, you might even find that scenes receive a sliver of new context. For instance, whereas Dani didn’t gander at a woman’s butt when given the chance, Bruno took his opportunity.
I know it seems I’m shilling for this game, but trust me, it’s warranted. For starters, the available NPCs are minimal, and typically, having such a sparse presence isn’t great. Well, I never considered that here because it meant a more focused set of characters with something unique about each one. Even if, in the grand scheme, the NPCs are only meant to be fodder, they still retain a little background. They’ve got dimension, and sometimes, listening to their inane ramblings earned a chuckle or two from me.
The passion for ensuring that these individuals keep their personal identity is apparent. You’ve got a small cluster of stoners, a traumatized man, a bodybuilder, an actress, her assistant, and so much more. I should also note that Dead Island 2 tends to indulge in stereotypes but doesn’t come off as offensive; in fact, it contributes to the humor.
SLIGHT OVERSIGHTS INBOUND!
Speaking of humor, the laughter escaping my lips was either caused by dad-joke-level puns that are so God-awful, they circle back to being excellent, or the sheer absurdity. My only qualm isn’t due to inadequate literary prowess, though, but more because of how hidden the quips are.
During my journey, I’d stumble on letters, clipboards, or iPhones. These generally had brief exchanges within that made me smile, but they also had the horrible experiences of whoever wrote or owned the device. The method used in communicating these short blurbs is appropriate given the setting, but it comes at the cost of being missable. Unless, like me, you’re adamantly exploring, half of what makes Dead Island 2 special is gone. At least they’re easy to notice since a beacon of light particles demands your attention if one’s nearby.
Here’s the section where I make a controversial statement that’s grounds for being hunted. Many story beats are predictable – I could figure out the trajectory reasonably fast, but, you know, it’s not the negative it appears to be. Let me reiterate my stance that Dead Island 2 isn’t going to wow anyone with a compelling script. The reason I’m not fussed over it is twofold: it tells a serviceable and coherent tale that I gleefully absorbed, and it also comes with a whole host of quirky and weird people.
Besides, as I’ve said earlier, there’s legitimate intrigue, meaning one or two questions will eventually surface that leave me guessing. Normally, I wouldn’t consider that enough, but for this type of undead mutilation romp, it’s pretty bloody sufficient – dare I say, it even surpasses expectations. Of course, despite my praise, you bet your booty I found faults.
MAYBE NOT A GOOD CALL!
DLC is a divisive notion that, unfortunately, various companies have adopted. Several implement it, and a few do it right, but others do it abysmally wrong. In an era where it’s a foregone conclusion, I reckon that Dead Island 2 will receive a pack or so – that belief is further fuelled by an ending that doesn’t only spit in the face of the player but is also a cliffhanger.
Now, I wouldn’t be bothered by that if it didn’t abruptly end right as the climax hits, but that’s precisely what it does, and I’ve no idea why. It tugs the rug from under you as things are heating up. I was ready for the final act, only to be slapped for my excitement. Don’t get me wrong, the journey is worthwhile, but to finish on such a flaccid note is frustrating. Instead of the rock-hard close it deserves, it’s limp.
A SWING AND A SQUISH!
Simply put, Dead Island 2’s gameplay can be summed up nicely by stating it’s an enhanced take on the Dead Rising formula. I’m rushing through differing locales, weapons in hand, and ripping through the reanimated corpses of humans. I can dropkick, jump kick, but also mercilessly bash them to, uhm, re-death, I guess.
It’s immensely gratifying to hear the visceral sounds of their heads exploding into pieces. The noise is like an aphrodisiac to my masochistic side, and I happily accept it with a smirk etched on my face. There’s something about seeing their jaw hanging by a thread after a stiff whack from a steel bat or blowing off their head with bullets that’s pleasing. I do wish there was more crunch whenever I’d curb-stomp their skull. As is, it comes across as muted compared to the damage I inflict, but eh, it manages to stay delicious.
OH NO, MY HAMMER BROKE!
Durability isn’t a favorite mechanic amongst an entire subsection of gamers. Depending on who you ask, it can drastically lessen the interest. That said, I regret to inform y’all that Dead Island 2 dabbles in the realm of deterioration. Before the annoyed sighs ring out, I can confidently ensure that the handling of it is sublime.
See, when breakage occurs, it isn’t lost. That awesome bat with a design that has you smitten no longer has to be shoved into a storage locker. You’re encouraged to use it. You’re emboldened to slaughter the sentient bodies in style. By repairing it on a workbench, it returns to a state of perfection. Say the issue is you’ve outgrown it, and it’s weaker in relation to your level. By paying out cash, it instantly becomes at parity, meaning that once I acquire something I’m keen on, I can forever keep it, in theory.
If there’s any inclination to settle, I suggest against it, especially during the opening hours. See, most of the armaments found will be of poor quality. It isn’t until a little later in your session that you start to find higher rarities. Up to that point, everything’s common, and to recycle those perpetually is to limit the potential of the destruction you can cause.
When Uncommon, Rare, or Superior tiers appear, then the party begins picking up steam. For instance, when I hover over green-coded brass knuckles and look at the bottom, I’ll spot traits and a couple of sockets. Crafting shines at this juncture because by utilizing the materials needed, I can bestow a handful of valuable additions into those slots. Sadly, it provides no experimentation because of the low array of choices. The absence of variety meant I defaulted to a set of bonuses.
I’m sure y’all have questions and concerns right about now. After all, the ability to modify equipment comes with the cut-and-dry promise that good old-fashioned grinding is lying in wait. It’s a valid fear to have, but Dead Island 2 does attempt to lessen the monotony if that serves any relief.
Essentially, the time devoted to this adventure is respected and not taken lightly. It’s quite a foreign concept elsewhere but is achieved here thanks to a nifty quality-of-life implementation. Say, I’m using a machete that’s fully customized. I, however, find a version minutes later that’s leagues ahead. By tearing down the old model, I see a return on anything used for alterations that I can invest in the fresh one. This aspect allows me to continue without stopping the stream of play. I can’t verify if the refund is exact, though.
HEY, I KNOW THAT GUY!
Most flesh bags walking the earth are nameless and go by generic labels like Runner or Walker. It isn’t imaginative, but amongst the bland are some with personalized names. While I was emulating a serial killer, I’d stumble across Cole or Jordan, just meandering in the sun, rotting and looking for lunch. They’re distinction is that once I put them out of their misery, they grant an item that leads to an even better treasure.
I welcomed this idea because it entices me to scour every nook and cranny of an area. My main problem is that, much like NPC discussions, I randomly found them. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for when they spawn. It’s RNG based, and after dedicating roughly 85 hours to the massacre, I’m still missing some.
I still want to appreciate how Dead Island 2 incentivizes searching those blokes out. It applies an emphasis on traveling the map by having what’s known as a Zompedia. Every kind of zombie you encounter is recorded inside. If you murder a specific amount, it unlocks not only a potential uptick in your stats, but also unlocks a blurb outlining tidbits that depict how to defeat them. It lists possible vulnerabilities, which is cool but redundant. It’s not difficult to determine their weakness through trial and error. I never had the need to check, which I reckon is why there’s a second advantage to ensure its completion.
Still, I must applaud this aspect – the inclusion is stellar from an accessibility standpoint. If people are struggling with a particular enemy, then by merely pausing, they find that the answers to beat the obstacle are available to look at.
GOING ON A QUEST!
If you ever need a break from the crazy plotline, side-quests are scattered throughout Hell-A. Some have you fetching objects, but the bulk usually consists of rescuing Person A or defeating a gaggle of the undead freaks. I concede that there’s a shred of repetition, but I never thought the tedium ever stuck.
The biggest reason for that is their self-contained stories were entertaining. A few of these NPCs are instrumental to the humor I mentioned earlier. It helps that the writing also lets loose here. During my session, I met a drunk that wore women’s panties, as well as an influencer – it’s balls-to-the-wall insanity. Something else I enjoy is how it rotates between a core group of quest-givers. I was constantly bumping into familiar faces, which helped solidify how humanity is nearing extinction – the survivors aren’t many.
There’s another pile of missions called Lost and Found. The objective is simple – I must suss out someone missing. I have to dawn my best Sherlock hat and carefully examine my surroundings for clues of their whereabouts. It’s pretty fun, and crucially, it isn’t friggin obtuse.
An issue that plagues puzzles like these is hints are often abstract. I end up wandering around aimlessly, not fully understanding my goal’s location. Luckily, that won’t be the case – I could figure out most of them, but one or two did slip by, leading me to chase my tail for a few minutes. It eventually clicked, and occasionally, it was all my fault for misconstruing the cues. Having waypoints as a guide would be nice – even if it’s an option I can switch on through a menu. I could see this absence possibly being a cause of aggravation due to inaccessibility.
PICK A CARD, ANY CARD!
A meaty mechanic and key to promoting the replay factor is the Skill Cards. They give me the tools to build whoever I’ve chosen to my specifications. In other words, I can assign techniques that aid in this battle. Sometimes, they might lack synergy, which leads to their effects being incompatible. That’s what arguably makes it engaging, though, and something I messed with periodically.
Everyone has them, and before y’all ask, they do share the same list. That is, except for a select few that are exclusive to certain Slayers. This facet is a big motivator for diving into another play-through. Apart from differences in their reactions, there’s enough extra, never before seen content to see me coast to the credits. To learn new abilities, I can level up, but some cards are spread across Hell-A, too. Dead Island 2 is hungry for players to see the sights.
IS THAT MEANT TO HAPPEN!?
There’s nothing I can really say about the visuals or their quality. If you take a look-see at the photos here, it’s abundantly clear that Dead Island 2 is gorgeous. Some facial animations aren’t perfect, but the majority are. The 3D models are grand, and the tattoo designs are especially mint, but the undead could have been slightly more diverse. It’s not bad, and this gripe is assuredly frivolous, but I would have liked to see more.
As for the performance, I can’t complain. The only glitch that happened to me was after butchering a zombie. It fell on a tire and started gyrating – it’s more funny than anything. By proxy, it inadvertently fit snugly with the game’s overall vibe. Since I played on the PS5, the brute power of the hardware is undoubtedly an advantage. Movements hit the peanut butter smoothness, too.
AH FECK, HERE WE GO!
Dead Island 2 uses its music to bring about ambience and atmosphere. It doesn’t try to influence emotions, only striving to be pleasant to the ear holes. Honestly, half the time, I forgot it was there since it isn’t pronounced. The audio musings effortlessly melds into the background, but that’s not a bad thing. What I’m trying to illustrate is that it doesn’t dominate the superb gameplay.
The thing that’ll prove divisive is voice acting. I’ll be blunt; I adored every second of it – the cheesiness is phenomenal. Since I heard Dani the most, I can only give an informed opinion of her. As far as she goes, her attitude and sarcastic wit resonate with me. She’s Irish, too, and thankfully, an actual Irish woman voices her. When Dani utters slang from that country, it sounds organic and charming as hell. Her five-star rendition has me excited for the others.
AND THE SLAYING VERDICT IS…
Dead Island 2, regardless of bouncing between developers, has risen like a phoenix. The punchy combat and campy dialogue coalesce to give birth to an addictive and joyous romp. The humor tickles my fancy, giving me a warm feeling in the tum tum. One downfall is some ridiculous yet funny scenarios are missable. For instance, European and Latin players reading will roll around in hysterics at the usage of the Chancla.
My biggest gripe, bar none, has to be once I get to the final act – it’s a hard punt to the groin. It’s unsatisfying and is plainly done because of incoming DLC. It’s a greedy move, but I digress. That disappointment doesn’t take from the truth: Dead Island 2 is a banger of a sequel sequel. Hell, after eighty-five hours of bliss, I promptly bought Dying Light. If that doesn’t prove the greatness loud and clear, you may be deaf.
It’s absolutely gorgeous. The scenery, although crawling with flesh bags, looks almost real at most angles. I’m especially impressed by some of the subtle facial animations, but it’s not perfect. Regardless, the good outweighs the bad, and the shadow work in particular is chef’s kiss.
There’s nothing extravagant about the gameplay loop. It’s a typical hack-and-slash affair with looting and RPG elements. It’s simple, yet addictive and fun, but would have been great to see innovation, but that’s a nitpick. I would have also liked it if the materials scattered about were a bit more noticeable for ease of grabbing, but it’s not deal breaking. Oh, and there’s co-op!
The music is great but not a focal point. The voice acting is fantastic and I love the diversity in the cast. Sure, it’s cheesy, but that’s precisely what it’s going for. A few sound effects are off, and, to be fair, the odd line of dialogue could have been better in terms of delivery. It’s hard to tear much apart here. I also didn’t mind the quips my character, Dani, would make – it was weirdly charming.
Fun Factor: 9.5
Despite one of two examples of aimless wandering, I was still having a blast. Hell, I want to play more after eighty-five hours. Not only that, but this game inspired me to buy Dead Island and Dying Light. Again, it’s a simple premise, but it’s a bloody grand romp.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Dead Island 2 is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5.
A copy of Dead Island 2 was provided by the publisher.