“Who do you Voodoo, Bitch?”
After nearly a decade of development hell, several build iterations and developers later, Dead Island 2 is finally here, throwing the player once more into the zombie apocalypse and subsequent slaughter-fest sequel to the 2011 cult classic from Techland. Featuring a revolutionary gore system that is nothing short of fantastic, Dead Island 2 throws more ways to main, butcher and slaughter through the walking meat sacks at the player (literally in this case) than ever before, amidst the backdrop of Los Angeles (or Hell-A if you prefer). Having released for all major platforms on 21st April 2023, I’ll be covering the time I’ve spent with the PlayStation 5 version of the game; detailing the good, deconstructing the bad, whilst ultimately discussing whether the game is worth your time and money at the £59.99 asking price (UK PSN Store).
When it comes to zombies, no one has ever done them better than George A. Romero. Nicknamed the ‘Godfather of Zombies’ for good reason, Romero was the catalyst for the zombie boom in contemporary media, specifically with his stellar body of work within his ‘Dead’ series of movies, beginning with the classic: Night of the Living Dead from 1968. Offering a satirical view of the western world under the guise of a horror movie, Romero’s ‘Dead’ films offered complex, social commentaries that were as thought provoking as they were comically gory at the point of their release; Dawn of the Dead (1978) for example was about rampant consumerism in the rise of the shopping mall boom of the late 70s and early 80s, the zombies themselves acting as metaphorical, goofy caricatures of society that consumed everything that was thrown at them. In recent years, zombies have become a bit of an overused trope when it comes to horror (thanks in no small part to the likes of AMC’s The Walking Dead) with productions containing the titular creatures usually falling by the wayside in terms of critical reception and overall production, eventually becoming a shambling corpse themselves from one iteration to the next. Occasionally a movie or video game would release that would mix up the formula somewhat (see 2013’s The Last of Us as a stellar example) leading to a renewed focus in the sub-genre, before trailing off once again. Another production of note that mixed things up significantly was 2011’s Dead Island, which placed a strong emphasis in melee combat, gore and dark humor in the fictional island setting of Banoi (based just off the coast of Papua New Guinea) which went on to developed a pretty significant cult following, primarily due to it being the first game of it’s kind.
Following a lukewarm reception to it’s sequel: Dead Island: Riptide in 2013, there was no news on the franchise until the announcement of Dead Island 2 at E3 2014; what followed however was development hell for nearly nine years, chewing up and spitting out developers left right and centre before eventually settling on Dambuster Studios in 2019. The game finally released just over a week ago on 21st April 2023, setting the zombie apocalypse in the city of Angels: Los Angeles, aptly referred to as ‘Hell-A’ by the games’ cast of characters. Set around a decade after the events of Dead Island, the United States government has enforced a quarantine around LA due to a zombie outbreak. The game begins with six distinct individuals (which make up the game’s protagonists) boarding one of the last evacuation planes out of the quarantined city, only for said plane to crash in a fiery inferno due to an infected passenger being on board and subsequently eating the captain. Prior to the crash, you get to choose from the six different ‘Slayers’ that you’ll spend the game playing as, all of which have their own particular starting perks alongside strengths and weaknesses. I decided to go with the cockney stuntman: Jacob, mainly because the man just oozes old-school cool in the style of Jimi Hendrix (one of the greatest guitarists of all time in this humble writer’s opinion). Following the crash, it’s down to our Slayer to navigate the hellscape of L.A. not only from the living dead, but from the swath of self-absorbed influencers, sociopathic celebrities and agoraphobic lunatics that act as a pretty accurate reflection of modern-day Los Angeles.
The City of Angels: Despite ‘Hell-A’ being overrun by the undead, the game’s protagonist will come across the worst of the worst of the self-absorbed, sociopathic pseudo-celebrities that act as perfect reflection of their real-life counterparts in Hollywood.
From the get go, Dead Island 2 plays very similar to its predecessors, with it being a first-person, melee-focused slaughter fest, intent on showcasing the myriad of different ways that you can maim, rip, bash and tear zombies to pieces in the bloodiest way possible. The standout feature this time around is the game’s F.L.E.S.H. system (Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids) a procedurally generated gore engine that I have to say is the most impressive system I have seen in a video game to date (even more so than the layering system seen in the Dead Space remake; check out my full review here). Every strike and slash leave an impact; from repeatedly smashing a zombie in the face with a pipe wrench, to strategically dissecting a torso with a katana, the F.L.E.S.H. system damages the zombie model is a realistic way, in place of the traditional dismember points that other games use. It’s not limited to direct strikes either, as the environment plays more of an impact than ever before, with different cannisters containing, fuel, water and Caustic-X (the military’s solution to mass removal of undead corpses) which react with the different elements on offer (e.g., fire and electricity). This also plays into the game’s crafting system, which now allows you to repair items indefinitely, opposed to them breaking like in previous titles; there are also numerous slots for mods (recipes can be found throughout the game) to be attached, opposed to finding recipes that craft a whole weapon with pre-set mods. Firearms are quite punchy this time around also, and were my preferred means of defense for the latter half of the game due to their ease of use (the campaign itself should take roughly ten hours to get through). Now whilst I could sing the praises about the general combat and F.L.E.S.H. system all day, that’s unfortunately where the good points about Dead Island 2 end, as there is very little in terms of innovation, with a lot of the gameplay feeling like it’s stuck in the shadow of its predecessor from 2011.
One of my biggest peeves to begin with was LA itself, opting for several smaller stages in place of a dynamic open world (which would have been the perfect way to showcase LA in my opinion). Within the original Dead Island, the game had four large, distinct maps with vehicles to traverse them, and whilst it wasn’t an open world per se, it not only felt larger, but grander in scope than the sequel does most of the time. Dead Island 2’s map structure bleeds directly into its missions, which largely focus on our Slayer and their respective immunity from the plague which is discovered early on; this leads them down a mission that covers most of the main POIs of Hollywood (think Bel-Air, Santa Monica, Venice Beach etc.) and whilst the game’s story is pretty solid (for a zombie game) and holds a pretty stellar sense of humour, the whole experience just falls a bit flat into the mid/late stages of the game, being nothing more than one fetch quest atop another. The side content is largely the same also; fetch quests, with ‘hold-the-line’ segments thrown in alongside some world building through the various notes and recordings that all add to the game’s self-aware status as a zombie spoof of modern-day Los Angeles. The bulk of the game is pretty standard fare for the most part, and boils down mainly to the same style of repeated missions, looting buildings for crafting materials, propped up by an entertaining combat loop. The variation of enemies keeps areas from going too stale, but the restrictiveness of the map coupled with the genuine lack of rewards through exploration (fuses open doors, award crafting materials and a random levelled weapon) just feel really archaic; it speaks volumes when the original game feels like it was a lot broader in scope in comparison to the sequel. Performance wise isn’t rocking the boat either, opting for a sub-4K locked 3072×1728 resolution at a fairly consistent 60fps; the exclusion of graphics/performance toggles here are a bit frustrating, but equally don’t detract much from the experience.
Nice to meat you: Dead Island 2’s F.L.E.S.H. system is nothing short of impressive, but it props up an otherwise run of the mill experience that doesn’t really do anything new.
Overall Dead Island 2 is very much a mixed bag, which could be a result of its troublesome development over the (near) last decade. Whilst the game is hilarious and respects its cultural origins in film, the core gameplay doesn’t do anything new in comparison to its predecessors, albeit holding down some fun combat which is even more satisfying when it comes to gore thanks to the stellar F.L.E.S.H. system. Definitely worth grabbing if you love slaughtering zombies by the boatload, as there is some fun to be had here, but definitely wait for it to come down in price a bit before taking a bite.
A PlayStation 5 review code was provided by PLAION.