Dead Island 2 has been a long time coming. The game has been through development hell and back again, which is ironic given this game’s zombie population and their refusal to die and stay dead. In my preview, I wrote that I was impressed by the opening couple of hours, noting that it was surprisingly polished. But how do I feel after beating the game’s 14-16 hour-long campaign? Here’s my final verdict.
Tools of the trade
Dead Island 2 keeps things simple. Zombies are infesting Los Angeles and it’s up to the resistant player to go around killing them, all the while helping locals with their own survival efforts. The story does enough to move things forward and justify traversing to and from the 10 districts, but I didn’t find myself invested in the characters or caring much about their survival.
This horror game leans more on comedy than on exploring the bonds of remaining humans. Think more Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, than 28 Days Later or The Last of Us. Dead Island 2’s characters are funny, but pretty stupid, as are the errands they task players with.
Missions are fairly basic in structure and players get to do a bunch of fetching. Thankfully, the foundation of the gameplay, an extremely satisfying combat system, helps give Dead Island 2 a huge boost.
Powered by the “FLESH” system, combat is easily the best thing about Dead Island 2. Weapons hit hard, with blunt instruments slamming into zombies and sending them flying. Sharpened blades cut through enemies just as brilliantly, causing blood to gush out. And these are just the standard weapons, as the action only gets more entertaining when elemental damage is introduced.
Pick a card, any card
There are six characters to choose from, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. While there are differences between them, it quickly became clear to me that there are only two things you really need to worry about when making your selection. First, whether they Dodge or Block, as each character can only do one of these actions. Second, how they sound, as some characters are voiced better than others. I landed on Jacob as my favorite, both for his dodging and British accent.
Dead Island 2’s skill tree takes the form of cards that players choose from. There’s no deck-building or anything like that, it’s just a U.I. shift that functions in much the same way as traditional perk and ability trees.
Some skill cards are better than others, though my favorites enhance the player’s dodge/block abilities. As Jacob, I can weave and dodge a series of incoming attacks, recovering some health, before going on the counter-attack and enjoying increased damage with each subsequent hit I land.
Looks to die for
Visually, Dead Island 2 looks remarkable. The LA environments are beautifully rendered and the devs have clearly worked hard to add subtle details to each space. It’s hard not to explore each new room, as handcrafted scenarios hide in wait. An influencer’s bedroom, for example, features a whiteboard with a script for a not-so-sincere apology video, which I found especially hilarious.
The game runs well, too, with PS5 hitting the 60 FPS mark with very few hiccups. Perhaps the smaller levels help keep gameplay smooth? Whatever magic is going on here, Dead Island 2 achieves 60 FPS and looks good doing it, which really helps to sell those brutal melee swings.
What works well as a single-player game works even better in co-op. Up to two other players can be brought in to assist with the zombie slaying. Finding other players or having them join has worked flawlessly in my experience. It’s just unfortunate that you need to get through an hour or so of gameplay before you can invite your buddies in, which is always annoying.
Dead Island 2 Review: The final verdict
The odds were stacked against Dead Island 2, and yet here stands a solid zombie game with a compelling combat system that delivers exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to hitting the undead with a big stick. It’s gory, gruesome, and a ton of fun with friends.
Aside from the winning combat formula, however, Dead Island 2 doesn’t push the envelope in any other noteworthy ways. It’s a very safe game, which was perhaps the wisest decision made by Dambuster Studios and Deep Silver, given the development hell that the game has been through since its 2014 reveal. I’d count that a win, all things considered!