The long-anticipated sequel to the Dead Island franchise is finally here, and this time we are taken to the streets of Hell-A. While it may seem weird that Dead Island 2 is set in a city like Los Angeles, it makes sense once you realize how isolated you are from the outside world. In this case, the island is manmade because the quarantine in Los Angeles doesn’t allow anyone in or out of the city. While Dead Island 2 has been the butt of jokes and leaving many fans of the franchise asking why they should care after so many years of disappointing delays and setbacks, Dead Island 2 has proven why it isn’t lunch in the stomach of another dead brained zombie but instead rose to the challenge and slayed with the best of them.
Welcome to Hell-A
Los Angeles, aptly named Hell-A by its residents, was chosen by Dambuster Studios as the location for Dead Island 2 because of the city’s great eccentrics and self-confidence. They did an amazing job with capturing this in all aspects of the game from the story, locations, characters, aesthetics, and sounds.
A girl gets bit by a zombie. The girl realizes she’s immune to zombies. The girl is humanity’s last hope to create a cure to rid itself of the zombie apocalypse. It’s the same old zombie story that’s been told a million times. Dead Island 2’s story starts and ends with the same premise and doesn’t stray as so many other zombie games, movies, and tv shows do. That is, to get away from zombies as the main antagonists and stray to humans or other creatures. This is a zombie slaying game taking place in Los Angeles, damn’t! We just want to slay zombies and do it style.
Beverly Hills… That’s Where I Want to Be
While trying to escape the zombie apocalypse, you will explore some of Los Angeles’ most iconic locations, like Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, and the Santa Monica Pier. The game offers ten zones for you to explore, and there’s no denying that an immense level of design went into each set piece, music, and sound effects for each zone. Unfortunately, however, there are still some downfalls.
Each location was designed to fit the game’s needs, meaning not all locations will be identical in size or experience. For instance, you will get the wide-open space of Beverly Hills that offers lots of exploration where you’ll get lost for hours while the on-rails space of Monarch Studios serves as nothing more than a boss fight location. It could have been so much more due to the really fun movie set pieces. Two of the ten locations are also set in a sewer and tunnel, which take you out of the pleasing aesthetic of Hell-A and are more annoying than anything else.
Dead Island 2 does a great job of marrying the new residents of Hell-A with fan favorites from previous games like Sam B. These characters bring Dead Island 2’s story to life. As you progress through the story, you will grow attached to them, which is a mistake because it is a zombie apocalypse after all and people will die. However, this won’t stop you from feeling emotions like laughter, joy, sadness, and confusion throughout the story. Throw in the interactions from your Slayer and the result is a fun-filled ride that will make you want more after the credits have rolled.
Dead Island 2 is lovely and performs well on modern consoles like the PlayStation 5. The character models, set pieces, and weapons look extraordinarily realistic and are a considerable upgrade from previous installments in the Dead Island franchise. In addition, the game presents you with the California style, which can only be described as an aesthetic that is casual, curated, breezy, sunny, and brightly colored through the blood-tinted glasses of the zombie apocalypse. The first thing you’ll notice when you run the streets of Hell-A is how vivid the world around you is, significantly contrasting the dark theme of death during the zombie apocalypse.
From the moment the plane crashes at the beginning of the game, you know your ears will be in for a treat. Dead Island 2 offers a remarkable audible experience from its use of music that creates an eerie atmosphere, sound effects of its many set pieces, and well-cast voice actors. You’ll use your hearing as a primary way to explore and survive Hell-A. Nothing is more terrifying than hearing the hungry growls of a zombie from behind after you thought you had adequately cleared the area (Spoiler alert — you didn’t). Let’s hope you can fend off that zombie before it eats your nose as an appetizer. Yum.
I Came Here to Chew Bubble Gum and Slay Zombies…
Dead Island 2, at its core, is a survival horror action RPG whose success lies in whether or not the zombie slaying action is fun and satisfying. The game can look and sound pretty all it wants, but it will fall flat if the combat isn’t tight. Dead Island 2 offers many ways to achieve the zombie kill of the week, including a custom game engine, melee, guns, traps, and secondary items.
Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids
Dambuster Studios built the F.L.E.S.H. engine from scratch because they wanted their humanoid characters to be as realistic as possible by allowing them to react naturally to events in the world. The F.L.E.S.H. system also extends to the various combat systems and creates hilarious and over-the-top moments based on the type of attack and weapon you use.
Systems like the F.L.E.S.H. engine are becoming popular with game studios, but not all have succeeded. Thankfully, the F.L.E.S.H. engine is not one of those failures. It should be the example all future studios look to when making a custom engine.
The F.L.E.S.H. engine does exactly what it’s supposed to and creates some of the most realistic zombie interactions to date. Whether punching your fist through the mushy face of a zombie, disfiguring a group of zombies with an explosive curveball, or electrocuting them with a well-placed trap, no two experiences will be the same. Their initial reactions and the result will be equally gory but satisfying.
Combat – Melee
Melee combat is where Dead Island 2 shines. The Slayers come decked out with several melee attacks like a ground pound that sends zombies staggering back, a drop kick that quickly knocks them off a building, or a palm strike that lets you interrupt a zombie mid-attack. Pair those with your favorite melee weapon and you’ll be zombie killing machine.
The melee weapons work remarkably well, especially with the ability to modify them to fit your playstyle. You can also use ordinary objects such as a pool cue, rake, or wrench and modify them to become deadly devices. Whether you want a slow-swinging but hard-hitting garden rake or a lightning-fast katana that cuts through zombie flesh like butter, melee weapons hit the mark.
In addition, you can modify your melee weapons to apply different status effects like lighting them on fire after a few swings to apply burn damage or shocking them in place with electricity. You can then pair these status effects mods with a chosen Skill from your Skill Deck to increase your power even more.
For example, by pairing melee combat with the F.L.E.S.H. engine, if you get overwhelmed by zombies, you can cut the leg off one zombie, palm strike a second zombie to interrupt an attack, knockback a third zombie with your weapon, and then curb stomp the first zombie when the area is clear. You have a ton of actions available at your disposal, depending on the situation you find yourself in. The melee combat system is why Dead Island 2 is so successful.
Combat – Guns
You won’t gain access to guns until pretty far into the story and will be happy for the change of pace once you get them. For instance, you’ll have access to pistols, light machine guns, crossbows, and a fun air cannon to kill zombies from a distance safely. However, this excitement wears off quickly, and you’ll miss your favorite melee weapon (mine was named Batty-Lou, what is the name of yours?).
This is because the act of shooting leaves a lot to be desired and feels a bit out of place. So much effort was put into the F.L.E.S.H. system and melee combat that guns feel like an afterthought. It’s hard to quickly aim weapons at zombies and you’ll end up wasting tons of valuable ammo. I found that saving one powerful gun as an “in case of emergencies” weapon is all you need. While this is one of the game’s only negatives, it doesn’t affect it too much since melee combat is so much fun and effective.
Another aspect of Dead Island 2 that makes combat satisfying is using the environment around you to trap, damage, and kill zombies. For instance, you can grab a water jug from a house and pour it between you and shambling zombies. Then, you can swing your melee weapon with an electric mod to turn it into an electric trap. This will cause zombies to become paralyzed and take damage over time. You can then either run away or attack them from a distance. Just be careful not to step in the water when doing so; otherwise, you and the zombies will be doing the Zed Dance, which is hilarious but will get you killed.
Finally, curveballs are secondary items complimenting your melee skills and weapons to help you survive against the threats found in Hell-A. You can have two curveballs equipped at the same time and can use them together to great effect. For example, if a horde of zombies is heading your way, you can throw the Meat curveball to gather them in the group. After that, you can throw the Pipebomb curveball in the middle of the group to blow them all up. Finally, you can clean up the remaining zombies without breaking a sweat.
The F.L.E.S.H. engine, beautiful graphics, and highly satisfying melee combat are key examples of why Dead Island 2 is a success. Other fantastic additions to the beloved franchise include the return of popular Slayers and the cast of colorful characters that bring Hell-A to life. Unfortunately, Dead Island 2 isn’t without its downfalls, the biggest being unsatisfying gunplay and suffocating level design with zones that were a missed opportunity.
Still, despite its many delays and setbacks, Dambuster Studios found a winning formula in Dead Island 2 and shows why it was the proper studio for the job. One that starts with its custom F.L.E.S.H. system that amps up the gore and ends with a shift in tone that provides a much-needed break to your sanity in just the right places. You’ll love your visit to Hell-A and will be hesitant to leave even with ongoing the zombie apocalypse. Instead, like your favorite pulp hero, you’ll swagger through the streets while egging on the zombies with your best one-liners.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.