Game review: Dead Island 2 (PC)
Who doesn’t like a good zombie outbreak, makeshift weapon in hand, ready to take on an undead horde? Dead Island 2 invites players to wade through a zombie-infesting Los Angeles in this violent yet somewhat tongue-in-cheek splatter-fest of a sequel.
Dead Island 2’s oft-delayed journey to release is over, with the game now available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. It’s been a long road for the sequel to the 2011 first-person zombie slasher, one that’s seen the project change hands a few times and even a complete do-over. Techland, the original developer of Dead Island and the standalone expansion Dead Island: Riptide, has released its own spiritual successor in Dying Light and a sequel in Dying Light 2 in the time it’s taken to get this one out the door.
Even now, the original Dead Island and its expansion play incredibly well. The Dead Island Definitive Edition remastered the visuals and ironed out some of the PC performance issues of the original Dead Island and Ripetide. Dead Island 2 has big boots to fill.
Developer Dambuster Studios seems to have taken all this in its stride. The developer of the original game, Techland, with their Dying Light series, opted to go in a more serious and sinister direction. Dead Island 2 doesn’t take itself quite so seriously, coming across somewhere between satirical and slapstick at times.
The game starts on board an evacuation flight out of a zombie-infected Los Angeles, the passengers of which should not all be legitimately on board. When an evicted evacuee turns full zombie, the doomed flight crashes in the middle of HELL-A.
At this point, the player gets to choose from six characters, each with unique advantages. I chose the street-smart Carla as she thrives in the thick of it when surrounded by zombies, a skill I thought would come in handy. Each character is fully voice-acted, giving players six very different ways to enjoy the game.
Skills are selected via ability cards that are added to your repertoire as the cards are unlocked and additional slots made available. I’d sooner a traditional skill tree, as this trend for trying to make a collectible card game out of something it is not, is a bit overdone. It put me off adjusting skills as, in many cases, new cards are not necessarily any more effective than the ones that you already have.
The game is mission-based, with the main story quests advancing the plot and optional side quests rewarding players with special equipment and loot. It’s certainly worth exploring and talking to anyone you meet.
The environments are packed with secret areas and rare items to discover. Many areas are guarded by apex zombies or require fuses or keys to unlock doors. Exploration is also important to find resources and components.
Weaponry starts as bits of wood, pipes, and other household items, with blades and guns coming a bit later. At workbenches, weapons can be repaired and, using blueprints found lying around, be upgraded into very effective, and sometimes comical (in a very dark way), zombie-killing devices. Electrified baseball bats and burning blades give the undead a good shock and fire things up.
The game uses water, fuel, and toxic waste to create damaging environmental hazards that the player can use to their advantage. Pouring water near sparking electric cables will create an electrified trap for approaching zombies. Same with pouring fuel to create a flaming barrier with a strike from your electric or fire upgraded weapon. A puddle of toxic waste will also harm the zombies. Be mindful that these same hazards can also hurt your character. Some special zombies are immune to environmental effects (and the special effects of your weapons). With a bit of imagination, though, you can set up some very amusing situations to dispatch a whole horde of undead.
As well as hitting and shooting zombies, you can also kick them- a jump and kick sending them flying (into your carefully set up environmental hazard if you are going it right). A well-timed block allows you to counter with devastating effect.
Secondary weapons, called curveballs, consist of thrown objects like zombie bait, throwing stars, and pipe bombs. I found these great for getting out of a scrape, saving my bacon more than once by doing just enough damage to put down the enemy when my health couldn’t take another pounding.
The game provides a fair amount of variety in the zombies you encounter. That’s not to say you don’t find yourself up against “twins” now and again. There are twenty different classes of zombie with over ten “apex variants”.
It’s not all about combat. My path was often blocked, requiring a bit of thought to solve mild puzzles. These range from being as simple as finding a circuit breaker to finding cranks and turning values to remove toxic waste spills.
The curated open world of the original game returns but breaks it up into zones that can be freely moved between. I didn’t have a problem with this as I could explore each area without getting overwhelmed by a vast and expansive environment. The ten zones are still quite large, and you’ll find yourself visiting them all more than once.
As with the original, the game has co-op multiplayer. You can either join other players’ games or set your own as an open game for others to drop in and drop out. The co-op mode is optional, and you can select “single-player” and solo the game by yourself if you want.
The PC version of the game is in partnership with AMD and features Team Red’s AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution 2.0. AMD’s performance-boosting algorithms are GPU agnostic, so the lack of a DLSS option doesn’t mean owners of Team Green hardware can’t benefit from the opposition’s technology.
In practice, this means that anyone running with a reasonable GPU from AMD’s Radeon RX 6600 XT all the way up to a mighty Radeon RX 7900 XTX will get a great framerate. I tested the game with an AMD RX 6000 XT running at 4K, and it was superb, not quite as glorious as my RTX 4090 brute-forcing a 4K HRD framerate off the charts, but still likely very close to that of a next-gen console.
The team at Dambuster Studios has done a very good job of making Dead Island 2 look stunning. The different times of day add to the incredibly detailed and intricately modelled locations. From the beautifully designed homes of Beverly Hills to the charm of Santa Monica, no expense has been spared to allow the player to explore and enjoy the varied locations, carving a path through the undead on the way.
The realistic visuals don’t stop at the environment. The zombies of Dead Island 2 are modelled in such a way that you can see their flesh tearing and their bones breaking, arms, legs, and heads being cleaved from torsos. Flesh melts in toxic waste, chares with electricity, and burns in flames. The violence and gore are very graphic. Whilst, as an adult player, the violence has an over-the-top dark humour to it, this is not a game that I’d recommend for kids. As I’ve previously mentioned, the game is a satire of sorts, but that doesn’t stop it from turning the intensity level up to eleven.
Dead Island 2 wears its heart on its sleeve. Despite over a decade between the two games, this new game doesn’t really offer anything new over its predecessor than a new setting and better visuals. As a fan of the original, I’m very happy with that, but others may baulk at the game’s lack of sophistication and tendency to be a bit repetitive. It’s a game about killing zombies, and it does that very well.
Considering its troubled development, Dead Island 2 is, in my mind, a resounding success. It better captures the feel of the original game than Dead Island’s more serious spiritual successor, Dying Light. This lighter but no less violent take on the zombie genre may not gel with some players unfamiliar with the original. But if you are up for a game that takes you on an undead-themed tour through Los Angeles’ cliched excesses with a cheeky wink, you are going to have fun with Dead Island 2.