What Dead Island 2 lacks in surprises it makes up for with great zombie fights

It’s all too easy to compare the continued existence of Dead Island 2 (opens in new tab) to the zombies it features. Lurching on for years, long after it seemed dead, passed from one studio to another. In spite of the name, though, Dead Island 2 is practically a new game. According to game director David Stenton, when development was taken over by Dambuster in 2018 it was “built from scratch”. The only thing it kept was zombies and its LA setting. “That serves the “paradise gone to hell” pillar,” he says. Though the genre in which it sits feels like it never dies, with zombie games still releasing on the regular. What does something like Dead Island 2 bring to the table? What even is the identity of this series?

Speaking to Stenton and creative director James Worrall, and playing a 20-minute demo, it’s clear the focus is squarely on its gnarly close quarters combat. “It was the passion for the gore, the passion for up close melee combat,” Stenton explains. “And just doing that really, really well.” The section of the game I played sent me to the Santa Monica Pier as Amy, one of six playable characters. It’s a tight, linear portion in which the bright lights and amusements rides are slowly brought back on as I delve deeper, which makes for a poor showcase of how the game’s ambitions as an open world will fare, but a good showing for the game’s moment to moment fighting.

(Image credit: Deep Silver)

It’s a spooky section, more atmospheric and subdued than the bombastic trailer might have you believe. A faint mist hangs over the city’s too-damn-quiet beach, letting the red Ferris wheel blaze away in the night with real foreboding. It’s a very handsome looking game. “It’s easy for us to build a place that people can feel is familiar,” Worrall says of the game’s setting. “That then gives us that contrast with the zombpocalypse. It also means, they know where they go. Even if they’ve never been to Bel-air before, they know what Bel-air looks like.” The tone in Dead Island 2 lands somewhere close to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series. Scary things are scary or at least grotesque, while our heroes are a little larger than life, confronting horror with bravado and one-liners. Amy kept shouting and wearing at zombies, gooding them the way I often find myself doing.

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