It's safe to say we were somewhat sceptical of Dead Island 2 heading into this hands-on preview. That scepticism wasn't based on what we've seen of the game so far, or on our history with the series (we actually quite liked the first Dead Island), but rather the game's protracted development period. After all - Dead Island 2 was revealed almost 10 years ago at this point and such a lengthy dev cycle doesn't always work in the game's favour.

Thankfully, most of our preconceived notions were crushed into the ground almost immediately, like an injured zombie squirming around as it awaits getting curb stomped into oblivion. Yep, Dead Island 2 is that sort of game - a real turn-your-brain-off slasher that quickly revels in its absurd concept as you sprint around Beverly Hills trying to find the most creative ways to take out the undead.

Our hands-on time with Dambuster's sequel covered roughly the first five hours of the game, including a handful of main story missions as Dead Island 2's LA-based map starts to open up. What immediately stands out, at least on Xbox Series X, is how pretty this game is. It might not be the most technically advanced video game of all time, but the way the blood-soaked undead contrast against the bright colours and pure whites of LA's suburban neighbourhoods is a real sight to behold. It all unfolds at a lovely 60FPS on Series X as well, feeling very fluid in motion.

Hands On: Dead Island 2 Is A Fleshy Funride Through Infected LA 1

That's just as well, because this smoothness helps you take advantage of Dead Island 2's 'FLESH' system - or "Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids" as it's also known. Basically, slice away at any part of these bloody zombies and they'll begin carving up like an undead Sunday Roast, as limbs fly off and bits & pieces of zombie flesh fall to the ground. We can't recommend tucking in after you've finished carving though.

The main missions seem pretty varied too, at least from what we played of the beginning of the game. Sure, they'll largely boil down to hacking and slashing your way through hordes of zombies, but in just a few hours we chased the undead through a movie set, saved an intoxicated couple from being swarmed as they partied in the LA hills, and even danced our way through a boss fight as music rang out in an abandoned hotel ballroom. Dead Island 2 makes good use of its unique setting, and it certainly doesn't take itself too seriously.

Having said that, we did take issue with the game's general open world structure. From what we can tell, Dead Island 2 isn't a seamless open world - you run into warp points and locked gates as the game moves you from one part of 'HELL-A' to another. While we're not super bothered about how big the open world will be in terms of pure scale, it is a little jarring to run into load screens in an open world game in 2023. These structural issues didn't affect the main campaign much at all, but it felt like just having fun in the open world was stifled a bit by the game's segmented design.

You have plenty of freedom when it comes to weapons, skills, and character abilities though. Pretty much every tool can be modified and upgraded via blueprints and workbenches, meaning you can add some cool-ass elemental mods to your weapons as you battle the undead. There's also a pretty in-depth skill card system at play here which we dabbled with a little bit during our hands-on time. You can use it to swap out active and passive characters' abilities; upgrading things like your 'kick' and 'slide' moves amongst others. It never gets old yeeting zombies across the room with a well timed dropkick, we must admit.

Hands On: Dead Island 2 Is A Fleshy Funride Through Infected LA 2

We're hopeful that Dead Island 2 can bring everything together when it launches for Xbox on April 21st, 2023. While we have reservations about the game's open world sandbox and how limiting it could feel over time, we really enjoyed the opening few hours of the game, especially during its varied main missions. Dambuster Studios may just have pulled off the unthinkable in saving Dead Island 2 from the brink of game dev infection. We'll know for sure in just a few short weeks!

Are you looking forward to finally playing Dead Island 2? Let us know in the comments below!