Original review (Tue 18th Apr, 2023): Emerging from the flames of development hell is Dead Island 2, with this long-awaited sequel eventually being scrubbed up and brought to market by Dambuster Studios. Yes, we've been waiting a long, long time for this one to release, and while the Dying Light series has done a great job at plugging the gap since 2013's Dead Island Riptide, there's definitely still room for another open world zombie romp on Xbox. Dead Island 2 quickly embraces its absurd concept by cutting the fat and just throwing you into Beverly Hills with little more than a laundry list of melee weapons, some physics-defying character abilities, and a diary full of quirky one liners ready to be unleashed onto every other survivor you come across. Just a normal day in LA, then?
Well... not quite. While the team has done a good job at realising a condensed version of the locale (and some of its surrounding areas), the hordes of flesh-eating zombies just about set it apart from the real thing. While the area isn't really an 'island', it is a great backdrop for an 'open world' zombie game, and the sight of its sun soaked villas, highways and sandy beaches quickly become one of Dead Island 2's major wins.
This isn't a massive modern day open world game though, far from it, with Dambuster opting for a more segmented design style here. You often bounce around between different sections of 'HELL-A', starting out in the suburban region of Bel-Air before heading down to Santa Monica beach and even the sets of some fictional Hollywood studios. Each section is a sight to behold and the game is a real looker on Xbox Series X - where we spent roughly 15-20 hours of our time bashing zombie heads in and generally having a ball of a time with Dead Island 2.
A major reason for Dead Island 2 being as fun as it is relates to the combat mechanics. While the late-game shooting isn't anything to write home about, the up-close-and-personal melee combat is good old-fashioned brute force fun, and we loved messing about with the game's roster of melee weapons from start to finish. Dead Island 2's combat is grounded, visceral, connected, and combined with the team's 'FLESH' system makes for a hell of an engaging way to tear zombies to shreds around Los Angeles. It may function much like past series' entries and other melee-focused first person action games, but Dead Island 2 just has that satisfying fighting feel the brings that whole experience together.
The aforementioned FLESH system helps a lot in this department. Both functional and to add visual flair, the "Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids" essentially lets you slice away at zombies bit by bit, with chunks of flesh and bone flying off as you swing and smack away at the undead. It has its actual uses, but above all we just love the way this system looks in action. It makes the zombies feel real, and fleshy, and nasty, and it sort of reminds us of seeing those melting zombies in The Walking Dead TV show. Zombies are pretty disgusting aren't they, and Dead Island 2 certainly doesn't shy away from the gore that comes with taking down hordes of them as the main campaign progresses.
As we said though, the FLESH system does play into the game's core mechanics as well. If you mess around with the game's weapon mod system — which you likely will to use up all of the resources you've gathered — you can really start going to town on these zombies. Add an acid mod to one of your weapons and see flesh melt from the bone; add fire and you'll be cooking up plenty of zombie meat in no time. Both of these kinds of mods add damage over time too, so the whole system is definitely worth messing around with to find the most efficient way of taking down your enemies. Just don't look too closely if you're squeamish.
Dead Island 2's main story campaign is roughly 15 hours long, and in all honesty, we're glad it didn't run too much longer. There's nothing wrong with what Dambuster has cooked up for the game's main campaign, but its story doesn't really go anywhere and the whole thing largely serves as a way to direct you through each section of the segmented open world. Expect to help out groups of survivors, assist a doctor in trying to find a cure, and slowly figure out that you're somehow immune from this whole thing. You know, the usual zombie genre tropes.
Thankfully, the game's quips and funny one liners make the whole thing feel pretty tongue-in-cheek anyway. We opted to play as Jacob for our main campaign runthrough, and he genuinely made us laugh from time to time with his running commentary. We can't speak for how each character handles things, but Jacob made sure that Dead Island 2 never strayed towards taking itself very seriously, and we thought his tone matched that of the overall experience pretty well.
Outside of the main story, Dead Island 2 hosts plenty of sidequest content, and you know what, it's worth a look. From the handful of side quests we took part in, the quality matched that of the game's main story missions, so if you like what you're seeing from the campaign it's probably worth venturing out to see what else the game throws your way. One particularly memorable one had us exploring multiple stages of a Hollywood movie set to help out a pair of survivors who'd gotten a little overzealous with their post-apocalyptic exploring. Safety in numbers is an idea probably worth subscribing to!
However, that last point brings us on to one of our major drawbacks with Dead Island 2 - the game's structure.
During our hands-on preview from last month, we mentioned being wary of how the game's segmented design could work against what Dead Island 2 excels at, and unfortunately we felt that was the case for large parts of the experience. Look, we get 'open world fatigue' — we've certainly felt it ourselves at times — but Dead Island 2 just feels like it would work better as a seamless open world. The game's actual setup doesn't ruin the experience, but we feel it discourages exploration and experimentation, and if any game would work well with a just a big dumb open world playground to mess about in, it's this one.
Such an open world could have encouraged even more engagement with side content, and led to more traversal options too. Dead Island 2 drops vehicles of any kind from the last two
Dead Island titles and we kinda missed them to be honest. Cruising around Santa Monica beach on a quad bike or something, flattening zombies and yeeting others towards the sun could have really built on the absurd nature of Dead Island 2. Look, we were just desperate to see how monster trucks could have worked with the FLESH system, OK?!
Fortunately, we can report that co-op play does help in nurturing some bonkers free roam shenanigans. We only dabbled with this mode a
little bit during our hands-on time with the game, but we can already imagine where the community might take things when they hop into some online lobbies. A couple of us here at PX HQ had our fair share of free roam fun as we double dropkicked some lads, flung infected creatures off the top of high-spec villas and even made our very own inflatable zombie pizzas. Again, a seamless open world with vehicles would have been lovely for co-op as well, but alas, our infected inferno pizza did help add some spice to proceedings.
Over the course of our time with Dead Island 2 we did run into a few bugs here and there, but nothing major outside of getting stuck in a wall once - although a generous save system prevented that from being too frustrating. Character models sunk through the floor from time to time — particularly in cutscenes — which may pull you out of the experience if it happens to you, but thankfully Dead Island 2 is never a serious affair anyway. Since playing, the dev team
has delivered a day one patch though, so we're hopeful that these sorts of things will have been ironed out for launch.
The fact that Dead Island 2 is finally here and enjoyable to play is nothing short of a miracle given the game's 10+ year development cycle. We feared this one may end up being a real mess, but Dambuster has largely delivered on what you'd expect from a sequel to Dead Island - just not much more than that. We'd have loved to see the team expand on things a little more to fully capitalise on the game's absurdity, but a safe sequel will do just fine in this case. Dead Island 2 won't blow you way, but it's shiny and dumb and fun, and definitely worth a play if you're looking for a lighthearted zombie romp on Xbox.
Colourful, gorgeous levels on Xbox Series X Fun and engaging melee combat with plenty of options to experiment Funny characters that match the game's silly tone
A structure that works against fully exploring what the game has to offer Storyline feels like little more than a vehicle for showing each LA location Lacks a bit of depth compared to the competition