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Given how long Dead Island 2 has taken to release and how torturous the road to launch has reportedly been, I almost don’t want to criticize it. It feels like watching someone stumble across the finish line of a marathon on two freshly broken legs and mock their form. But this is still a $70 MSRP game, so it doesn’t come off easy no matter how hard the journey was. I just felt the need to acknowledge it up front.
What has Dead Island 2 become after all this time? Simply put, it’s an acceptable, enjoyable gorefest with enough splashy, cartoonish violence to outweigh the uncreative gameplay. Dead Island 2 came out functional (which is admittedly more than can be said for some of its neighboring game releases) and its light-hearted sense of humor is the icing on the cake. It’s not a great game, but it’s a good game, and I think that’s all that everyone expected.
Dead Island 2 is set in Los Angeles, in the midst of a zombie plague that has turned most of the city into babbling undead. One of the last evacuation planes crashes with six people – the player characters or Slayers – on board. The player chooses one of them and must cut a bloody swath through LA using all the guns, knives and sharp sticks they can get their hands on. They join and help other survivors, (unintentionally) discovering the truth of the outbreak along the way.
City of Angels and Demons: What’s nice about it
The story of Dead Island 2 is certainly a story. The Slayer joins a group of other survivors, a motley crew of celebrities, hangers-on and survivors. It falls on their shoulders to find a way for their group to escape LA or at least survive the horde of zombies. Lots of shenanigans ensue. And that’s pretty much it – the story isn’t complicated and doesn’t need to be. It is a vessel to get the player character from one beautiful zombie infested location to another.
Los Angeles looks beautiful in this game, the wandering undead do little to detract from the sunny glow. It is also, one might dare to observe, not an island. To try and make the name “Dead Island 2” make sense, the developers make the story’s central theme about isolation, as the military quarantines LA and no one can leave or contact anyone from the outside. It also focuses on LA’s wealthy, privileged elite, showing how their wealth has given them advantages in this hell, but not enough to make them leave.
I make it sound much more subtle and deeper than it actually is. Nothing is deep in Dead Island 2, not even the humor. But the jokes come in more often than they miss, and that’s enough to keep the story going. My favorite part of the main game is when the Slayer visits a movie studio and has to kill zombies through various sets, using the soundstage’s pyrotechnics to their advantage.
The gameplay is likewise not deep or complicated. The Slayer takes on several types of zombies, each of which is vulnerable to certain types of damage. They have a range of weapons and mods at their disposal that will dish out that damage, including shocking enemies, burning them, or melting them with acid. The melee gameplay is satisfying and crunchy as each weapon impact causes visible damage to the enemies.
The Slayer can also increase his raw zombie killing potential with skill cards that grant him new perks and abilities. It’s not a game changer – usually I’d forget about these cards until I unlocked a new one, but it does add something extra to an otherwise standard melee fighting game.
Hell-A Confidential: What’s not to like
As I said above, the story of Dead Island 2 is definitely a story. It has no significant emotional component or even a fear factor. And while that’s great because it keeps the melodrama from intruding on the fun, it does mean that the story basically has one overarching theme that runs into the ground: rich people, especially celebrities, are a bit silly and frivolous.
But for a plot that satirizes modern privilege and wealth, and how little they are worth in times of crisis, Dead Island 2 doesn’t quite know what to say about those who have it. Several of the celebrities you meet seem capable and willing to work with the Slayer and were only prevented from leaving LA by bad luck, rather than overconfidence. Despite the game’s “eat the rich” conceit, many of the real people the Slayer meets are no more repulsive than the average yahoo in the zombie apocalypse.
There is also a problem with the weapons. Crafting and weapon upgrades are all part of the Dead Island identity. I’m not a huge fan of weapon degradation, but it fits the world – if you can rig a serrated machete that will set fire to anything it touches, the only thing that will cause fear in your heart is the thought of it breaking. So that’s all good. However, what I Doing object to is the weapon leveling system.
As you level up in Dead Island 2, the gear you find in the world rises with you. So, for example, once you reach level 12, most of the weapons you have lying around will also be level 12. However, the same does not apply to the weapons in your inventory. You must spend in-game currency to bring it up to your current level. So you’ll soon be left with a pocket full of cheated but underpowered gear that you can’t afford to level up. It reduces the incentive to invest in your guns long term.
And while I enjoy the melee combat, the weapon-based gameplay was much less convincing. First, the weapons feel less crunchy and substantive than the melee weapons. Second, they’re much less fun – it’s not quite as viscerally satisfying to poke tiny holes into the shuffling undead from a distance. Speaking of melee weapons, my only complaint is that the larger weapons, like sledgehammers, lacked a sense of weight and weight.
Wish You Were Here: Should You Play Dead Island 2?
I wish I could say Dead Island 2 came out as the big winner after such a long development cycle. But it’s not Game of the Year material. It’s not even what I’d call a great zombie game – there are many that do the story or even the gameplay better. But Dead Island 2 does firm. It’s skillful and it’s fun. If you want straight-forward zombie-killing antics in a beautiful setting, Dead Island 2 will scratch that itch. But I don’t expect anyone to be talking about it this time next year.
Deep Silver provided us with a review code prior to launch. Dead Island 2 is currently available for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
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