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Home > Dead Island 2 (2023): A Review

Dead Island 2 (2023): A Review

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An Entertaining Gore-Fest That Lacks Refinement

Dead Island, as a franchise, is most notable for consistently being a victim of its own hype. The first game, a fun enough splatterfest released in 2011, was criticized by some for failing to live up to its impressive trailer reveal. Fans were sold on an immersive and emotional ride, and unfortunately, that’s not what Dead Island turned out to be. Now, the recently released Dead Island 2 seems destined to follow in its predecessor’s disappointing footsteps. And the reason for that — it was announced nine years ago. Think about that for a moment. People have been waiting for this game for almost a decade. In fact, the stretch of time has been so ludicrous that the developers of the original game, Techland, have managed to put out two different installments in its successor franchise, Dying Light. 

It’s a tricky thing to talk about because, of course, it’s not fair to hold the final product (or the new developers at Dambuster Studios) responsible for nine years of hype. Yet, it’s hard to entirely divorce it from one’s mind while playing the game. In short, much like its predecessor, Dead Island 2 provides a lot of fun — but not quite enough. Despite myriad improvements over the original. 

Resurrection

First off, the story here takes itself far less seriously. While the first Dead Island often felt like an old B-movie, unintentionally, the camp in its sequel is baked into the DNA. The player can pick between one of six characters (called Slayers in the game): Jacob, Bruno, Ryan, Dani, and Carla, each with their own personality and strengths. After surviving a plane crash, the protagonists find out they are immune to the zombie plague sweeping the globe and set out to escape through an undead-infested Los Angeles. It’s more or less just a funhouse ride through L.A., except with zombies to kill. Pretty much all the most obvious gags are done here: killing zombies at the pier, on movie sets, and in wealthy suburbs. Nothing mind-blowing but all of it entertaining. 

But back to the humor in the game, just hearing that could be a red flag to some. Comedy and video games go together like ham and chocolate, which is not very good. Oh, sure, once in a while, you’ll get genuine, funny writing like in the Uncharted games. But most of the time, you’re stuck with the same flavor of “Hey, it’s a thing you recognize!” served over at Borderlands. Dead Island 2 is not entirely innocent of the latter, but it is surprisingly a lot better than one would expect. Part of that comes from the characters, as the slayers all have an entertaining character flaw. Jacob is overly confident, Ryan is a coward, etc. Most Angelinos you come across are likable, despite how caricatured they are. 

A big reason for these traits is due to the characters being used sparingly. Compare it to the recent Far Cry 6, where every character is a wacky carnage lover, and the humor here feels like a godsend. Some standouts from the cast include the fragile starlet Emma Jaunt, played by Hanna Steele, and the eccentric sewer dweller Patton, played by Mel Raido. The game doesn’t skewer Los Angeles as much as might be expected. For example, this is a far more affectionate portrayal of the city and its people than Grand Theft Auto V, but that adds to the charm. It feels like a love letter to not only B-movies, but L.A., with plenty of landmarks all lovingly rendered. Speaking of rendering, the game looks pretty good. While the art direction is nothing to write home about ( it doesn’t have much in the way of atmosphere, sadly), on a technical level, the game looks good. If one is worried about “taking advantage of next gen potential” at least from a graphics perspective, Dead Island 2 delivers

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Braaaaaains

The gameplay is both the element that has changed the least and the strongest part of the experience. The original game’s melee focus is still very much here (although later in the game, the player does unlock the ability to use guns). And it’s much more satisfying than one might think. With an M for Mature rating, the game has a detailed gore system, driving home how much impact the player’s weapons have. A well-aimed blow can send a zombie’s jaw flying off or knock its eyeballs out. The various machetes and swords can lop off limbs and impale an enemy like a hot dog on a skewer. There are times when it almost feels as if the player’s character has been dropped into an Evil Dead movie.

The guns also have a bit more bite this time around. Despite not actually being one until the halfway point, Dead Island 2 is a decent fps. There are issues, though, as previously stated, the whole experience lacks polish. The gameplay is fun, but it’s shallow. Like so many of the vapid faux-celebs present in the story, there isn’t much beneath the surface. Guns are the only unlock that fundamentally changes the experience. There are abilities, but they don’t do much. There’s weapon customization, but it looks much cooler than it feels to use. There’s no difficulty selection either, which can be a big turnoff for some. At times the game felt like it was balanced more for co-op than a single-player experience, particularly near the end, where the player has to fend off excessive hordes of the undead. 

Glitches are minimal, but they are there — mostly graphical and audio hiccups. Considering this team developed the Homefront sequel, things could have been much worse. But the real killer, pun intended, is there’s no variety. Take any open-world games, even the simpler ones that are also built mainly around combat, and the missions vary it up a bit, but not here. Almost all of Dead Island 2’s story missions boil down to “go to place and collect three of something and fight zombies while there.” It’s fun, but unless someone is super into zombies, it might wear thin after a while.

The Graveyard

In summary, there’s plenty of stuff Dead Island 2 gets right. It’s fun slicing up and smashing zombies in the face with hammers, but there’s also a noticeable lack of refinement in most areas of the game. It’s a step up from the first one, undoubtedly, and the solid gameplay and better-than-expected writing make this an experience worth taking, eventually. For $70, that’s quite a price to ask for a “fun enough” game. So, in this case, it’s best to wait for a sale and then pick it up. However, if that’s too long, Dead Island 2 is available now for PlayStation 5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC. 

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Dead Island 2 Official Trailer 2023 Dambuster Studios

Source: Dead Talk Live

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