When cut together well, gameplay-heavy trailers can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to building up hype for a release. When it comes to Dead Island 2 the situation is a little different, in that the original game came out during the Xbox 360 era and the sequel was announced not that long after that. That means hype and awareness for this one has been bubbling up and then receding for several years. The game has also played developer shuffle, with multiple studios having a crack, so there’s that added layer of uncertainty.
Anyway, that pretty much evaporated once we saw, in person, what Deep Silver Dambuster Studios has been cooking up. Located in the UK, the studio took over Dead Island 2 development duties back in 2018 following on from its debut - Homefront: The Revolution. As per our interview with the team
(which we recorded after going hands-on), it was a “start from scratch” situation. Outside of the Los Angeles setting - which has the great tagline ‘Welcome to Hel-LA’ - Dead Island 2 development really kicked in when they came aboard. With one of the main goals being to deliver something truly special in the melee combat department.
Back to the whole gameplay trailer talk for a minute. Ahead of going hands-on with a slice of Dead Island 2, we had the chance to see the new-look Dead Island 2 in trailer form. From the detail found in characters both undead and not-dead, to the environments, lighting, and animation, there was a level of polish that was immediately noticeable and undeniable. It looks damn impressive. And uncharacteristic of a game that has seemingly been in development purgatory for years. That was the baseline, which was only reinforced and built on when playing through a mission that took place at an abandoned carnival on Venice Beach. And yeah, it’s as creepy as it sounds.
From the detail found in characters both undead and not-dead, to the environments, lighting, and animation, there was a level of polish that was immediately noticeable and undeniable. It looks damn impressive.
That said, the demo started us off with quite the arsenal. Equipping a large two-handed mallet, charging up a heavy attack, targetting a zombie’s head, and then watching as it made contact, crushed its neck, and then slammed the undead attacker into the ground in one single motion was one of those take-a-step-back moments. Gruesome, disturbing, but satisfying in a way that very few games manage to pull off. The best part was it wasn’t a scripted animation because trying to do the exact same thing to the next zombie ended up with a shoulder getting mangled because the impact angle was off. Equally gruesome, and over-the-top.
Like the original game, Dead Island 2 is an action RPG, so weapons come in a range of RPG rarity colours - and cover everything from ranged rifles to axes and swords. Damage numbers are displayed, so there’s a level of gear-based power that factors in long before you get the hang of dodging and trying to weave and cut your way through a group of zombies. It’s a heady mix to be sure, but the fact that the combat is so impactful and to borrow a term from the team “eviscerating”, it starts to feel a little next-level in terms of immersion.
Plus, it was challenging, with those classic moments of feeling overwhelmed and done for - only to scrape through with your weapon and clothing covered in the red stuff. That said, we did die when going up against the boss zombie, a messed-up nightmarish clown.
Although it leans into pulp action and over-the-top gore versus outright grim-dark horror, the lighting and overall visual fidelity add to the tension and creepiness of a post-apocalyptic setting. The environments all look wonderful and are chock full of detail. The stars of the show though are the zombies, and outside of different zombie types (like gassy poison ones and large hulking brutes) the detail in their decaying features, clothing, and movement is impressive. For a game like this to succeed you need that sense of threat just by looking at a foe, and Dead Island 2’s zombies are some of the best-looking we’ve seen in a game to date.
Equipping a large two-handed mallet, charging up a heavy attack, targetting a zombie’s head, and then watching as it made contact, crushed its neck, and then slammed the undead attacker into the ground in one single motion was one of those take-a-step-back moments.
Of course, demos only present part of the overall picture. Ahead of the release, a vertical slice might just be the one part of the game that’s finished and there’s only a handful of months left to bring everything else up to that level. From that perspective, the linear level design and sequence of scripted action sequences presented a slick and seamless cinematic foundation for the action and looting. Where the action definitely stole the show.
Dead Island 2’s melee-driven combat is built on a procedural system that results in weapon contact feeling weighty, chunky, and impactful in all the right ways. And for that, we can’t wait to play more. Especially when you factor in that it will support three-player co-op, multiple playable characters, skills and abilities to help shape a build, and a wonderfully detailed undead-infested LA to explore.
Dead Island 2 is currently on track for a February 2023 release on PC and consoles.