Dead Island 2 Review (PlayStation 5)
Gory & bloody fun
Very well produced and polished game
Very basic & quite boring script & plot
Movement doesn't seem to fit with the game style
Can feel a little repetitive at times
Feels quite "last-gen"
Nearly 10 years in the making, 3 different development studios and a 2 new generations of consoles have elapsed since Dead Island 2‘s announcement by publisher Deep Silver in 2012. It’s certainly not been the smoothest of rides for Dead Island 2 to get to launch.
Has all the waiting and development time been worth it? I’m going to give you my thoughts on that in just a moment but, first, let’s look at what Dead Island 2 is all about.
Dead Island 2’s Development History
Dead Island 2, the highly anticipated sequel to the 2011 action role-playing game Dead Island, has an intriguing development history marked by numerous setbacks, changes in developers, and delays. The game’s development journey began in 2012 when the original publisher, Deep Silver, announced plans for a sequel. The initial developer, Techland, opted to focus on their new IP, Dying Light, leaving Yager Development to take the reins in 2014.
Under Yager’s direction, the game was showcased at E3 2014, revealing a vibrant and humorous take on the zombie apocalypse, set in sunny California. However, in 2015, Deep Silver and Yager had a falling out due to creative differences, and development was handed over to Sumo Digital in 2016. Sumo Digital worked on the project for a few years, but the game still failed to materialize.
In August 2019, Dambuster Studios, a subsidiary of Deep Silver, was assigned as the final developer for Dead Island 2. With the game’s development now firmly in the hands of Dambuster Studios, the team aimed to revitalise the franchise, promising a thrilling experience for fans who eagerly awaited the sequel. Despite the tumultuous development process, Dead Island 2 managed to survive and evolve, ultimately being released in April 2023.
Introducing Dead Island 2
Dead Island 2, set in sunny California, offers players a thrilling action-packed experience amidst a zombie apocalypse. In this sequel, a mysterious virus outbreak has transformed the Golden State into a deadly paradise teeming with undead creatures. The game follows a group of diverse survivors, each with their unique skills and personalities, as they band together to face the hordes of ravenous zombies.
Players must navigate through iconic Californian locations, from sun-soaked beaches to famous landmarks, while completing missions, crafting weapons, and engaging in intense combat. Dead Island 2‘s blend of survival horror, immersive storytelling, and cooperative multiplayer gameplay promises a gripping and unforgettable adventure in a world overrun by the undead.
Dead Island 2 delivers an immersive, expansive experience, allowing players to explore various Californian locales while fighting for survival. The game incorporates RPG elements, enabling character development and customization to suit individual playstyles. Players can also team up with friends in a cooperative multiplayer mode, adding a social aspect to the brutal zombie-infested environment. With its engaging narrative, vibrant visuals, and a dynamic day-night cycle, Dead Island 2 breathes new life into the franchise, creating a captivating and adrenaline-pumping journey through a once-idyllic paradise now ravaged by the undead menace.
But, is it any good? Let’s dive in.
The Plot & Script
Dead Island 2‘s plot is a simple one. Virus, zombies, someone’s the cure, get to safety, make a vaccine, save the world. It’s a well-known zombie apocalypse plot that’s been told a thousand times before. Straight off, you can tell there’s not much more to Dead Island 2‘s story than my single-line summary. That said, I wasn’t expecting or wanting a complex and convoluted story. You read the synopsis and previews about Dead Island 2 I’m looking at this game as a simple, mindless, fun game that’s brutally gruesome and grotesque. Bear this in mind as you read on.
As for the script, it’s as simple as the plot. And this is a negative. It tries to be funny much like Deep Silver’s Saints Row but unfortunately, unlike Saints Row, it simply falls flat on its face. It’s just too simple, too basic and really boring. So, okay, the script’s not going to add to the enjoyment of the game. I’ll skip through the cut scenes as quickly as I can and get on with the job of hacking and slashing zombies.
It’s been said that Dead Island 2‘s script is representative of something more cultural or political in the real world. The materialistic and transient nature of Hollywood… or something. For me, it’s just bland.
Dead Island 2 Gameplay
There’s a lot to go over with Dead Island 2‘s gameplay so I’m going to break it down into the major elements that I would like to share my opinion on. If all you’re interested in is if it’s a good zombie slasher, then skip past the movement and graphics sections to the Combat System review.
First off, here’s what I was expecting from the gameplay. I was expecting a light, nimble, fluid and flowing hack-and-slash style of combat. And, depending on the weapon, different weapon mechanics. I think my expectations were reasonable, right?
If you’re like me, then you’ll find Dead Island 2 very alien and weird…and counterintuitive. It doesn’t flow at all well and comes across as really laboured. Not clunky, and there’s nothing glitchy or wrong, it’s just how the game is.
It took me an age to get the camera settings in a window where it vaguely feels agile. Out of the box, moving feels like trying to turn through treacle. If you increase the camera sensitivity and it’s way too snappy. Reduce ramp-up time in the settings and it’s out of control. It almost feels like the controller lags between starting and stopping input – release the right thumbstick and for a fraction of a second you keep turning in the direction you were going. It doesn’t make the game unplayable but it is counterintuitive and slows the whole game down.
I’m playing along and all I get is the sense that the movement conflicts with the fabric of Dead Island 2. It’s slow and laboured when the game feels like it wants to be snappy and free-flowing. In Dead Island 2, there’s a slow-mo element which gives a kind of live-action replay when you do something “special”. All this does, though, is compound the laboured sense of movement and combat and really stands out as a really contradictory feature.
I want to stress, this doesn’t make the gameplay bad, or even unenjoyable, but it requires a change in approach. Once you set aside the desire to choreograph your attacks in sweeping, flowing assaults and get to grips with how Dead Island 2 plays, it’s a perfectly enjoyable and slick experience.
I have been playing Dead Island 2 on PlayStation 5 and it looks good. The colour palette is vibrant and bold during the day and at night, flickering flames cast shards of light and reflections that are very well executed, if not lacking in atmospherics. That is the one thing about Dead Island 2‘s graphics and environment in general – it’s not a game that’s trying to create a particular environment of fear, shock, horror or such like. It just looks clean and crisp.
Dead Island 2 runs very smoothly, with zero glitches or bugs in terms of graphics or audio. It’s very smooth and stutter-free. But, it does look more like a PlayStation 4 game rather than a PlayStation 5 title – which is not unsurprising as it was released on PS4, after all! It’s not surprising really – considering it was put into development before the PS4 was even released. It’s those little telltale signs that we all know. During cutscenes, facial expressions and movements are more token gestures and visual prompts for which character is doing the talking!
As I touched on, fire and explosion effects do look immense. It’s really, really enjoyable watching things blow up and all the pyrotechnics that come with it. Makes you yearn for more explodable environmental elements – and bits that burn, for that matter. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had from watching a small cluster of zombies go up in smoke.
A lot has been made of the immersion and fidelity of the game world. It’s good, but it’s certainly not unique and there’s a level of repetitiveness to it. Everything looks great, runs great and is very well produced but it’s certainly no CyberPunk 2077 when it comes to level of detail and you’re not going to load it up and be wowed.
Dead Island 2 Combat System
Let’s get to the crux of the game and talk about that. I’ve gone over some elements that I think you should know about before buying Dead Island 2, but now we can look at what this game is all about. The actual reason for buying it…zombie killing!
Once you get used to the movement, have fine-tuned the camera settings and got used to the pace of play, Dead Island 2 is great fun. At first, you think it’s a little tedious and basic and at major risk of becoming boring and repetitive. But, if you look, you find a game with a hidden gem of a combat system. It just takes some time to get to grips with and, before learning it, realising it’s even there to be learnt.
Different weapons have different effective areas on a zombie. For example, a pike under the chin does damage going in and then again when it’s pulled out – creating a 1-hit kill weapon. Blades/swords can amputate limbs, slowing and immobilising zombies.
Factor this into zombie resistance to particular weapon modifications – be it electrical or fire etc – and you get this web of different weapons for different scenarios. It all sounds quite simple but this is where the dynamism and depth to the game comes from. You need to have a well-rounded arsenal for all occasions.
Once you’ve got the weapon wheel dialled in, then you can start to think about how to use the environment to your advantage. Do you want to burn, electrocute or dissolve the horde? Your curveballs – a secondary weapon set that gives you things like chub to attract and lure zombies – come in handy to execute your well-laid-out plan for destroying multiple zombies in one hit.
It is very, very satisfying watching zombie after zombie falls foul of your master plan. But, in an ironic twist, this is where the game is suddenly too quick. I would like to see a greater number of zombies moving more slowly at times – a huge herd of them where you can properly plan and set up an ambush that, once triggered, takes out vast swathes of them in one hit. It’s a minor grievance but the general pace of the playthrough is affected by it.
I have really struggled with this Dead Island 2 review. Is it a good game? Is it a great game? Is it a terrible game? Have I enjoyed it? Does it entertain me? Am I captivated like I am in Hogwarts Legacy?
I think I’ve decided that it’s a good game, a very polished and well-produced game but it’s by no means a great game. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I just can’t get over how it plays. There are elements that I feel should be quicker in how they play and elements I feel should be slower and grow more to a crescendo.
It’s one of those titles that you play through because it’s good and then forget about it. That’s by no means a bad thing – games are there for entertainment purposes after all. But, it’s not a title that you’ll pick up in a year’s time and think to yourself, “I’ll play through this again”.
I feel that Dead Island 2 has been compromised by its difficult and protracted development. If it had been released when it should, in the first half of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 lifetime, and with just the one studio building it, then I think it would have been a really, really great game. I can’t help but feel there’s been more than one creative direction influencing development and that’s where these conflicting elements come from.
My hope is that the next one has already been green-lit and Dead Island 3 gets a clear run at being a great game. Based on how Dead Island 2 shot to number 1 in the UK sales charts, I think we can be fairly confident of seeing Dead Island 3 in the next few years!