One Hell-A Experience | Dead Island 2 Review

Despite the long wait, Dead Island 2 manages to deliver a fun—albeit short—experience that will keep you coming back for more zombie killing.

Most games game stuck in development Hell this long ends up…well…. Like Duke Nukem: Forever: disappointing and stuck in time. Luckily Dead Island 2 breaks with the norm and delivered a kick ass experience!

Upon opening Dead Island 2 you are met with the astonishing level of pride put in the detailed work done in the game. A short clip plays to a song that shows details for models in slow mo for everything from characters, to world objects, and it looks friggin beautiful. It’s just a clip though. It is probably some premade render showcase and none of this translates to the game? Nope!

Dead Island 2 
Developed By: Dambuster Studios
Platforms: PlayStation | Xbox | PC (Epic)
Genre: First Person | Zombie
Release Date: April 22nd, 2023

The best thing about Dead Island 2 is it looks absolutely incredible! Every little thing has so much detail placed in it. Every character and zombie has precise details all throughout them, every swing of the bat, blood, gore, all of it is so pristine I was impressed with it right down to the last minute of the game. I honestly can’t express enough how well done the details of this game is, but let’s try.

Characters all have extremely well done facial features, body design, and even dynamic hair styles. One character has a half burned face and you can see where his facial hair ends, with skin burnt and crinkled on the other. One of my favorite things is the game lets you pick a character to run through the story with and I’ve already done so with multiple characters. Each one is fully voiced and extremely dynamic to their type of character. Based on how they say things and act emotionally to each situation also helps the story itself feel slightly different. I personally preferred using Carla because she felt awesome, but it was also like she was learning about mischievous things a little differently and she needed that “okay” to go be a badass.

Zombies. Can we talk about zombies? These monsters could be missing teeth, you can watch as your weapons tear skin off, pop out eyeballs, and they all react to your hits extremely well. Chop off a leg, they start limping, or attempt to walk and fall over. But later in the game different variants appear and even these are animated and detailed to perfection to make them seem even more gruesome.

All this is heightened due to the games FLESH engine which allows you to splatter zombie brains everywhere you go. It never gets old. Swinging away at zombies you can watch limbs come off, heads go flying, and pieces of them go all over the place. The most satisfying thing is simply watching them explode in different ways. Throw a bomb at their feet and watch body parts fly through the air, or take a shotgun to their face and watch them become a walking torso. The very first time I punched a zombie and my hand went through their face I was honestly thinking “holy f–k that was insane!” In small corridors you can see blood splatter all over everything, and random missing limbs stay where they land.

It’s also neat that zombies don’t just appear. Every zombie creatively comes from somewhere, whether crawling out of the sand on the beach, vents in a house, or behind objects. It gives you a slight edge to get a headstart on them, but it also makes you aware of your surroundings so every creek and noise sets you off.

One of the cooler things was hitting zombies with blunt weapons and they dynamically rag-dolled in the environment. So they could fall into pools, then you could go throw a battery in the pool and watch them all electrocute. In a more confined space with breakable objects it was neat to hit them and have them destroy shelves of things, then creep up from the debris. Even shooting zombies was thrilling as they would react to where you hit them.

This is where things get a little odd for me. The world itself has this same level of detail and breaking the game down into 10 open world-ish zones was absolutely the right call. I prefer this approach vs spending minutes on end traveling across large maps, but it also lets them detail literally everything you come across. Houses all have numbers and a purpose, and stepping inside them is all unique to characters. Trees, sidewalk, piers, it all is absolutely beautifully done.

My favorite thing is the pier with moving rides and you can hear the creek of the wood below you as a ride swings back and forth, which creates an eerie feeling when things get quiet. Every inch of every area felt like detail was put in to make it all unique, I never came across an area that just had copy paste artifacts to fill space. I wanted to see more, so I explored it all.

That being said, this is a “look, but don’t touch” kind of background. Everything is done well and leads to a great gameplay experience, but nothing can be touched or moved. I would have loved to send zombies through tables, or wooden walls. I would have loved to shoot through things, or see environment things move more dynamically than they did, but everything is pretty well set. One of the more odd things is that you can break windows, but not “that” window.

If you were near a safe zone, or an out of bounds area, nothing was breakable and it pulls you out of the moment because something isn’t working the same. Or the fact you could break random wood crates throughout the world, but a wooden table would stand strong in a dining room. There was no real “rule” to the destruction of the environment, and it would have been neat if that FLESH engine translated to some in-world destruction too.

However, as I mentioned, the detailed environment leads to a better gaming experience. There are side quests and such that will mention something like “House 142” and you can literally go to the address it mentioned to find clues. This detail goes right down to mentioning things like crate numbers, colors, or details in the world. It was neat to be in the game and a quest would mention an object or marker of sorts and thinking “wait, I saw that somewhere!”

The breakdown of zones also means everything is mostly contained in those zones. You can do a majority of the side quests in the zone, then move on. Sometimes you might need to travel to multiple zones, but at least you can just fast travel. I much prefer this over a big open map that constantly makes you traverse back and forth for lame fetch quests. A lot of the quests got repetitive in terms of objective, to a point where the main character starts making fun of it, but it was also allowing me to open up new areas and explore more lore so I didn’t mind it as much.

Diving into gameplay this is where my first issue is.

Dead Island 2 is short. Like, super short. I was intentionally trying to explore the world and do side quests and still ended up finishing the main story a bit too fast. For comparison, I’ve spent about 100 hours in Dying Light 2. Roughly 15 hours into Dead Island 2, however, I was watching the credits and I had about 80 percent of the side quests done. A majority of the missions consist of “get to point A, clear out the zombies,” which is super easy to accomplish with a partner.

My time was only further extended because I wanted to open lockers and spent countless hours attempting to get some challenges to work that never did. I explored so much that I could play this game blindfolded and I legit feel like there is absolutely nothing left for me to do at all, but I want there to be more is what sucks. I would say I only have maybe 10 or so collectables left to find in the world, and it took me about 25 hours, 30 hours at best, to open all the weapon crates, open all lockboxes, and do all side quests.

There’s no real “end game” and once you complete the quests there’s really nothing else to do besides basically replay the game with a new Slayer. The most disappointing aspect of the game is it totally leaves you on a cliffhanger where the DLC is most likely going to pick up. It just seems kind of lame that we waited all this time for Dead Island 2 and don’t even get a complete story without the DLC.

I’ll start there with gameplay.

Dead Island 2 is a well polished game with some slightly outdated mechanics. I didn’t come across anything game breaking at all. I played the game fully in both Co–Op and Single Player, I never ran into anything that halted my progress or forced me to restart. But I did have some minor issues that are more so tied to completionist players. It seems with the day 1 patch these issues were corrected which prevented me from having 100% completion. The only major issue I had was playing Co-op and if a player were to go down near certain objects, they would clip through it and not be revivable. It’s not a huge deal because the player could eventually respawn, but it could get frustrating to some.

Other things were not so much issues as it were the game simply showing its age in development. Shooting guns and swinging weapons is super fun, until you attempt to aim. The aiming mechanics feel like a straight rip from Dead Island 1, two generations ago. It has a lot of dead zone and odd aim assistance, and no matter how much I tweaked it I couldn’t get it right.

The game is also a loot driven experience…but the loot honestly sucks. You get some unique weapons as you progress, but nothing too insane like previous games. Plus the loot isn’t varied too much, with not many options to choose from. I got basically the same weapons on repeat, but a slightly leveled up version each time. I scavenged the game for hours after completing it a second time to try and find a legendary, I opened every locker and weapon crate there was, and did every side quest, but nothing truly great ever dropped and not a single legendary was ever organically found. Like I said, the end game is kinda dull, so while you need to extract body parts from zombies to modify weapons, there’s no real purpose to doing so when there’s no reason to keep exploring.

The game seems to simply just progress with the player. The further along you get, the better your weapons get, and your weapon wheel rotates accordingly. There isn’t a “find this secret spot for a super cool weapon” anywhere that I explored. In fact all the “good” weapons came from specific quests, and replaying the game with a friend starting over leads to all your weapon crates and lockboxes already being open so you won’t get different loot, and completing these missions again offers no reward.

The game also has a weapon degradation mechanic, which I wish all games would remove to be honest. The developers note it’s to help influence variety in weapon usage, but by mid game you already got your playstyle set and you just want to run with it. Luckily you can just go to a workbench and repair your weapons, but they break so frequently it means you are basically stuck roaming about with a full backpack because you need to carry 2 or 3 weapons at minimum to get through hordes of zombies.

Even the Legendary items I gathered were breaking rather easily. Early on in the game this was a bothersome mechanic because repairing my weapons constantly meant I had no money to upgrade any of my items, or buy new weapons. Later in the game it just became a nuisance to find a workbench constantly so I could keep exploring. This is where more depth could be used to allow players to have bigger backpacks, or some type of perk to “refresh” weapons on the fly.

Co-Op is where the fun is at.

Any game that lets me play the full campaign with Co-Op gets bonus points in my book. After the initial mission, about 15-20 minutes in the game, you unlock Co-Op and can play the entire rest of the game with someone. The game doesn’t seem to scale to players though, and loot is protected to the player so you don’t have to worry about other players stealing all the good stuff. Co-op to me worked really well with quick drop-in, drop-out, but my major complaint is the game silently alters the overall game.

If you play the game alone the gameplay is super swift, really no issues at all. Once you are in co-op, a lot of the fluent gameplay starts to stutter. There is no more slow-mo zombie killing, so actions are faster and it’s harder to link together multiple shots. The frame rate becomes noticeably degraded, and zombies don’t react as well to your hits. It’s honestly like a night and day difference.

One minor gripe about Co-Op is that it’s almost like your partner doesn’t exist. I expected some back and forth between the unique characters, or for them to intertwine with each other in the story segments, but that never happens.

Dead Island 2 doesn’t attempt to change the bar, it just does the basics really well.

Everything Dead Island 2 does (besides aiming), it does a mile better than the game next to it, but with that level of detail and focus it fails to expand beyond the basics. There are a few enemies, all zombies you expect from a zombie game such as a bloater, screamer, etc…. But it never expands past this. There are bosses with names, but these bosses are just tougher versions of zombies we already have. There’s no mix between two variations, or more creative versions. The story is very basic in terms of a zombie apocalypse, and it never tries to make you think about the next move. The story it does provide offers a really fun comedic run, with really interesting characters. Nothing is outside the box, but nothing is bad.

My biggest compliment comes in the terms of side quests. I felt these were actually stronger than the core game. In several instances you got to see dual sides to both the characters you were saving, and the character you were playing. I felt a lot more emotions during these side quests than I did during the main story, especially a side quest involving an internet streamer. The twists and emotions I felt during these missions were a lot stronger than the core missions.

Like I mentioned earlier, the biggest complaint I have about this game is that it slowly expands and starts to get really good near the end, then it’s cut off. It feels like all the bonus content (better weapons, loot, zombies), the climax of the story, and Legendary endgame are all going to be behind an additional DLC paywall. It’s hard to see this game lasting with such little content since most players are going to be done in a week and probably not log back in until more content is released. Hopefully future content can think of more creative missions, instead of duplicating the same template over and over with fetch and clear the zone quests. This is an issue the studio had with their previous game too. But overall I had completed all side quests within the first 20 or so hours of the game, the rest of the content just boils down to finding random collectables in the world.

One other minor gripe I had about the game is is that when traveling between areas you can choose night or day to do so, but I found no purpose in doing this. Besides some areas looking visually better at night (like the pier) there was no reason to pick one or the other besides some minor changes like a random door opening, which just lengthens the game forcing you to explore night and day to find minor changes. It’s pretty expected in zombie games that if you want to travel at night you would be met with stronger enemies, bigger groups of enemies, or some type of difficulty spike, but also get rewarded with better loot. Dead Island 2 does none of that, traversing at night is exactly the same as during the day.

So while Dead Island 2 does show the strengths of a detail oriented team, it does also show the signs of times. It’s pretty clear at certain points that this is a game missing some modern features such as overall loot content, enemy variation, and crossplay. It’s also clear this game isn’t entirely finished and needs an expansion pass to not leave you on a cliffhanger, even though it’s been in development for who knows how long now. But these are only minor gripes, it was a fun overall experience, I just wish it was a bit longer with a little more depth.

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one-hell-a-experience-dead-island-2-reviewOverall Dead Island 2 is a Hell-A experience with an insane level of detail that throws zombie guts in your face. Blasting zombies with the FLESH engine is so satisfying, and the breakdown of 10 open areas is a welcome change to cookie cutter open world titles. Dead Island 2 stuck to the basics and with an incredible amount of detail, but it fails to raise the bar and is missing some key basics you expect from modern games. That being said it’s a substantial entry in the series and if that level of detail could be expanded upon we could get some really great DLC in the future.