Dead Island 2

Dead Island 2

After an unreasonably long wait and a definition of development hell, it's finally time to play Dead Island 2, has it been worth the wait?

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After a very intense intro, I find myself on an aeroplane heading for safety together with a very diverse group of personalities. The zombie apocalypse has hit Los Angeles, which here is often referred to as Hell-A instead of classic LA. I choose to play as the male stripper Ryan, who in the game is described as a tank character, well aware that the flight will not be as calm as it may seem at the time.

As I wrote in my preview, it would have been something of an anti-climax if the game, after an almost unprecedented development hell, only consisted of an intro that took me to safety and then the adventure was over. The aeroplane barely has time to get air under its wings before it crashes. Fortunately, Ryan survives and meets up with a surviving LA celebrity in Bel-Air - where the adventure begins.


By looking at it, you really can't tell how hard the developers have worked on the game, which has been bounced around between studios like a basketball. It's really Dead Island, a game I played quite a bit when it first came out, and a lot is immediately recognisable. We have the vacation paradise invaded by undead monsters, we have the gameplay setup where I collect all sorts of tools to use as weapons, skills that can be unlocked, equipment upgrades, rage mode that can be activated, and a world of survivors that need your help.

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Early on, Ryan appears to be immune to zombie bites, leading him to believe he can help create a vaccine, which in turn starts a journey through countless iconic Los Angeles landmarks. Furthermore, I think Los Angeles, especially during the day, is incredibly well depicted and I have often found myself wanting to book another LA trip after crushing zombie skeletons along palm tree-lined boulevards in the blazing sunshine.

But, from the very first moment, something is bothering me. And that is that I find it hard to shake the fact that Dead Island 2 feels a bit old and is better suited to a PC with a mouse and keyboard than a regular controller. The former problem is bigger and is due to several different things, but one of the most serious is that the developers don't offer any good gameplay variety. You'll have to search for countless minimal items to get ahead with a controller that feels a little too stiff.

These types of missions feel very outdated and the puzzles usually consist of clicking on something and finding out what you need (a battery, a water can, a key and so on) and then you have to find it and move on. Occasionally, however, there will be more tricky challenges, such as using water to conduct electricity to something. You're given walkthroughs of all this stuff though, so it never really gets too tricky. While you're searching, there are regular zombies that you have to deal with, and hopefully you'll also find a lot of materials along the way that you can later use to either repair and/or upgrade your tools. However, I'm not at all sold on the concept of having multiple items in each room to pick up. Collecting raw materials isn't that much fun, and the variety of them is poor. Without the precision of the mouse, I often fail to pick up the scrap metal or electronics junk I so desperately want, causing me to stop and ruining the game's sense of pace and rhythm.

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Fortunately, the battles are all the more entertaining. The game is full of different kinds of enemies, and it's important to have the right equipment and skills. The developers have bragged a lot about how you can literally destroy the enemies, which actually works almost shockingly well. Early on in the adventure, I regularly chose to chop off my opponents' legs so they would come crawling after me with bones sticking out of their stumps instead of quickly attacking and running as a group. This feature remains clever throughout the game (it's never boring to almost completely sever a jaw so it hangs from a meaty zombie face), although it becomes a bit more of a gimmick on more difficult enemies whose body parts I can't cut off as easily.

In the battles there is also a parrying system that gives you the chance to quickly counter enemy attacks. However, it does not feel completely watertight as the game system is a bit too clumsy to be used with the precision I am used to as a fighting game player. Often there are also traps to use for spectacular deaths, such as pouring water near loose power lines or using gasoline to turn zombies into walking bonfires. None of this feels particularly unique or for that matter extraordinarily good, but it still works more than well and feels entertaining. The exceptions are the more anonymous boss fights, where the developers have created obvious traps you can use for easier victories.

The concept of weapons being worn down by combat is something I often find destroys more than it adds. I understand that the developers want to create an extra challenge and extend the game time by having to continuously search for materials for repair, but having a massive crowbar become useless after crushing some half-dissolved zombie skulls just feels silly. In addition, you get so much material that you will never have to throw away your favourite stuff, which can also be repaired an infinite number of times. This makes the wear and tear mostly an annoyance. However, upgrading the weapons at the workbenches you find is easy and fun. Being able to give your golf club fire properties is strangely satisfying.

The replacement of the level tree with a Skill Deck is also appreciated, and is a very flexible system that allows you to choose which abilities you want activated at any given time. As you play, you can have more and more at the same time, and of course also get a larger selection of different cards. I myself invested heavily in the crowd control feature, which often felt useful.

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Dead Island 2 offers a believable world that has been left behind in a hurry. Everywhere there are traces of people living their normal lives before the zombie apocalypse hit. It is exciting to go through people's homes and in many cases be able to guess what happened. Several objects can be picked up and contribute to a larger story. There are also some fine examples of social criticism that I think you will have to discover for yourself.

The survivors I encounter often give me side missions with varying rewards. I have done several of these, but there are few I would call good, or even memorable. They often involve going to a location and then killing a bunch of zombies, sometimes with a twist such as killing them with fire or throwing them off a high ledge. The characters who give the missions are rarely well acted and have almost provocatively flat personalities, like the influencer you meet early on who wants to record content of you killing zombies. Much more could have been done here.


Overall, Dead Island 2 is an entertaining adventure, especially if you have someone to play co-op with. It's meaty, it's long, and at times it's really neat. A sort of odd and digital Los Angeles vacation, if you will. But it's also so faithful to the original that it's almost completely void of surprises and feels structurally old. Fortunately, the original was a very good game, and so is this, though not quite on the same level.

07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
Wonderful LA interpretation. Fun upgrade system. Intense battles. Co-op support. Varied playable characters. Great graphics.
Boring side missions. Too much resource gathering. Feels stale.
overall score
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REVIEW. Written by Jonas Mäki

After an unreasonably long wait and a definition of development hell, it's finally time to play Dead Island 2, has it been worth the wait?

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