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Dead Island 2 review: gore, what is it good for?

Dead Island 2 review: gore, what is it good for?

Afterlife of the party

Dead Island 2 is a game that knows exactly what it wants to be, and by god does it refuse to be anything else for the vast majority of its 20-hour adventure. This is both its biggest strength and greatest weakness; while the grisly zombie hack ‘em up has plenty of fun moments and inventive set pieces to offer, there aren’t really enough new ideas to help the sequel stand apart from its predecessor.

The story of Dead Island 2’s development is a long and troubled one. The follow-up to Techland’s 2011 undead smasher has been stuck in limbo for over a decade, and has been passed around more developers than a bong at a frat party. Dambuster Studios is the fourth developer to have taken over the project, but you can’t fault them for finally releasing a game that is, for better or worse, exactly the sequel you expected.

This new adventure takes place in Los Angeles, a location ‘well actually’ people around the world will trip over themselves to inform you isn’t actually an island. Still, Dambuster uses L.A. to great effect, showing us exactly how well the kind of people who have luxury homes in Bel Air would fare in a zombie apocalypse. Spoiler: not very well.

Dead Island 2 /
Deep Silver, Dambuster Studios

There’s a lot of fun to be had in picking through the mansions of various millionaires and famous (fictional) actors, with plenty of fun gags and secrets sprinkled throughout. One of my favourite moments came as I crept through the shared home of a team of influencers, a rotting corpse chomping away on a victim mere inches from a blood-stained whiteboard with an ‘apology’ to followers scrawled on it.

Nuance, as you might expect, is not Dead Island 2’s forte. But at no point does it pretend to be anything other than what it is: a schlocky, B-movie inspired gorefest with plenty of bad jokes and the kind of dialogue that Twitter will wet its pants complaining about. It has a clear sense of identity from start to finish, which is far more than one can say about the overly ambitious and tonally jarring Dying Light 2.

I certainly wasn’t expecting to be able to parkour across rooftops and dart through buildings filled with zombies Dying Light 2-style in Dead Island 2, but the way you actually explore the world falls flat. Outside of some of the previously mentioned well-designed interior levels, you essentially spend your time running up and down the same few streets and areas, with fast travel points connecting the various locations that prevent the world from ever developing a sense of true cohesion. There are secrets to find and open-world nonsense to engage with, but I never felt compelled to explore beyond the critical path.

Dead Island 2 /
Deep Silver, Dambuster Studios

This, in a nutshell, is Dead Island 2’s biggest problem: it’s just not that interesting. Being able to hack up zombies with a range of improvised weapons is brilliant fun, don’t get me wrong. There are tons of katanas, hammers, axes, golf clubs (sorry Joel), pool cues, and more - and each can be upgraded and modded to cause status effects like shock, bleed, and poison. Throw into the mix extra skills and weapons like drop kicks, shurikens, and pipe bombs, and there are plenty of fun options for cadaver disposal. The way zombies react to each unique weapon is also gloriously brutal. The gore is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game, and slicing off limbs and crushing heads is incredibly satisfying. But after a couple of hours, you start to realise that really is all Dead Island 2 has to offer. You run to a location, clear out a bunch of zombies, then repeat ad nauseum.

Dambuster makes some admirable attempts at keeping encounters fresh. There are multiple zombie types, for one thing. There are your standard shambling monsters, beasties that will sprint towards you as soon as they see you, and hulking terrors that soak up damage and beat you senseless if you’re not quick enough. There are also a few fun additions, like soldier zombies who have grenades strapped to their chests. Damage these guys enough and you can kick ‘em into a crowd and watch them blow up in a shower of viscera.

Dead Island 2 is at its best when it’s really encouraging you to use the environment to your advantage. You can soak zombies with water to electrify them, or douse them in petrol and set them ablaze. If you’re sneaky enough, you can lure zombies into pools or right next to giant propane tanks and watch the fireworks. Get enough of them in a group, however, and it always ends the same. Keep on swingin’ till the body parts are on the floor. Even the boss battles do little to change things up; they’re essentially nothing more than slightly different zombies with even more health to chip away at.

Dead Island 2 key artwork /
Deep Silver, Dambuster Studios

Dead Island 2 is a really solid game with some impressive gore, fun jokes, and sickeningly crunchy combat. It’s exactly the game many of you will have been waiting for, and is quite clearly one of the most technically impressive zombie killing romps on the market. But where the likes of Dying Light offers slick parkour and Resident Evil gives us smart survival horror gameplay, Dead Island 2 has nothing of substance to balance out the endless waves of flesh munchers. It’ll undoubtedly satisfy your bloodlust, but it won’t be long before you’re craving something a bit meatier.

Pros: Slicing up zombies is great fun, some cool environments

Cons: Very little substance, dull open world, killing zombies gets old fast

For fans of: Dying Light, Dead Island

6/10: Good

Dead Island 2 releases for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (version tested), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC on 21 April. Review code provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Deep Silver

Topics: Dead Island 2, Techland