Like many of you reading this, I have killed A TON of zombies in my life as a gamer (or lack thereof). Whether in the halls of the Raccoon City Police Department in Resident Evil 2, past Call of Duty co-op marathons with my sister, or one of the many undead-related gaming experiences (such as 2011’s Dead Island) that I have come to cherish through the years, I’m basically the Yo-Yo Ma of zombie murder at this point. So when the long-rumored Dead Island sequel finally arrived, I sorted through my weapons of zombie destruction (AKA my controllers) and charted a course for the post-apocalyptic hellscape of Dead Island 2, set to release for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox and Xbox Series X|S on April 21, 2023.
Following multiple playthroughs of Dead Island 2, where I completed a blood-soaked journey through every story mission, side quest, and earned every PlayStation 5 trophy, a variety of adjectives come to mind when examining the game through a critical lens. However, even more interesting than the descriptors that I would use to discuss Dead Island 2 are the words that I would avoid mentioning. Terms like “innovation” and “originality” unfortunately do not apply to the long-awaited Dead Island sequel, which is largely a retread of its long lineage of zombie game ancestors.
Escape From HELL-A
Dead Island 2 centers around a motley crew of Californians attempting to escape from a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in the midst a zombie outbreak. The roster consists of six multicultural, playable “Slayers,” originating from a variety of backgrounds, but united in their immunity to the zombie virus and common goal of helping their allies to find a way out of the cleverly named “Hell-A.”
The main protagonists are Amy, a Paralympic runner, Bruno, a street hustler, Carla, a stuntwoman, Dani, a roller-derby star, Ryan, a male stripper/fake firefighter, and Jacob, the cover model and unofficial mascot of Dead Island 2. The gameplay loop of Dead Island 2 involves navigating through various zombified Californian locations, battling the undead (solo or cooperatively with up to two other players), solving mini-puzzles, repairing/upgrading weapons, and finding increasingly improved loot on the way to finishing the quick 24-mission story.
Related: All Confirmed Playable Characters in Dead Island 2
Dead Island 2 has numerous imperfections, but delivers on its core promise of visceral, zombie-killing gameplay, as the sequel features cooperative, melee-oriented combat (with a dash of gunplay) against the undead masses, set to the backdrop of gorgeous Californian scenery. The series’ tried and true formula is on full display, as despite its repetitiveness, there is something undeniably addictive about battling mobs of the living dead in (semi) open world Los Angeles. I found myself scouring every inch of the dead-infested Hell-A, seeking out every quest, safe, fuse door, and legendary weapon I could possibly discover.
When it comes to genre classification, Dead Island 2 is difficult to define, serving as somewhat of a “jack of all trades,” integrating survival horror, role-playing elements, and first-person shooting into its zombie killing recipe. The problem with the game’s insistence on being a “jack of all trades,” is that, as the saying goes, it is also a “master of none.”
“Dead Island 2 is a survival horror game for people who don’t like survival horror, an RPG for people who don’t like RPGs, and an FPS for people who don’t like first-person shooters.”
There is a memorable quote from the television show The Office critiquing The Black Eyed Peas’ music, in which James Spader’s Robert California says, “It’s rock and roll for people who don’t like rock and roll, it’s rap for people who don’t like rap, it’s pop for people who don’t like pop.” While I mean no disrespect to Fergie, will.i.am, or the rest of the Peas, to borrow and rephrase the quote for this review, Dead Island 2 is a survival horror game for people who don’t like survival horror, an RPG for people who don’t like RPGs, and an FPS for people who don’t like first-person shooters.
The sequel fails to capitalize on the hallmark elements that make survival horror games, RPGs, or first-person shooters beloved genres, opting for a bastardized hodgepodge instead. Arguably the most glaring flaw is the game’s lack of a cogent, unique identity, as there is no singular element that separates Dead Island 2 from the trudging horde of previous zombie games.
Dawn of the Dead Island
Even though the overarching gameplay experience feels like an off-brand copy of genre standard-bearers, in terms of the quintessential zombie creation and gore elements, it is abundantly clear that Dambuster Studios and Deep Silver spared no expense for the highly anticipated sequel. Dead Island 2 is truly a gore-fest without parallel. This game is an eyeball-popping, limb-severing, entrail-spilling, decapitation extravaganza.
“Liter for liter, Dead Island 2 just might be the bloodiest game available on the market.”
Although that might seem obvious, based on Dead Island 2’s gore-heavy marketing, after experiencing the gruesome visuals firsthand in the finished product, even as a survival horror veteran, I was taken aback by the grotesque, graphic nature of certain zombie-killing animations. Liter for liter, Dead Island 2 just might be the bloodiest game available on the market.
Crucially, as a zombie horror experience, the latest Dead Island entry successfully executed its most important element… ZOMBIES. Dead Island 2’s brain-munchers are impeccably designed, with a vast array of unique-looking monsters in various states of decomposition. The many basic enemies, such as walkers, runners, and shamblers feel authentic and less repetitive in appearance than the average enemies of many other zombie experiences. Unfortunately, the same praise can’t be given to Dead Island 2’s boss fights, which incorporate highly simplistic mechanics, and are merely re-skinned versions of mutated zombies that players will encounter hundreds of times over after their initial introductions.
Traditionally, people don’t come to zombie games seeking out a top-shelf story (with the exception of titles like The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, etc.), and Dead Island 2 does very little to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding zombie horror writing. Avoiding spoilers, the game tells a paint-by-numbers zombie outbreak tale, with some interesting narrative threads that are left unresolved, or never reach their full potential. Although there is a lot to admire about both the playable and non-playable voice cast, the plot lacks and/or rushes any character development to the point that supposedly emotional story beats fail to land as the writers intended.
Similarly, when it comes to mood, Dead Island 2 can’t seem to make up its mind, oscillating between being a zany, not to be taken serious horror comedy and an earnest zombie drama. On the subject of comedy, while humor is subjective, the game stylistically leans heavily on the crude, vulgar, and cringey comedic elements that have been done many times previously. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy crude, vulgar, and cringey (they’re practically my middle names), but even with occasional chuckles here and there, the game’s comedy largely feels played out, and has been executed far better elsewhere.
Related: All Dead Island 2 Voice Actors Listed
Train to Bug-san
Bear in mind that Dead Island 2 has not fully released yet, but I would be remiss not to warn prospective consumers that my playthroughs were buggier than a Swarm Walker’s abdomen. My time in Hell-A was mired with many glitches ranging from funny, minor inconveniences to temporary progression-halting annoyances. It’s all fun and games when an NPC clips into the floor during a cutscene, but glitched achievements and bugged side missions are no laughing matter, especially in a Triple-A title. It is likely that patches and future updates will remedy Dead Island 2’s litany of technical problems, but if you are seeking out a perfectly polished launch experience, this is definitely not the game for you.
Even ignoring the many glitches and bugs, Dead Island 2 feels like a step backwards for the zombie videogame subgenre, as a glaring lack of features and limited attention to detail hurt its replayability. There is no new game plus, couch co-op, challenge modes, or even difficulty settings, which makes Dead Island 2 feel increasingly inadequate, especially when juxtaposed against its acclaimed 2023 survival horror counterparts Dead Space and Resident Evil 4.
There is very little to keep you coming back for more after your first run through Dead Island 2, even with the game’s six playable characters. Although each “Slayer” includes a unique, fully voiced performance in their respective roles, unlike other multi-protagonist RPGs, aside from a few minor stat differences, the gameplay doesn’t feel markedly different between playable characters.
Despite its many flaws, there is an undeniable charm to the laid-back, zombie battles featured in Dambuster Studios and Deep Silver’s latest release. The Dead Island sequel is undoubtedly entertaining, but simply lacks the staying power of superior zombie-centric titles. Dead Island 2 is equal parts fun and underwhelming, you might even say the game created its own genre: “funderwhelming.”
- Gore galore!
- Impeccable zombie design
- Addictive gameplay loop
- Repetitive combat
- Lack of innovation
- Lack of a unique identity
Dead Island 2 will certainly keep you engaged, but fails to live up to the standard set by the first entry in the series. If you go into Hell-A expecting anything more than some mindless, zombie-slaying action, you will likely leave disappointed. However, for gore hounds seeking out some horror co-op fun with friends, the sequel nearly twelve years in the making will certainly get the job done and give gamers their money’s worth. Be warned though, due to its many bugs and glitches, you would be wise to wait for a patch before wading neck-deep into the blood and guts of Dead Island’s long-awaited follow-up.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PS5.