Dead Island 2 is a great zombie-slasher with impressive physics and satisfying melee combat, but that’s about it, with a boring, uninspired storyline, a semi-open-world design and a tongue-in-cheek approach that occasionally borders on the dumb.
- Flesh system provides visceral zombie gore effects
- Satisfying melee combat
- The occasional jump scare
- Boring, uninspired storyline
- Only get the most interesting upgrades in late/end-game
- Open world broken into 12 smaller areas
PlatformsPC, Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PS4 and Xbox One
Release date21 April 2023
GenreAction role-playing game
Dead Island 2 offers a modern twist on the original Dead Island with upgraded graphics, new mechanics and an entirely new location – LA, or Hell-A as it’s known in-game.
While the game has strengths, particularly with the innovative flesh system that provides the most realistic and gory combat I’ve seen in a zombie title, the game’s stale storyline, forgettable characters and awkward writing leave me wondering whether Dead Island 2 should’ve made it to release in the first place.
Story and characters
- Tongue-in-cheek characters
- Bland, uninspired storyline
- Hard to stay invested in characters
The plot behind Dead Island 2 is a relatively simple one; there has been a zombie outbreak in the heart of LA, and the US government has blockaded the city in a bid to stop the zombie hordes from spreading to the rest of the country. It’s not quite an island like the title suggests, but hey.
You’ll be introduced to not one, but six playable characters in a cutscene at the beginning of the game, each with their own combat style, buffs and debuffs and tongue-in-cheek character design. These range from Jacob, a Londoner who sounds a lot like a knock-off Idris Elba with what looks suspiciously like wacky backy constantly hanging out of his mouth to Ryan, an ‘exotic dancer’ dressed like a fireman.
Your choice here is important as the rest of the characters are (spoiler alert) killed off moments after you make your choice, and you can’t swap your character out later down the road. Being a Londoner, I, of course, opted for the spliff-toting stuntman Jacob.
The issue is that, from the very first moments where you pull a metal pole from your stomach and miraculously survive, the story just isn’t that believable, and the cast of rotating characters does little to sell the idea that LA has been taken over by zombie hordes.
That’s certainly not helped with random side quests like maiming zombies in a specific way to get footage for a YouTuber’s upcoming viral video. I get that the story is designed to poke fun, but at some points, it became a little too dumb.
The overarching story is also convoluted and seems to be focused more on moving you from one area to another than actually telling an interesting, engaging story. So much so that core campaign characters are all but forgotten about when you move on to the next area, making all but a few recurring characters feel irrelevant to the overall plot.
By the five-hour mark I’d all but stopped caring about the storyline, and even a late-game plot twist wasn’t as surprising as the developers had intended. It’s essentially full of typical zombie game tropes and doesn’t really try to do anything to differentiate itself from the slew of zombie titles that came before it.
Oh, and that ending – don’t even get me started on the ending. I won’t spoil anything here, but blurgh.
Open world and exploration
- Semi-open-world design
- 12 distinct areas to explore
- Not enough to encourage deep exploration
In no way does Dead Island 2 show its delayed development more than with the design of the map, based on Los Angeles, California, after a zombie outbreak.
It’s not a completely open world like the parkour-packed Dying Light 2, instead compromised of 12 small open-world areas linked together by cumbersome loading screens that break that sense of immersion and discovery you tend to get from truly open-world titles.
That might’ve been acceptable about 8-10 years ago, but not in 2023. It also doesn’t help that, as mentioned, the story does very little to naturally move you from one region to another. It feels like the developers had to force those transitions in the story, rather than them occurring naturally.
It helps then that each of those 12 areas are very distinct from one another, be it the zombie-infested Pier or Hollywood Boulevard, with each filled with different enemies to fight through, random side quests to stumble across and secrets to find, usually in the form of rare weapons. You’ll also stumble across stereotypes like the zombified YouTuber crew in Bel-Air or (very much alive) actors a little bit too dedicated to their roles in a Hollywood movie studio.
You won’t be able to simply sweep each area and carry on though, with some zombies simply too tough to fight in your first encounter, encouraging you to go away, level up and come back for another try. You’ll usually get powerful weapons for your efforts, but as you get further into the game and upgrade your own weapons, these become less important and less of a motivator to explore the open world.
It’s also worth noting that fast travel doesn’t become available until the mid-game, so travelling from one area to another – especially when you can only take specific paths, like travelling through Bel-Air to get to the film studio – can take quite some time.
- Best zombie destruction physics yet
- Satisfying melee combat
- Best weapons and upgrades only accessible in the end-game
Despite the clunky writing, confusing storyline and (at times) terrible voice acting, there’s one thing that kept me coming back to Dead Island 2 for more; the game’s innovative flesh system.
You see, in most zombie games, the walkers act like a sack of potatoes when hit and simply drop to the ground. You’d never see any kind of impact on the zombie itself, despite being hit pretty hard with a hammer, baseball bat or whatever post-apocalyptic weapon you found yourself with. Not Dead Island 2 though.
If you take a swing at a zombie and hit them clean in the jaw, expect that jaw to come clean off, leaving your zombie friend with a gaping hole in their face. Slashing a zombo with a katana saw large cuts and slices appear exactly where I was coming into contact with them, slowly revealing their guts within.
That extends to arms, legs, heads and just about every body part of the rotting zombie flesh, allowing for an extremely visceral, over-the-top maiming experience that’s strangely addictive – especially when coupled with the slow-mo cam when you perform a particularly gruesome attack.
As your weaponry grows more advanced, so do the effects, especially the acid that literally burns the skin off the meatbags as they shamble their way toward you. Explosions are super satisfying too, especially when leaving behind massive amounts of viscera and the occasional body part.
It’s not just gruesome for gruesome-sake though, with specific enemies like the Crusher unable to do their slam attack if you lob off an arm. Runners also have a bit of an issue running if you, you know, chop off a leg.
This is where the combat becomes more than a simple hack-and-slash affair, with specific zombies having specific resistances that stop you from going all-in on a single weapon – you need to keep and upgrade a variety of weapons to add effects like fire, electricity, acid, along with blunt and sharp impact.
You’ve also got a bunch of other upgrades that help tailor the weapon to your playstyle, whether that’s basic upgrades like increasing the damage or force of your weapon to more advanced upgrades like elemental effects to spread to nearby enemies.
I must admit that I started to lose interest at around the 5-hour mark using only basic melee weapons I scavenged from abandoned homes in LA, though the introduction of more advanced weapons and improved upgrades kept me going until the end of the 20-hour campaign – just about, anyway.
There’s certainly an issue with pacing, not only in terms of the story but the various elements of combat. Most of the exciting and powerful upgrades don’t come until quite late in the game when you’ve already slaughtered 1000s of zombies, with the best weapons and upgrades not available until the storyline is over.
I’d have liked to have some of those a little earlier in the campaign so I could really enjoy the satisfyingly-OTT combat that the end-game offers.
Should you buy it?
You enjoy great zombie-maiming combat:
The combination of the unique flesh system and upgradable melee weapons provides satisfying, visceral OTT combat.
You want to sink your teeth into a good story:
Dead Island 2 is all about killing zombies in gruesome ways with the story coming secondary. If you’re looking for an interesting zombie story, look elsewhere.
Dead Island 2 has been long in the making, but it might’ve been a little too long. Various aspects of the game, from the semi-open world to the tongue-in-cheek characters are reminiscent of zombie titles from 8-10 years ago and do little to reinvent the overly-used zombie trope.
The only real saving grace is the combat, which when paired with the gory flesh system provides visceral, satisfying melee combat that’ll keep you entertained throughout the otherwise dull campaign.
How we test
We play every game we review through to the end, outside of certain exceptions where getting 100% completion, like Skyrim, is close to impossible to do. When we don’t fully finish a game before reviewing it we will always alert the reader.
Completed the 20-hour campaign