This game had every chance of never reaching the players. 11 years of development, three different studios – a real production hell. It’s surprising that Dead Island 2 made it to release at all, and it’s even more surprising that Dambuster Studios released a really cool game that almost matches the vision of the project that we had back in 2014.
|Game||Dead Island 2|
|Genre||action/RPG, first-person slasher-shooter|
|Platforms||Windows, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One / Xbox Series X|S|
And it all started back in 2011, when immediately after the release of the first part of Dead Island Polish studio Techland started to feel the ground for its next project. Like many other studios before it, Techland didn’t think to protect its own IP, so when the developer and publisher Deep Silver had a disagreement about the future sequel, the authors of the first game were forced to leave the series. Dead Island: Riptide, which is not full a sequel, but more like a large DLC, was created only to close the deal with Deep Silver. Techland went to work on Dying Light, and Deep Silver was deciding what to do with Dead Island next and looking for a new developer.
The first to develop Dead Island 2 was the German studio Yager Development, authors of cool, but very underrated games Yager and Spec Ops: The Line. The development began in 2012, and the release was planned for 2015. At E3 2014, the gameplay of the game was demonstrated and the same video that became iconic was released. But… you wouldn’t believe it, Yager Development and Deep Silver had a difference of opinion on what the game should be like. So in the summer of 2015, Yager was suspended, which led to another bankruptcy of the studio.
Next Dead Island 2 in 2016 was developed by British Sumo Digital, authors of LittleBigPlanet 3, Crackdown 3, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure. But… well, you guessed it, differences of opinion.
To understand what Deep Silver is. This Austrian publisher was created in 2002 by the German-Austrian concern Koch Media. Since 2022, it has changed its name to Plaion. Since 2019, Koch Media has been part of the same Swedish Embracer Group (formerly Nordic Games and THQ Nordic), which, starting in 2017, has been trying to buy all game studios available on the market. As of August 2022, the Embracer Group included 131 (!) game studios in more than 40 countries, employing more than 15,000 developers.
In the summer of 2019, it was revealed that Dead Island 2 was still alive and in development, with the UK’s Dambuster Studios, formerly known as Free Radical Design and Crytek UK, picking up the baton. As Free Radical Design, they created an interesting series of games TimeSplitters, as Crytek UK helped make Crysis 2 and Crysis 3. And as Dambuster Studios is responsible for one of the loudest gaming failures of the 2010s – Homefront: The Revolution.
The studio had a difficult fate with a game that many lost faith in and… a miracle happened! Dambuster Studios managed to recreate the same mood we saw in the Dead Island 2 trailer from E3 2014 and even bring back some of the characters from that trailer. This is a real miracle!
Luxurious estates, sunny beaches, glamorous parties, and an atmosphere of constant celebration. Plus zombies. This formula worked well in the first Dead Island, and it works even better in Dead Island 2. Everything we were shown in 2014 is in the game. Sea, sun, relaxed residents, and blood, guts and the dead wandering the empty streets.
Dead Island 2 uses the Unreal Engine 4 engine, while the game does not look like every other UE game built on standard assets, it has its own style. But what else! Dambuster Studios managed to create a very authentic Los Angeles, similar to the one we have seen in hundreds of movies and series. At the same time, you can enter almost every house, and inside will be exactly what should be in ordinary houses, offices, shops, cafes, garages, hospitals, and police stations. A lot of small things, specific furniture, electronics, some posters, dishes, etc. These little things really add realism to the game.
And there is also a realistic layout of apartments and houses, which is not often found in video games. It seems that experienced architects were working on Dead Island 2.
The same can be said about the streets. The areas of Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Hollywood Boulevard, Ocean Avenue, and Santa Monica Pier look almost like in a movie. Some buildings are simply transferred into the game from the real world. And most importantly, you can see here the same residents (former residents, of course), the same cars, and the same shops that should be in these areas. Beachgoers, athletes, and lifeguards in Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Filmmakers, actresses, and old rockers in Beverly Hills and Bel Air.
And the developers are very good at telling stories with the help of the environment. And we are not talking about notes, SMS, etc. For example, at the very beginning of the game, you can find two dead people locked in an alarm room. Even without listening to the recording, you can understand what happened here when one of the people started turning into a zombie. Later, you will see the remains of a wedding interrupted by a horde of zombies and a priest who eats the bride. In one of the hotels, you can find a room where several people locked themselves with a list of everything that they did not have time to do before the apocalypse. Similarly, the pool where the bodies of the dead were dissolved and the military tent, which seemed to explode from the inside, tell their own stories. And there is a lot of that in Dead Island 2. It’s little things, but they create an atmosphere.
Despite the fact that from a graphical point of view, the game looks very good, it does not slow down even on my calculator, so, special thanks to Dambuster Studios.
Zombies of the City of Angels
In Dead Island 2, there are several dozen varieties of zombies, but the different body proportions, clothing, and appearance make it seem that all zombies are unique. This, of course, is not true, but there are really a lot of variations here and they are… yes, realistic.
Here’s a bunch of zombie cops hanging around a crushed police station; here zombie ducks gathered for a bodybuilding competition; here are zombie lifeguards on duty on the beach. Here are zombie couriers, in whose shoulder bags you can always find food and drinks. Here are the zombie soldiers near the filtration camp. Here are the zombie scientists. Here are glamorous zombie party girls in long dresses covered in blood and pus. Here are the zombie firefighters. Here are the healthy lifestyle zombies transformed during a morning run. Here are the zombie extras at the film studio who did not have time to remove the make-up and costumes. Zombie clown, of course. And so on.
In addition to ordinary zombies, there are also so-called apex variants. At first, they are presented as bosses, but then they begin to appear among ordinary enemies. In addition, there are variations among enemies that are insensitive to certain types of damage. For example, it makes no sense to throw a Molotov cocktail at a burning zombie or electrocute an electric zombie.
Towards the end of the game, different types of zombies attack in groups, which requires adapting tactics and using different weapons. It is interesting.
People of the city of Angels
In addition to zombies, in Dead Island 2, of course, there are also people who managed to escape. They are all trying to get out of the city surrounded by the military. Your character, and there are six different characters in total, is one of them.
And here it must be said that Dambuster Studios managed to make almost all the characters interesting and memorable. Even minor characters who are not destined to live to the end have a personality. They sometimes behave stupidly, but realistically, they look and talk like living people, and not tired actors of some silly sitcom. The voice acting here is great, and the actors really try to act.
Dead Island 2 is even more cinematic thanks to the masterful work of the operators. The developers have made transitions from cutscenes to the game almost seamless, so after a scripted exchange of lines, you find yourself in the same place where the cutscene ended. This is really cool.
Strangely enough for a zombie game where the story is kind of optional, Dead Island 2 has a story, and it’s a pretty good one. We will not say that it is very original, but it is not bad. And there are also a bunch of really touching mini-plots, both those that are told by the environment and records, and those that can be found in side quests and tasks to find missing people.
Kill ‘Em All
But the main thing in such games, of course, is not the graphics, not the story and not the various zombies, the main thing is that all these zombies are fun to kill. And you know what, killing zombies in Dead Island 2 is really fun.
Every blow, every shot at the opponent brings real pleasure. Zombies react to being hit, you can cut off their arms and legs, tear off their heads, and generally disassemble them for spare parts. They can be kicked in jumps like in Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, they can be hacked with a katana, speared or hammered, set on fire, blown up, electrocuted, etc. And all this is made just exceptionally cool in Dead Island 2.
The weapon can be improved by adding additional properties to it. Each saber, katana, and cleaver are animated differently and have different effects. Players can use the environment to bully zombies, throw weapons and some objects at them, and lure them into traps. It’s just a kind of holiday.
Yes, almost everything was the same in Dead Island, but in Dead Island 2 there is more, and thanks to the system of skill cards, you can adjust all this to your own play style and try out various combinations of weapons and abilities.
Not a horror movie, but not a comedy either
Dead Island 2 is not a scary game at all. Yes, there are zombies here, and at the beginning of the game it is difficult to deal with them, but then you will destroy them without even hesitating. Yes, sometimes there are screamers when, for example, the next zombie falls on you from a closet or bio-toilet, or knocks you to the floor, trying to get to your throat. But that’s not too scary.
In fact, almost the only truly scary sequence in the game is the sewers, where who-knows-what happens and it is really frightening. It’s interesting that we’ve never been told what’s down there, but it’s definitely something bad.
On the other hand, Dead Island 2 isn’t quite the comedy that the 2014 trailer and some promotional images from the game might have led you to believe. There is a rather gloomy plot, cute characters sometimes die, and so on.
The game that did it
Dead Island 2 is a game that did it. Despite the fact that no one believed in it anymore. Despite 11 years of development and “differences in opinions”.
Dead Island 2 is a cool, coherent story game. About 15 hours if you only go through the story, or 30 hours if you are interested in exploring the area and closing all the side quests.
You can disagree with me, but in my opinion, Dead Island 2 is better than Dying Light 2: Stay Human. Yes, there are not many innovations here, there is no parkour, capture of roadblocks, and settlement management. But to be honest, if I get the urge to capture turrets, I’ll take any Ubisoft game. Dead Island 2 is a pure slasher/shooter about zombies, without any frills, and that’s exactly how the game is so good.
Games like this are said to be best played in a company with co-op, and of course, Dead Island 2 has it. But in this case, I think it’s better to stick to the single-player campaign to be able to enjoy the environment and the stories this game tells.
And although I already tried to pass the final boss 20 times (we are waiting for a balance patch, because it is some kind of overkill), I really liked the game. I’m going to complete all the side quests and look forward to the upcoming story DLC.
Dead Island 2 is out on PC as an Epic Games Store exclusive. I know a lot of people don’t like this platform, but Dead Island 2 has a pretty moderate price tag for a AAA game, and right now, during Epic MEGA Sale 2023 the game can be purchased using a discount coupon and also get 5% cashback.