Dead Island 2 is unabashed zombie schlock.
It has the vibe of a video nasty that your dad has a worn-out VHS copy of. A prize that you’d sneak out at sleepovers, claiming to be “the most disgusting film ever made. .
At times, images from Dead Island 2 feel like they would be more at home on LiveLeak than on a modern games console, making it the unlikely venue of the forefront in the debate of when video game violence gets a bit too realistic.
You can so easily picture an American news anchor who looks like the blown-up pilot from Airplane talking about how this game is “destroying the youth,” like something in the Jack Thompson era of video game hysteria. God, is it good fun.
All of this serves as a helpful barometer by which to judge whether or not Dead Island 2 will be for you.
For a game so comically long in development – though this version of the game is substantially different from the one announced all those years ago – Dead Island 2 is a lot more like the first game in the series than we had expected.
You’re exploring modern-day environments in the wake of an outbreak, picking up weapons that are lying around along the way, and combining them with household objects in order to make them more effective at mutilation.
The game literally starts with your character being shot out of the sky while on a plane attempting to escape LA, so you know exactly where you’re sitting when it comes to the intended tone. Even the game’s more serious moments have their tongue so firmly against their cheek it’s practically sticking through it.
You can choose between a handful of survivors, each of whom has unique stats and abilities that affect how they play. These characters aren’t as disparate as you’d perhaps think from the introduction, and sadly, they’re not as interesting as they could have been.
We picked a character who’s essentially rapper Lil Pump (although for legal reasons is not), thinking that their dialogue would be full to the brim with the toe-curlingly cringe modern pop culture references that we were looking for, but he never sails close to how interesting the character could be based on what the game sets up.
The reason for this is clear – all the NPC dialogue has to be applicable to every character, meaning lots of they/them pronouns and enough non-specific gestures to your character that you may as well be playing as a bin man.
The dialogue in general, outside of a nice selection of wacky side missions, is pretty buttoned up along the main path, although the side missions do let their hair down significantly. This is, after all, the franchise that opened its first game with the immortal line: “I’ve got a zombie on me, and you can’t harm me, who do you voodoo bitch.” Nothing in Dead Island 2 comes quite close enough to this silliness for our liking.
However, while that’s a bit of a shame, it’s only really an issue in single-player. Dead Island 2 features co-op for almost all of the campaign, so you’re not really going to be listening to what’s going on while talking to your friends about what you’re having for your tea or where you’re going on holiday.
It’s hard to think of a game that isn’t improved by co-op, but it is stark just how much easier playing with a friend makes Dead Island 2. Boss fights feel designed with single-player in mind, so while one distracts, the other can be free to turn the various hulking zombies into kebab meat. Which brings us to the absolute star of the show: the gore.
Dead Island 2 is one of those rare games where you wonder if posting footage of it will get you banned from social media platforms, such is the realistic nature of its violence. We’ve had heads that explode, and limbs that fly off for some time, but jaws that hang by a single thread of tissue?
“Dead Island 2 is one of those rare games where you wonder if posting footage of it will get you banned from social media platforms, such is the realistic nature of its violence. We’ve had heads that explode, and limbs that fly off for some time, but jaws that hang by a single thread of tissue?”
Eyes popping out of heads and dangling on the cheeks of the victim? Pulsing organs that you can watch slowly empty from inside the rib cages of the zombie masses? What about realistically burning flesh or flesh that peels off into piles of goo when doused in acid?
It’s absolutely disgusting, fascinating, and incredibly impressive. Playing through the game we wondered when we’d get that moment where we turn the corner and the street is filled with thousands of zombies, a la Dead Rising, but when it never happened, it occurred to us why.
Each zombie in the game is an incredibly complex model, capable of being reduced to a pile of chunks. While it would be a lot of fun to do that to a chorus line of zombies, the granular detail of every bit of sinew and limb feels like it would bring even the strongest PC crumbling.
There will be some people for whom the gore is too much, but equally, there will be horror fanatics that drink it up. We think it hugely elevates the game’s combat, especially as it’s obvious feedback as to how much damage you’re doing, what kind of weapons you should be using, and, more than anything, it’s absolutely hilarious to punch directly through someone’s face.
Dead Island 2 features a great suite of melee weapons and a solid selection of firearms too. As soon as we got our hands on a shotgun and a katana we were set, but there’s a lot to choose from, all of which come with unique and grizzly animations.
One strong example is an electrified fishing pole which features a special move in which you shove it directly under the chin of the zombie and zap them off the end, often with head-exploding results. This never stops being funny.
The gunplay isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s more varied than we expected, and the satisfying ping of shots landing is enjoyable. They’re also introduced slowly, to allow players plenty of time to experiment with meat cleavers, baseball bats, and all manner of other classic zombie-blasting paraphernalia (although seemingly no cricket bat, as far as we could see).
The game’s skill system allows players to pick certain cards from a large deck which affects things like movement abilities, stats, and most vitally, your suite of abilities when you become a zombie. Though plot-related mischief, you also have the ability to briefly unleash your zombie side.
“The gunplay isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s more varied than we expected, and the satisfying ping of shots landing is enjoyable.”
This turns the carnage up to utter nonsense tier and makes even the toughest bosses fall to bits. Later you’ll unlock a card which means the more zombies you kill, the longer you can stay zombified. At this point the only thing that’ll stop you is your controller dying. It’s fun but trivialises basically every encounter.
Dead Island 2 is an extremely silly, comically violent, and consistently enjoyable experience. It’s almost impossible to stop smiling while playing, such are the slapstick laughs of limbs flying off in every direction.
The smart skill system and a wide range of weapons mean that throughout the game’s brisk 15-hour main campaign offering, you’re never bored of liberating heads from the shoulders of the undead around Hollywood.
LA itself is a wonderful playground of varied locations, and though we’d have preferred a fully open world, if the trade-off is the exceptional flesh system, then it’s no contest.
The best games ask important questions. In the case of Dead Island 2, that question is: "Do you think it's funny to chop zombies into bits?" If the answer is yes, then Dead Island 2 is a joy.
- Ridiculously gory
- Great melee combat
- LA is a great setting
- The Flesh system is extremely impressive
- Campaign missions are somewhat bland