Dead Island 2 preview: Zombie slaying is Hell-A good

By Tom West,

We took a trip to the sun-kissed and blood-soaked streets of Beverly Hills and Bel-Air to put our zombie-slaying skills to the test during our recent Dead Island 2 preview — and it was a blast!

It feels good to say that Dead Island 2 will be launching on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One on April 21st. The most terrifying part of Dead Island 2 was booting it up and waiting to discover what nine long years of development hell could offer. Was it going to be a horrifying amalgamation of various development styles, leading to a monstrosity far removed from its fantastic predecessor? Well folks, monstrosity it's not, because Dead Island 2's gore system alone is enough to make this one of the most enjoyable romps through the zombie apocalypse I've ever had the pleasure of embarking on.

Hell-A is a great setting for a zombie apocalypse

Dead Island 2 takes us to the City of Angels a few short months after the events on Banoi in the original Dead Island, and as such, Hell-A retains much of the glitz and glamour it did before the reanimated dead started chewing on the living — well, the two areas I had the freedom to explore did, at least. Looking at the world map, or a collection of tourist maps as it's shown in-game, Dead Island 2 will include ten areas when it launches in April, but for my preview I was only able to mooch around the lavish streets of Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, and oh boy was there plenty to uncover.

With most of the rich and famous now either walking corpses, zombie feasts, or safely hiding away, their grand mansions offer those brave enough to venture out of safe zones the perfect opportunity to bag some loot. One thing that struck me immediately when first rummaging through the belongings of Hell-A's residences is just how much of the original game can be found here. Dambuster had told us during a Dead Island 2 interview last year that it had "basically taken the essence of the first game and just turned it up to eleven," and from what I've played so far, that sentiment is without a doubt true. Lootable items come in the form of electronics, adhesives, aerosols, tape, and a host of other crafting materials to turn a basic sledgehammer into a flaming maul of death, all reminiscent of what made the original Dead Island great. On top of that, protein bars and energy drinks return as on-the-spot health boosters, and in the case of this game's setting, it just makes sense to have them around.

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Hell-A's previous inhabitants — you know, the ones with pulses — had a range of career paths, from prolific actors that require high concentrations of protein to keep their bodies in Hollywood-style shape, to professional gamers and streamers that live on energy drinks for long gaming sessions. One luxurious abode I visited looks to have been a shared place for an eSports team or other such game-related group, and in the most amusing way possible, Dambuster saw fit to include a large whiteboard surrounded by cameras for one of those totally unscripted apology videos. Nice touch, team.

The huge homes come in various shapes and sizes, offering up multi-levelled complexes to explore and give Dambuster a chance to sprinkle its own touch of goodness on the franchise. While exploring the homes, with some even scattered throughout the outside world as well, there are numerous rooms and containers that either need special keys to open or small puzzles that need solving — if you don't mind going toe-to-toe with a few zombos, some rooms can be entered by smashing through a window like a brute and tripping an alarm. The rooms and puzzles give the homes a lived-in feel, and environmental obstacles offer up a great opportunity for the franchise's focus on elemental effects to work wonders. Whether you're pouring water over two live wires to create a connection or dousing fires to clear a flame-filled pathway, Dambuster has created many simple but effective ways of encouraging us to slow down the zombie-slaying for a short respite as we remember that, unlike our foes, our brain cells are still functional.

Dead Island 2's survivors are a wild bunch indeed

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Dead Island 2 is filled with interesting characters, right down to its zombies, and it takes full advantage of the stereotypical characteristics of LA's finest. Right from the start, each of the six playable Slayers are filled with personality, from Jacob's care-free and sarcastic attitude to Carla's gruff and serious tones, and choosing the Slayer that you don't mind listening to for the entirety of the game is almost as important as their stats. Each excels and struggles with certain permanent traits, such as health and stamina regeneration, strength, and more, which give them a class-like feel similar to the heroes in the original game. Whomever you choose will talk a lot when you're exploring so it's a good idea to have one you vibe with from the off —I initially thought I'd want to play as Dani or Bruno but ended up really enjoying Jacob.

Once you've picked your Slayer, the game opens with the plane you're attempting to escape on crash landing after one of the passengers had unsurprisingly hidden their bite. It's a story we've seen countless times in some of the best Xbox zombie games, and for the most part, the handful of main missions I played through offered a plotline that will feel familiar to those that have a strong interest in zombie films and games like myself, but the characters involved offer an enjoyable twist. Initially, you meet up with a group of survivors and hole up in an accomplished actress' mansion with her stereotypically worrisome aid, a Mexican housekeeper and her son, and a familiar face fans might just remember. While each character is entertaining in their own right, the main mission's dialogue can feel off at times as it's designed to work with each of the Slayers, so at times the comments your character makes don't quite fit with the conversation.

One place dialogue does seem to excel, though, is during side missions, which introduces some incredible characters living up to their stereotypical personalities. I met a retired actor who had destroyed his staircase with a grenade and needed me to protect him as he very slowly came down his stairlift, as well as an influencer who, despite the lack of internet connection, believes that making a badass video of zombie slaughter will push their followers to sort a rescue for her. Everyone seems kind of wild in Hell-A, and I'm all for it!

Dead Island 2's FLESH engine is brutally good fun

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The gem in Dead Island 2's crown is without a doubt its gore system, which for me, trumps pretty much any other feature of the game. The sheer enjoyment of putting the FLESH engine to work is worth the entry fee alone, and I spent much of my time seeing what damage I could do to the zombies wandering around like shambling meat bags.

Using the Skill Card system, you can outfit your Slayer with a number of abilities to aid you in your pursuit of undead punishment. Each character comes loaded with two permanent cards but can also be equipped with up to 15 additional cards that range from jump-kick skills to health regeneration for performing certain actions. They're unlocked by levelling up, completing missions, and looting in the world and can be swapped on the fly to increase your effectiveness in any given situation. Of course, this generally means causing much suffering to the zombies.

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Skills give you the ability to kick the dead creatures through the air, hit them harder, and a host of other things that are all designed to complement the weapons in your hands... or just your hands. Even unarmed, I've had boxing matches that have ended with me literally punching a hole through a zombie's face. The gore here is amazing and lets you do almost anything to your foes. The damage is localised as well, so cuts and abrasions happen at the point of impact, so slicing through a zombie's stomach reveals their insides, a smack to the jaw will cause it to snap to the side, skulls are cracked open like coconuts, and limbs flail around; held on by nothing more than nerves and sinew.

After only a short time with the game, I'm more excited than ever to see Dead Island 2 launch on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One next month. Development hell be damned, Dambuster has created an enticing game that will tug on my heartstrings until I can play again. Dead Island 2 features a beautiful setting, it's true to its predecessor, and features a gore system so in-depth, that it easily takes the crown as the most enjoyable experience I've ever had when re-killing the dead. I'm coming back for you Hell-A, and I'll be bringing some friends with me!
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Tom has been playing video games since he was old enough to hold a controller, experimenting with systems like the Nintendo 64 and Playstation until he eventually fell in love with the Xbox 360. With a passion for the platform, he decided to make a career out of it, and now happily spends his days writing about that which he loves. If he’s not achievement hunting, you’ll likely find him somewhere in The Elder Scrolls Online.
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