Game Preview: Hands on with Dead Island 2

The team at Plaion ANZ were nice enough to provide us with a hands-on look at the highly anticipated Dead Island 2 from Dambuster Studios and Deep Silver. The sequel is finally releasing later this month after the first game in 2011, which garnered rave reviews and a cult following. This time around the island is Los Angeles (aka HELL-A) – while not strictly an island per-se, it still has zombies, monsters and a small group of survivors who must band together and find a way out. It has been a very long time between games, but with Dambuster taking over as developer, this has clearly been the best decision for the franchise, as Dead Island 2 takes the over-saturated genre and delivers something fresh and fun.

The story starts with a plane crashing spectacularly in the opening sequence of the game, and players get the choice of one of six unique characters with different abilities to take them through. There are only slight variations on different melee styles and personalities that really come down to your personal preference. I chose Ryan, an exotic dancer “firefighter” with a ton of personality. In addition to this, each character has their own special skills – Ryan utilises a retaliation skill that allows him to get a Force boost when he uses the dodge or block when attacked (you do have to time it PERFECTLY!). He will also regain some health each time he knocks down a zombie. His constant quips mix well with his macho energy that easily comes undone whenever there are too many zombies around.

What shines in this game is the combat. Upon leaving the plan in the initial moments of the game, you are armed with a wrench and must do your best to find anything laying around to make a weapon. This can lead to some really creative combinations using items to enhance and upgrade the array of weapons in your arsenal. The game uses a system called FLESH that allows you to hone in on the enemies’ body parts to ensure complete precision and control when taking out a zombie. If you aim and strike for any particular body part, your weapon will make the exact hit in that spot each time. This encouraged me to use different weapons in my toolbelt and figure out new and creative ways to make unique kills. I have never seen a combat system like this before and I can’t wait to explore further when the full game releases.

The game’s weapon customisation is based around exploration. During my playthrough I tried to find as many blueprints as I could – these let you access new mods for your weapons. The first weapon I modified was an electric blade that shocks and stuns zombies before taking them out. Like most other games, your weapons do wear down the more you use them, so you need to access a workbench with spare parts to repair them before they can be used again. There are also various ways to interact with elements like fire and electricity to take down zombies. Finding circuit breakers and putting them in a generator just outside of a pool let the zombies be fried, allowing me to bolt past without using any of my weapon power.

The skill system in Dead Island 2 is made up of four types of cards that carry different skillsets. During this preview, I was able to access three of the four types which included Survivor, Ability and Slayer cards. I attempted to get as many Survivor cards as possible to increase health and stamina, as these are vital to surviving in this brutal world. My ability card was a hilarious high kick that came in use to yeet zombies away when they took me by surprise. What I did get to play around with was a lot of fun and the variation kept things feeling fresh whenever I wanted to mix up my play. While we do have to wait for the full release to comment on the Numen cards, what is shown here is promising.

What really feels fleshed out in this sequel is the story. The first game’s story you could take or leave, but here you can feel Dambuster’s effort and the desire to see how the characters progress and play out. It’s no surprise that your character is immune to the virus and is trying to track down any kind of help to make sense of what is happening and how they can help save humanity. By the end of my preview of this title, I can barely wait to finish the main campaign and explore the rest of HELL-A.

Dead Island 2 is a notable step up from the original game and while much time has passed, the new developer has clearly spent the necessary time to make a memorable zombie open-world game set in Los Angeles that can still feel fresh in 2023. There is so much fun to be had here, particularly with the combat system and cards to upgrade weapons, mods and character abilities. Dead Island 2 still feels like a game set in the same universe – a hugely-upgraded weapon and combat system with beautiful graphics (as beautiful as blood splatters and dismembered body parts can be) in a brand new setting with new characters.

Dead Island 2 launches on April 21, 2023, for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Stay tuned for our review when it drops.