Game Review: Dead Island 2 brings the fun, yet feels a little dated

The time has finally arrived. After what feels like an eternity, Dead Island 2 has finally made its way to our homes, bringing with it waves of zombies to dismember in gory fashion. In many ways, Dead Island 2 is a solid action title, packing in brutal melee combat and a consistent sense of humour. However, it’s repetitive mission design and straightforward combat mechanics wear thin after only a few hours, making it feel a little dated in parts, while playing it safe in terms of existing tropes and expectations.

Welcome to Hell-A

Dead Island 2 takes place in the beginning hours of the zombie apocalypse, as you take control of one of six unique characters, each with their own personalities and gameplay perks. After you board a plane for evacuation, everything that can go wrong absolutely does, as the plane crashes into what can only be described as the Californian A-List village in the heart of what is now known as ‘Hell-A’. After bunkering down with a local celebrity and subsequently learning that you’re immune to the deadly virus, you set out on a journey to find help, destroying any of those that walk in your path. While simplistic, the story beyond this point largely exists in the background, more so prioritising a multitude of light-hearted wacky settings and situations for you to brawl your way out of. But at the end of the day, you’ll usually need to head to a particular location to collect supplies or rescue an individual of interest, making things feel a little mundane in the latter hours, if not for some unique and memorable boss battles littered in between.

I chose to play as Jacob simply due to his laidback attitude and witty one-liners, but soon found his exclusive perks suited my aggressive and up-close playstyle. While these initial perks rarely limited any of the six characters from and playing in the same way should you wish, they do indeed set you off on a certain path to building the intended gameplay style. For example, Jacob’s Feral and Critical Gains abilities grant him with extra damage and stamina against multiple zombies and when stamina is low, while a character like Ryan benefits from health and force boosts when successfully dodging enemies.

That Looked Like it Hurt

As you would expect, the true heart of Dead Island 2 lies within its brutal melee combat. It consistently shines in terms gore, as a dedicated system virtually peels off the layers of a zombie’s face and limbs as you hack it to pieces. The joy of seeing one leap at you for the final time, as you catch a glimpse of its hanging jaw and missing arms is truly a sight to behold. The lack of stamina can lead to sluggish combat at times, but I simply wish that Dead Island 2 provided more than a single attack button in which to dish out punishment, as melee swings feel rather random, particularly in claustrophobic situations where you’re cornered by multiple enemies.

As with previous Dead Island games, you’ll utilise a number of both ranged and melee weapons, the latter of which you’ll spend the most time with. Gunplay feels clunky at best, while melee combat allows players to manage a stamina system along with a dedicated dodge button when things get dicey. Holding the attack button allows you to dish out heavy attacks, and weapons themselves must be carefully monitored as they deteriorate with extended use. While they can be repaired at surrounding workbenches, this system keeps you on your toes as you constantly scurry about each location on the hunt for additional weapons. It’s also worth noting here that weapons can be upgraded and modified to dish out alternative damage effects, as there’s nothing quite like swinging a machete that’s been fitted with an electrical charge. Thankfully, consumable items and tools like grenades and Molotov cocktails now rely on a cooldown meter as opposed to limited and specific reserves, encouraging you to demolish the environment and all that dare to challenge you. It certainly adds to the chaos, and totally works given the ridiculous nature of both the humour and excessive gore at hand.

Play it Your Way

Each of the six slayers can also be equipped with various skill cards, essentially adding additional perks and opportunities to combat. You’ll be able to unlock 64 cards in total, and while some are exclusive to a particular slayer, most can be used by all. These cards certainly enhance general gameplay and combat over time, but I can’t help but wish for more in terms of mechanics, as combat still feels quite limiting once you get used to the gore. You’ll unlock most of these cards through side quests and additional objectives which, does help with variety from time to time. That being said, the ability to participate in cooperative play is surely set to bring out the best of your unique playstyle and equipped cards. Up to two friends can join you on your travels, even if it’s slightly annoying to learn that they must be up to, or ahead of your campaign progress in order to join, meaning someone will more than likely have to backtrack and replay missions to get the others up to speed.

At this point, it’s not even that Dead Island 2 is doing anything particularly bad. It looks fresh and vibrant, and aside from a few technical hitches and glitches, performs relatively well. Textures pop and environments are brimming with detail, even if this version of L.A. can feel a little too linear at times. And while it manages to combine so many existing mechanics and tropes from a gameplay perspective, it’s light-hearted nature rarely feels like it’s enough to save it from feeling like anything fresh. It certainly works from a gameplay perspective, and for that I believe it’s worth diving into at least once.

Final Thoughts

I can appreciate Dead Island 2 for what it is; a humorous and functional first-person brawler that admittedly looks slick. But aside from the impressively details gore system, we’ve simply seen all this has to offer in other games most have already experienced. Be it the repetitive mission structure, customisable melee weapons and unlockable skills, it feels as though its tumultuous development forgot to account for and update a game that began its journey when all this would have felt incredibly fresh. But with some unique locations and memorable boss battles, it’s certainly worth picking up a melee weapon of your choice to tear through Hell-A for a few days.


Highlights: Impressive gore system; Consistent sense of humour and fun
Lowlights: Repetitive combat and mission design
Developer: Deep Silver, Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.

Matthew Arcari

Matthew Arcari is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. You can find him on Twitter at @sirchunkee, or at the Dagobah System, chilling with Luke and Yoda.