Dead Island 2 Review

Richard Walker

Sit and think for a moment. How many zombies do you think you've brutalised in video games over the years? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? Surely not billions? That's far too many. Regardless, you'd have thought that by now we'd all be sick of mutilating the undead, but Dead Island 2 somehow manages to make the process of cleaving and bludgeoning rotting hordes as thrilling as the time you slaughtered your very first zombie in cold blood. The secret sauce is in what developer Dambuster Studios calls its 'FLESH' system – an acronym that stands for Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids – enabling you to carve into zombies and witness the damage in real-time. It's gleefully savage and sickeningly satisfying.

As one of six infection-immune Zombie Slayers, each with their own unique abilities and attributes, you'll start Dead Island 2 by venturing into the salubrious region of Bel-Air, before the narrative takes you to locations such as Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, and other sun-soaked districts across La La Land. From the streets to the beaches, hotels, boutique stores, and restaurants of LA, you'll witness the extent of the destruction the outbreak has wrought, scavenging for resources and whatever weapons you can get your hands on. Like the first game (and Riptide, I guess), Dead Island 2 keeps things grounded, veering away from Dying Light's verticality – you won't find much in the way of parkour acrobatics here. Not that you really need parkour beyond agile flying kicks or dropkicks, which send the undead reeling in spectacular fashion.

Dead Island 2's first-person combat is cracking stuff, whether you're busting zombie skulls with a sledgehammer or slicing and dicing with a katana – limbs fly, skin tears, jawbones flap away, jets of arterial red spurt in all directions, offal spills in abundance, bones splinter. It's safe to say that the extreme graphic violence on display in DI2 isn't for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. There's depth, too, beyond the mountains of viscera, with Skill Cards to collect and equip, for unique character builds. Skill Cards grant special abilities and attributes, whether it's a ground pound, acidic expectoration, or a debilitating scream that stuns undead in their tracks. It's a neat system, which encourages much mixing and matching of different cards to settle upon a loadout that works best for you.

Skill Cards enable you to have medikits that cause a small explosion to push enemies back when used, augment your kicking attacks with fire damage, restore small amounts of health when maiming zombies, make enemies explode, or slip out of the grasp of undead automatically when grabbed. Autophage cards bring an additional wrinkle to Skill Cards, as they imbue your Slayer with an advantage, albeit at a health-draining cost or an impact to your raging Fury ability, which is unlocked at a pivotal point in the narrative. Fury, in case you're wondering, allows you to enter a temporary state in which you claw at enemies with your bare hands, tearing them limb from limb in a crazed, red-hued feral haze.

It's the Skill Deck that lends Dead Island 2 its 'X' factor, allowing you to experiment with playstyles and character configurations, regardless of which Slayer you choose to play as, be it Amy, Bruno, Carla, Dani, Jacob, or Ryan. Its quarantined open-world sliver of Los Angeles is nicely proportioned, too, just big enough to seem expansive without becoming a chore to traverse, especially now that vehicles have been eschewed altogether, forcing you to run everywhere. Fast travel is limited, only available through maps in safe zones. It would have been nice to be able to fast travel at any time, but hey ho.

As for DI2's weapons, these by and large take a swerve away from the outlandish, although with mods and upgrades applied at a workbench, you can transform an otherwise pedestrian sword, hammer, polearm, axe, dagger, or firearm into an acid-spewing, electro-shocking, flaming, or razor-edged weapon of mass zombie mangling. Blocks and counters add a little finesse to the wanton slaughter, as a well-timed guard can temporarily stun a zombie, leaving them primed for an up-close bludgeoning and a wince-inducing finisher, like putting your fist right through a rotting brainpan, taking a head clean off, or smashing a putrid skull to pieces. Ouchie.

On top of all that, environmental hazards prove to be a constant concern, with red barrels of flammable oil, drums of caustic green goop, and water-filled blue vessels to contend with. Water washes away acid and extinguishes flames, as well as conducting electricity, creating deadly puddles crackling with blue sparks. Supplementing all of that are throwable 'Curveballs', like electrified shurikens, putrescent meat bait, or good old-fashioned pipe bombs and Molotovs, available on a cooldown timer when you need a little extra 'something' to fend off the slavering hordes.

Outside of the story, multi-phase Lost & Found scavenger hunts and an array of Side Quests offer extra longevity, as do various Challenges and the pursuit of Legendary weapons among the piles of loot. But it's the quality of the combat and the spectacle of the unadulterated gore that pulls you through Dead Island 2, as well as the sheer variety of undead queueing up to be horribly flayed and butchered. Observe as the flesh melts off the bones of a zombie afflicted with caustic damage, or as your sword swipes across its stomach, spilling guts on the floor – it never gets old.

A game like Dead Island 2 could have proved rather repetitive, but Dambuster has gone to great lengths to ensure that the nuts and bolts of its game are nice and tight, well-honed, and endlessly gratifying. It might not do much that is particularly new or groundbreaking, but in providing sheer, unbridled fun, it certainly succeeds. A smattering of minor bugs – like a bit of dodgy lip syncing - fail to spoil the party, and, as such, Dead Island 2 emerges as a deliciously disgusting, rollicking good time.

Dead Island 2

A California scream, Dead Island 2 finally crosses the finish line after nine years as an accomplished and deliriously fun first-person zombie mash 'em up. The stomach-churning gore might not be for everyone, but fans of body horror and viscera will be well-served here.

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A nice ominous soundtrack and some smartly deployed licensed tunes inject a sense of fun to the horror, but there's perhaps a little too much chatter from your character. That said, the game's voice performances are good.


The zombie maiming system provides a grisly spectacle, while the exotic open world of LA is filled with detailed interiors and exterior vistas. From the mansions and swimming pools of Bel-Air, to the filth-encrusted sewers and fancy hotels, Dead Island 2 looks great.


As far as games in which you batter zombies are concerned, Dead Island 2 is up there with the best, offering slick and immediate ultra-violence. The whole experience is as tight as a drum, too, with polished gameplay mechanics. Excellent stuff.


A story that runs to just about the right length, an open world divided into self-contained chunks that doesn't feel empty, and a raft of side quests make for a decent package. We'd have relished a New Game+ option, but that's sorely missing, unfortunately.


This is a rather engaging achievement list, with plenty of challenges to tackle and side quest stuff to complete, outside of the main storyline. It's not a massively exciting list, but it's one that covers all of the relevant bases with a dash of humour.

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