Dead Island 2: Hands-on Preview
There is a long story behind Dead Island 2, one that perhaps at some point in the future we will get the full novelised treatment of. There certainly was some behind-closed-doors stuff going down, but what we know for sure is the game was announced in 2014. Originally thought to be a Techland-developed sequel to the original game, Techland decided to do something slightly different and focused on Dying Light instead. Then Yager took control and showed the game at E3 2015. From there, things took a dark turn with Yager and then the follow-up developer, Sumo Digital both leaving the project for reasons that aren’t exactly public. Finally, the game fell into the lap of Dambuster Studios, a studio known for getting another long-gestating title (Homefront: The Revolution) out the door. Fast forward many years to 2022 and the game, seemingly forgotten, rises again with a Feb 2023 release date and a fancy new trailer. The question remains, however, how can a game that has gone through so many developers and so much turmoil over so many years actually turn out well? I honestly can’t say, but after playing it at a recent Plaion press event, things are certainly looking good
My time with Dead Island 2 was pretty limited, a 20-minute, mid-game mission that involved me running down the Santa Monica pier in a zombie-infested Los Angeles, lovingly referred to as Hell-a. Thankfully this short playtime gave me a good idea of what to expect, a brash, tongue-in-cheek zombie apocalypse where the emphasis is on living, not just making it through. The PR spiel referred to it as “thriving, not just surviving” and that mantra was certainly noticeable while playing. Think of Woody Harelson’s character from Zombieland and you have a good idea of what to expect from the protagonists in the game.
My mission set me the task of retrieving a laptop for some unknown story reason and set me on my way. No tutorial, no guide, just a level 19 mission to tackle with no background. To say it was tough would be an understatement. Things started off rather gently, with some tasty slice-n-dice combat against fairly tame zombies, but before long things heated up with waves of aggressive, agile and beasty zombie types getting in on the action. There were even zombies that had elemental effects like electricity thrown into the mix. It meant that tactics had to be constantly adjusted and the environment used appropriately to get through. It could be feeding some electricity into a puddle the zombies were walking through, splashing petrol around the joint and lighting it up or even resorting to the video game staple of an exploding gas tank. Whatever it was, the environment is just another weapon to be used and I found that without doing so, my job was made much harder.
The ultimate goal of the mission saw me reach the final boss, a creepy murder clown that is sure to give nightmares to those with a fear of Pennywise and his ilk. This bastard moved with the speed of Usain Bolt and hit with knives that did massive damage. I died almost instantly. I left the demo in shame, unable to finish the mission in the time allotted. Thankfully I found out that I was only one of a very few that even made it that far, with only two other fellow journos beating that vicious clown (props to Joaby and Ed!) What that says to me is this game is going to be a tough one, but my time with it tells me that toughness is fair. It is a zombie apocalypse, after all, things shouldn’t be too easy.
What surprised me the most about the demo was just how polished the whole thing was. Yes, this is just a vertical slice of a much bigger game, but at the same time, it looked fantastic. Apparently, the developers built a suite of new tech tools to just render the gore in game and it shows. Viciously satisfying explosions of blood and guts are the norm. It is a visual spectacle of the goriest kind and I can see this pushing even high-end PCs, so I fully expect a few visual sacrifices to be made on consoles so they can hit 60 FPS and it will be very interesting to see how the game runs on the last-gen systems. For me, this is going to be a PC game all the way and I fully expect it to push my 3080 to its limits.
While the story of Dead Island 2’s development has always interested me, I mean, how could it not, the actual game has never been on my most anticipated list. After all, I already have the fantastic Dying Light 2 to state my open-world zombie slaying needs. Now, after playing this tasty teaser I can happily say that February can’t come soon enough. It seems I do have room in my heart for another zombie FPS/RPG and the brash, bold and ballsy Dead Island 2 may just fill that space nicely.