Image via Deep Silver

Dead Island 2 turns bone-breaking into high art – Hands-on preview

A nice weekend in Hell-A.

In many ways, the preview build for Dead Island 2 felt like a game that would’ve come out in 2015. If you know about the game’s troubled development cycle, that probably makes sense. This game has been passed around to at least three different developers since Yaeger Development made its first pitch in 2012. In spite of it feeling like an early PlayStation 4 game in places, Dambuster Studios has maintained the weighty combat the zombie slaying game is known for, while introducing several fun twists that left me excited for the prospects of playing through the full game with a friend.

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For me, that was always where the original Dead Island was at its best; cutting it up with a buddy, while simultaneously cutting zombies to shreds. That’s probably why I remember the original as wackier than others (though Sam B.’s “Who Do You Voodoo” also contributes). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hop into multiplayer during the preview, but what’s there has me salivating at the thought of staying up way too late on a Saturday night with some pals.

See, Dead Island 2 takes most of what you know about the first game and drops it right into the sequel. The combat that I spent dozens of hours honing in the original immediately came back to me, as did the constant search for a weapon that wasn’t broken. As you bob and weave around zombie lunges, it almost feels like a boxing match, except you’re using a makeshift sledgehammer to land haymakers. 

Image via Plaion

One-on-one, the zombies go down with relative ease, but if they gang up on you, it’ll quickly devolve into a chaotic mess. Then, Dambuster starts to layer in Apex variants, which include everything from zombies that have seemingly been injected with the Venom supersoldier drug from the Joel Schumacher classic Batman & Robin,to monsters that ate a bit too much radioactive bile and their tummy aches are making them barf it up in an explosive display.

Those are all things you’d expect from a new Dead Island game, even back in 2015. What’s important is what’s new and whatever tech Dambuster’s used to make these zombies come apart at the seams is the real star of this show. You’ll slam a zombie in the head with a wrench and see their split jaw barely hanging on as they continue attacking you. If you whack an enemy enough in the arm or leg, you’ll see their ulna or femur pop out of the skin. The demo was only about five hours long, but I easily spent an extra 30 minutes during my playthrough just walking through the carnage looking at the different ways zombies had come apart.

On top of that, Dambuster has implemented a new card-based upgrade system that lets you build a deck that gives your character new abilities. This includes everything from a skill that boosts your damage after killing a zombie, to a high-powered drop kick. I only saw the early game variations, so I expect things will get even more ludicrous as you progress. Some cards you’ll find will only work for certain characters, encouraging multiple playthroughs. There are also six different characters you can play as, each with their own starting skills. For example, Jacob has a card that gives a boost to critical hits when his stamina is low, which is great because that card also gives you back stamina every time you get a critical hit.

As a total package, Dead Island 2 is pretty close to exactly what I’d want for a sequel. They aren’t reinventing the wheel in any major way, but I don’t think that’s an issue when the basics are this fun. Sure, there are some technical issues they still need to iron out (but that’s true for most preview builds) and it’s definitely not going to be a game everyone loves. Dead Island 2 is exactly what I imagined it would be when first announced in 2014, for better and for worse. Rather than make any major departures from the original formula, this sequel simply offers a new world to explore, characters the play as, and updated systems to encourage experimentation. It’s just a shame that it took nearly a decade for it to actually get into our hands.

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Ricky Frech
Ricky Frech is the Associate Editor of Gamepur and has been covering pop culture and sports off and on for eight years. His work has also been published on IGN, FanByte, Bleacher Report, DualShockers, Inside Survivor, and several other publications. When he's not neck-deep in sports games, you'll probably find him playing a board game or rewatching a Survivor season for the 20th time.