Dead Island 2 Hands-on Preview – Defeating Development Hell

After what can best be described as "two-thirds of a Duke Nukem Forever" of development hell, moving through multiple developers: Yager (Spec Ops: The Line) from 2012 to 2015, Sumo Digital (Crackdown 3) from 2015 until being removed, and now Dambuster (Homefront: The Revolution) from 2019 to the present, Dead Island 2 is finally getting released. I feel I should be claiming against Plaion and Deep Silver Dambuster for false advertising. When last I checked, the definition of an Island is a land mass surrounded by water.

Dead Island 2 is, as a matter of fact, not set on an island. The game's set in "Hell-A", a post-apocalyptic word pun on LA. Segments of... Right, maybe I'm a miserable git, but I'm not going to call it "Hell-A" from here on. Yes, it's quirky, but no. I prefer other comical elements of Dead Island 2. Anyway, as I was saying, the setting is not an open world, with LA has been split into segments, some bigger and others smaller, each with their open area, featuring core and side missions. Dambuster has indicated you can return to areas; it's just that you can't progress to others until you've met the requirements.

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As for the setting of my hands-on time with Dead Island 2, if you watched the gameplay video released at Gamescom, you'll have seen glimpses of where I've been killing - and getting killed by - zombies. This hands-on took place on a vivid, colourful, and possibly lovely enough pier in the pre-zombie times. You've got to get to the end to recover a laptop with a blood drive. I'm not sure what a blood drive is and why some idiot went to the end of a pier with it, but that's the deal. Right, let's jump in and get that blood drive.

Jumping in, I was on the beach, the pier nearby. Immediately I could hear the dejected groans of the recently departed. They were roaming the beach, some wearing their best swimming outfits, others fully dressed. Being the caring person I am, I didn't want them to get cold, so I decided to pull out my weapon and remove what remained of their motor functions.

My first weapon was a katana. It felt hefty in my head; it especially felt hefty as it cut into the flesh of the nearby corpse, numbers highlighting the damage I'd dealt. The shambling soon-to-be re-dead corpse slowly reacted, stumbling as I hit it. As I moved through other zombies, trying out other weapons, I started to get used to the slower but still swingy combat of Dead Island 2. The few zombies I'd interacted with were pooling what remained of their blood and guts as I crushed, cut and otherwise maimed.

Killing the small fry was fine, but I had a mission and limited time to do it. I headed to the pier. Suddenly things weren't as straightforward. That annoying bugger Pennywise the Clown was no longer merely a trans-dimensional entity but also a zombie after crossing IPs. Fortunately, Pennywise decided to let me make my way to the edge of the pier rather than butchering me there. So, taking the opportunity, I made my way to the edge of the pier, having no issues and slaughtering everything in my way without breaking a sweat.

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Oh, if only. Dead Island 2 is more challenging than the previous dead island. As mentioned, the combat feels hefty. It feels like a more deliberate version of the first title. Charging into a flock of zombies (which sounds much deadlier than a horde) is not always advisable. Regular ones, have at it. It's when the special ones arrive you end up in trouble. You will take some out, but you can't just slice through them now - they're physical objects and have special abilities too.

At first, I was facing off against Electro. Not sure how he got zombified, but he had. I had to get rid of him quickly, so I pulled out a gun and shot him from the top of the stairs. He exploded with electricity as he re-died(?). This fight was in an amusement arcade, with the game giving me another fight just before a Ferris Wheel. During this fight, I had to fight off a swarm of regular deadites, with the Dead Island 2 equivalent of tanks and boomers, as well as Electro, Waterboy, and even more special infected that had decided they wanted the Blood Drive too.

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Here's where Amy's (one of Dead Island 2's six protagonists) unique ability was handy. She can slam the ground, creating a shockwave that knocks back nearby enemies. Essential when you've got the bigger foes or those with electrifying - or poisonous - abilities nearby. Helping with the new combat system, you've also got more effective dodges, jumps and kicks to help you make space. Eventually, I got to the end. I found the Blood Drive, made my way off the pier, and the members of Dambuster Studio threw me a party.

Which would have been lovely had Pennywise not decided to pop from above me, knock me out, and then start feasting on the corpse of the person with the laptop. Once I woke up, it was time to get serious; it was time to kill the clown. You realise that he's fast and brutal, and when you knock his health down, he'll bugger off to feed on a corpse, getting stronger. You need to interrupt that. Unfortunately, he killed me. Partway through my second attempt, my time with Dead Island 2 ended as other people appeared.

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My time with Dead Island 2 did one thing most of all, it surprised me. I went in expecting a mess caused by a decade of development hell. Dambuster pointed out that everything here is from 2019 onwards, and they wanted to make Dead Island 2 their way. An intelligent decision based on what I played.

While I can't say much more about the game because I didn't get to see character progression, crafting, or any fundamental part of the story - anything aside from combat, in all honesty - what I was able to play was enjoyable. There's little doubt in my mind that Dambuster has made the right decisions in combat. That leaves me feeling positive for the next stage, a possible next preview, and the eventual release on Feb 3rd, 2023.

Products mentioned in this post

Dead Island 2
USD 70
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