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Dead Island 2 Review (PS5) – To Live And Die In Hell-A Is A Grand Thing

Dead Island 2 PS5 Review. After multiple delays, studio changes, and other issues, Dead Island 2 is finally a reality. But has it been worth the wait? Find out in PlayStation Universe’s PS5 review of Dambuster Studios’ zombie-smashing game.

Dead Island 2 Review (PS5) – To Live and Die in Hell-A is a Grand Thing

I don’t like to start a review with a history lesson, but for games like Dead Island 2 it makes a lot more sense to do so.

Whatever else I was going to feel about Dead Island 2, it was always going to be a bit of a moment actually getting to play it. The game had the same kind of lengthy journey to completion as The Last Guardian, Duke Nukem Forever, and Aliens: Colonial Marines. It passed through different publishers and developers and the original series creator Techland managed to start an entirely new zombie RPG game, expansion, and a sequel in the time since Dead Island 2 was released. You don’t want to associate with the Duke’s last parp or the last terrible Alien game, but the upheaval has been such that you could almost smell the disaster coming off Dead Island 2.

But the smell turned out to be success. Development eventually landed in the hands of Dambuster Studios. The Nottingham-based studio once known as Free Radical has had quite the bumpy ride itself, managing to survive rebrandings, ownership changes, and Haze along the way. It’s a great match really and it’s probably why Dead Island 2 ends up as the best possible sequel to Techland’s original. For all the chaos and disorder, this is still very much Dead Island.

La-Laaargh Land

The action moves away from tropical resorts this time and parks up in Los Angeles. Playing as one of a handful of new survivors, you land in Hell-A rather dramatically, and soon discover that like the original game’s heroes, you are immune to a zombie-making virus that’s doing the rounds. The ‘Island’ part of the name comes from the fact the outbreak is localized to LA and as a result, it’s been sectioned off. Using the fact you are immune, your character plots a way out and drives hopes for a cure among a ragtag group of Hollywood types and familiar faces.

Unlike Techland’s successor series Dying Light, Dambuster has kept Dead Island 2 out of the open-world arena. Instead, it’s a return to multiple smaller, yet expansive, areas connected by loading screens. It’s also still a fairly restrained experience, with a campaign easily dusted off in around 18 hours if you want to focus solely on it. It’s hard not to compare Dead Island 2 with Dying Light and its sequel given the shared heritage, but Dambuster has done a fine job of distancing its game from the Techland trajectory in gameplay terms.

Key to that is setting it in the very real Los Angeles instead of a fictional city. We’ve seen California represented in game form many times. Dambuster’s depiction of Hell-A does the City of Angels justice. From the Bel Air Heights to the Santa Monica Pier. The hazy, humid atmosphere of the night to the sun-bleached starkness of the day.

Tooling Up

There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and locked rooms full of goodies to try and access. It may be cut up into chunks, but the upside is a detailed depiction of the city that feels like it could have been lived in if the dead weren’t occupying it. The use of Earthquakes in the world is sadly underutilized though despite early promise.

You’ll be seeing a lot of the dead and crucially, their insides. Your character is a natural zombie ass kicker and there is a lot of rotting ass to kick. Combat is almost exactly as it was in the original, with some tweaks and refinements to the formula to make it more palatable. It’s largely melee-focused with a nice serving of guns. Weapons break with use but can be repaired for a cost.

The best bit about them is that they can be modified to do some extra gnarly damage to the undead. There’s elemental mods such as flame, caustic, and electricity. Alongside that are mods for bleed effect and extra impact. You can also stack smaller modifiers onto weapons to make them more powerful. Things such as faster reload on guns, damage multipliers, and more.

The Hollywood Undead

Witnessing the damage they do is a spectacle unto itself. In what Dambuster dubs the F.L.E.S.H. system, zombie bodies react to weapon impact and elemental damage in a very grisly way. Swing a hammer at a hand and see it shatter and contort what’s left of the flesh and bone. Jaws hang limply from faces, innards spill from open stomachs, and flesh bubbles and peels from caustic damage. As the game progresses, the types of zombie you encounter get increasingly varied and require the right tools for the job, but that degradation of their rotting flesh never ends, and for a sicko like me, it never gets old. Sure it’s not a perfect system, but it adds variety to the near-ceaseless zombie-smashing and slicing.

Adding to that combat variety is the use of the environment. Barrels of water, oil, and toxic waste litter Hell-A. Some are stationary and can be shot or hit to release their elemental goodies, whilst some are portable, and can be poured exactly where you want them. Setting up on-the-fly traps is part and parcel of Dead Island 2’s combat, and there’s great joy to be found in taking out a whole bunch of the walking dead with a puddle and a well-placed car battery.

Initially, Dead Island 2’s combat feels harsh and unwieldy. The dead can whittle your health away in seconds, and early weapons and skillsets are limited. As you progress, skill cards can be earned that give your character extra abilities such as a drop kick, dodge, block, and more exotic options. You can only assign a certain number in each of the skill trees, so it’s best to complement the way you’re playing with skill cards that boost your personal niche.

The Flesh Prince Of Bel-Air

Throwables can also be unlocked. These are an array of smaller weapons that need to recharge after use, but can really clear the field in a pinch. There’s the usual array of grenades, pipe bombs, molotovs, and even throwing stars, but there are some unique ones such as the chem-bomb. This acts as a pocket puddle that drenches the undead, leaving them susceptible to electrocution. It can also put out fires that block your path, as is often the case in the few puzzles Dead Island 2 offers up.

Driving all this goopy smashing and grabbing is your character’s journey to potential salvation. The story is pretty decent, with some genuinely well-written characters for the kind of vibe Dambuster is going for. There’s a midpoint plot turn in it that is ridiculously similar to one in Dying Light 2. An unfortunate coincidence, but one I’d argue is integrated as a gameplay mechanic far better than it was there.

Side stories actually outstrip the main campaign, and can be discovered during exploration and the main story progress. The last remnants of humanity in Hell-A are a stereotypical bunch of L.A. types, from musclebound idiots and vacant influencer types to actors on cult sci-fi shows and skittery, smarmy personal assistants. It’d be a criticism in a lot of games, but for Dead Island 2, it’s a perfect match for its schlocky parade of over-the-top violence and absurd monster mashing.

Walking Off Into The Sunset (Boulevard)

In terms of player character it’s a similar story. I picked tattooed punk rock-loving Irish gal Dani in both the preview and the full game, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her chat away with the various loons, eccentrics, and idiots of the Hollywood boulevards and beyond. The enthusiasm for bloody violence is a tad absurd in a normal world, but this is a silly and strange world where such behavior is a comfort and a talent.

Look, Dead Island 2 isn’t without its flaws. Waypointing is hit-and-miss in places. Some late-game enemies are an absolute pain in the backside. The action gets a bit too much for the game to handle on occasion, and quest variety is fairly limited. Yet Dead Island 2 doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is. It’s the smoother version of the promise Techland once made with a greater lean toward humor and gore. We’ve seen exactly what can happen to games with such lengthy and troubled development journeys. Yet, Dambuster hasn’t just salvaged a seemingly cursed game from the murky pits of development hell, it’s given it some gore-splattered respectability.

Dead Island 2 is due out on PS5, PS4, PC, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One on April 21, 2023.

Review code kindly provided by publisher.

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The Final Word

Dambuster Studios has come in and created a highly entertaining cavalcade of carnage with Dead Island 2. It’s a game that takes great joy in the simple act of smashing, splatting, and slicing the undead into meaty chunks and I’m very much here for that.