Dead Island 2: Embracing LA Culture, Critiquing the Rich, and Challenging Influencers

Getting stuck in development limbo is often a bad sign for video games. Some titles, like Final Fantasy VII Remake or The Last Guardian, manage to overcome the odds, while others, like Aliens: Colonial Marines or Duke Nukem Forever, fall short. Frequently, games in the latter category lack a cohesive design identity, incorporating various trends from different developers without a clear vision. I was concerned that Dead Island 2, after its numerous delays, would suffer from a lack of creativity and direction. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover just how wrong I was.

We all know that Dead Island 2 has faced significant challenges during its development, with delays and shifts in the development team. However, the final version of the game, created by Dambuster Studios, showcases some unique gameplay ideas. The game features a gory F.L.E.S.H. dismemberment system, interactive environmental elements, and inventive moments that fully embrace its comedic, bougie apocalypse set in Los Angeles. These elements have the potential to redefine Dead Island 2 and redeem its troubled narrative upon release.

HELL-A, Visualized

Dead Island 2 begins with the player surviving a plane crash caused by an infected, rich individual who attacked everyone on board. As the player chooses their character and navigates through the wreckage, they encounter a wealthy actress named Emma Jaunt and her manager. However, they soon abandon the player to help others, directing them to Jaunt’s mansion in Bel-Air if they manage to survive.

During this section, players become acquainted with Dead Island 2’s melee combat and degradable weapons as they fend off hordes of zombies. Although I ultimately triumphed, my character was bitten by one of the people we were trying to save. It turns out the player’s character is immune to the infection, leading them to regroup with Emma Jaunt and her “friends” at her luxurious Bel-Air residence. Together, they work towards escaping Los Angeles, starting by contacting the government to inform them of the player’s immunity.

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Dead Island 2 zombie
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The vibrant world design of Dead Island 2 caught my attention as I traversed Bel-Air on my way to the Hallerpin Hotel, where the military had established a safe zone for survivors. The extravagant houses in Bel-Air featured large infinity pools and space for private events. However, these opulent structures provided little practical protection against the relentless zombie attacks. Dead Island 2’s color palette is bright and vivid, creating a striking contrast with the gruesome zombies and the extreme gore that permeates the adventure.

My amazement grew when I took a shortcut through another house in Bel-Air, only to stumble upon a giant whiteboard displaying a heartfelt video script. It read, “I’m alone in the house, it’s 1 a.m., and I just wanted to say sorry to all of my fans that I’ve disappointed but most importantly my sponsors — I’ll do better next time. [CRY HERE FOR SYMPATHY] This isn’t scripted, this is from the heart. Please take the evacuation seriously, it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have joked about it — love you all.”

Oh my goodness, I found myself in one of those insufferable TikTok Houses, and someone here was filming an apology video for joking about the zombie apocalypse.

Dead Island 2 screenshot
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this place was called the “GOAT Pen” and served as a home for several influencers, only one of whom survived. As I scavenged for supplies, I encountered sets specifically designed for various content creators, with bongs and beer bottles scattered everywhere. The house even boasted a sprawling game room with a bowling alley and arcade cabinets referencing games like Timesplitters and Homefront: The Revolution.

This encounter with the GOAT Pen emphasized how vapid LA culture could be, even before the zombie apocalypse. It also revealed the developers’ commitment to creating distinct environments, rather than simply copy-pasting buildings. Dead Island 2 exudes a real sense of creativity, which became even more evident as I encountered the game’s main story set pieces.

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Beyond the Basics

Arriving at the Hallerpin Hotel, it became clear that something was amiss. There were no signs of human life, only body bags, zombies, and a pool filled with a deadly chemical substance. It soon became apparent that anyone who had sought refuge in the hotel had either been killed by the military or transformed into a zombie. But this level had one more twist in store: the military had interrupted a wedding when they arrived at the hotel.

The juxtaposition of the joyful wedding ceremony and the grim reality of the zombie-infested hotel added an unexpected layer to this mission. I found myself fighting against a zombified groom and best man at the altar. After contacting a doctor through a radio left behind, I had to confront and defeat a giant zombified bride in the hotel’s ballroom, all while her first dance song played in the background. It was a video game boss fight that I will remember for a long time.

A screamer yells on a beach in Dead Island 2
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Upon returning to Emma Jaunt’s house, I discovered that her assistant had gone rogue in search of supplies to prove his worth. My journey led me to Monarch Studios, a location filled with intricate sets overrun by zombies instead of actors and crew. As I searched for Emma’s assistant, I had to battle through various film and TV show sets. The standout moments for me included fighting hordes of enemies on the sitcom set of Friends Without Benefits and exploring the fabricated marshes of Rise of the God-Spider, where zombies dressed in costumes of questionable cultural sensitivity attacked.

The set pieces in Monarch Studios showcased the visual and gameplay strengths of Dead Island 2. The game featured a remarkable variety of zombie designs that became more noticeable as I moved from one set to another in the movie studio. Each set offered unique environmental interactions, allowing me to electrocute, set on fire, or slowly kill the zombies with acid. These elemental effects, combined with weapon customization and a detailed melee combat system that showed realistic damage on enemies, granted players a higher degree of control and agency during gameplay.

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All of these elements culminated in the boss fight at Monarch Studios. I faced off against a bloated zombie capable of spitting acid, a concept not entirely new to the genre. However, the fight took place under the looming presence of a giant mechanical God-Spider. I could interact with various control panels, causing different elemental effects that damaged both the boss and the regular zombies. Once again, the developers transformed what could have been a mundane boss fight into a memorable set piece tailored specifically to Dead Island 2’s unique gameplay systems.

Something New

These fresh ideas set Dead Island 2 apart from the multitude of zombie games and AAA open-world titles that I’ve experienced. By going beyond the expected and infusing many of the game’s set pieces with distinct character, the team at Dambuster Studios has showcased their creativity and passion. Despite its challenging development cycle, Dead Island 2 has managed to deliver a polished and cohesive experience that exceeds expectations.

I am now eagerly looking forward to playing more of Dead Island 2 upon its release. Even if the final version of the game falls short of perfection, the fact that Dambuster Studios has crafted a uniquely engaging and well-realized game should be commended.

Dead Island 2 will be available on April 21 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Dead Island 2’s Amazon Alexa voice commands are innovative, albeit limited
  • Dead Island 2 avoids clash with Star Wars Jedi by adjusting its release date
  • Dead Island 2 pushed back to April, signaling an early start to the delay season of 2023
  • Dead Island 2 supports experimental Amazon Alexa voice controls
  • First Dead Island 2 trailer showcases intriguing character builds

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