dead island 2 preview

Dead Island 2 Hands-On Preview – Welcome to Hell.A

After being announced almost ten years ago, Dead Island 2 is a game that became synonymous with the words, “Development Hell. Originally announced by Techland, who then decided to focus on its other zombie video game, Dying Light 2, which landed the game into the hands of the German game studio Yager. From there, it then shifted over to Sumo Digital and eventually fell into Dambuster Studios lap in 2019. That’s when talk of Dead Island 2 went quiet, and we all thought it was y’know… dead. That’s until the game resurfaced once again at Gamescom six months ago with a 2023 release date.

Recently, The Outerhaven was given a chance to go hands-on with the Dead Island 2 preview, and well, it’s shaped up a worthwhile zombie-killing video game, despite its development track record.

A zombie has been set on fire by a crafted hammer in Dead Island 2 by Dambuster Studios.
Crafted weapons can set zombies ablaze or electrocute them, making them easier to deal with.

Welcome to Hell.A:

Dead Island 2 kicks off with a stylish introduction for the six playable survivors as they arrive at the tarmac of a zombie-infested (Hel)L.A. As zombies begin to swarm the plane and earthquakes rock the city, the plane takes off, trying to evacuate whoever they can. However, as with all zombie media, an infected passenger begins to attack the others and the plane is quickly brought down by the military. Being one of the flights very few survivors, you wake up with debris in your gut, administer first aid to yourself and then try to formulate a plan to escape what you now know as Hell.A

As the plane is shot down, you’re asked to choose one of the game’s six survivors, known as the Slayers. Each slayer has different stats and their own unique perks and abilities. I chose Dani, the English punk rocker. Statistically, Dani has the weakest health regeneration in the game but her unique perk boosts her health regen when killing multiple zombies at once. With that in mind, I set out to navigate the plane’s wreckage, meeting my first set of living friends, the famous celebrity Emma Jaunt and her quirky little assistant/sycophant, Michael. There was also some other guy bleeding from his ears, but he seemed okay otherwise.

Upon meeting this group of NPC survivors, Emma gave me her address and then fled the scene, leaving me to defend myself from a group of zombies. Unfortunately, our slayers do end up being bitten and we make our way to Emma’s mansion, one of the zombie-free zones in the game. Our bite causes quite a stir at the mansion and the last thing we see before passing out is a gun in our face. Thankfully, we wake up, our sanity intact and our bite is healing up nicely. We’re alive and we just discovered that we’re immune to the zombie virus… or so we think.

The Slayer wields an electrified machete against a lone zombie in Dead Island 2.
It’s quite shocking what a machete can do to a zombie.

How Does Dead Island 2 Feel?

With our mind set on escaping the zombie apocalypse and Emma Jaunt’s home well enough defended, we head out into Dead Island 2’s Hell.A. Starting off in the richer class area of L.A. I navigated through mansions and narrow city streets that were infested with zombies. Using whatever weapon I could find as my only weapons.

In the beginning, combat in Dead Island 2 felt slow to me. I kept finding larger weapons like sledgehammers, rebar and other cumbersome weapons. Despite that though, it still managed to feel good. Stepping up to a group of zombies and viciously slamming a sledgehammer into them would often result in flinging one or two away from me. Knocking down zombies also sets players up to deliver brutal head stomps if a zombie’s health is low enough.

Another tactic I found myself relying on was sprinting into zombies and knocking them down with a swift dropkick. Some attacks can also be dodged and countered, delivering a devastating amount of damage. Using attacks like these consume some of your stamina but they do help preserve your weapons durability. Weapons can be repaired but weaker weapons break quickly, and you don’t want to engage in zombie slaying with just your fists, though punching zombies is a viable (and satisfying) option.

Eventually, I built up quite an arsenal of weapons, ranging from crafted items like electrified machetes to reinforced meat tenderizers and wicked claws. I felt much more confident engaging large groups. Combined with various ways to knock down zombies, dispatching them became quick and efficient.

You can craft some truly wacky weaponry in Dead Island 2.

Zombies, Skill Cards & Curveballs:

Dead Island 2 sports the usual undead suspects. These guys range from Shamblers and Runners. Shamblers are your basic zombies, Runners… well, they run at you. Then, as I progressed, I ran into armored zombies, who I had to hit in specific areas, like their heads, in order to kill them. After the armored variant, I met the hazmat zombie and grenade zombie. The hazmat zombie was immune to acidic damage, and the grenade zombie would explode if I hit one of the explosives rigged to its body.

Finally, you can also come across named zombies, which are tougher versions of the previously mentioned zombies. They provide more experience and better loot. One of my favorite moments from the demo was the infected influencer mansion I took a shortcut through. It was full of goofy rooms that poked fun at influencer groups and named zombies. They weren’t too much of a challenge but taking them out did help me level up Dani.

To deal with these zombies, you’ll slowly gain access to skill cards. Skill cards can be earned through quests, leveling up, and found throughout the world. Some are also exclusive to certain Slayers. For instance, only Dani and Jacob can use the “Serial Killer” card, which boosts their damage after killing zombies. Another fun card I earned was one that would send out an explosive shockwave when I used a medpack, knocking back any zombie who was close enough.

Then there are the “Curveballs”, which are items you can unlock with helpful abilities. For instance, the first one you unlock is the “Meat” curveball which helps distract shamblers. It’s useful when you do something like set off a car alarm or stumble into a random group of them. Later on, I found a shuriken stuck into a car door which unlocked a new curveball for me. Shurikens are great for maiming zombies, and your character throws out three at once increasing your chances of hitting more than one zombie. While Curveballs are items you find in the world, they rely on a short cooldown period so you don’t have to be afraid of using them all up.

Looking out at the LA streets from the safety of Emma Jaunt's home in Dead Island 2.
Emma Jaunts home not only overlooks much of LA, but it’s a safe zone where you can pick up quests, restock and craft items.

How I Felt About Dead Island 2:

Unfortunately, I got sick during the time I had access to Dead Island 2 and spent a lot of my time lazing about on the couch or in bed. Although I didn’t play as much as I wished I could have, I got a solid five hours onboard. Thankfully though, in that time, I felt like I got to experience a good portion of the game’s opening.

One little thing I appreciate is how chatty the Slayers are. Dani is a fun protagonist, and she fits in well with the goofy stylings of Hell.A. I often found myself giggling at her quips and narration, like when I was walking through an elderly celebrity’s mansion in an attempt to rescue him. He had thrown a party the night the infection spread, and Dani had fun things to say.

I ran into one bug as I played the game, and it was a minor one. Zombies would occasionally get stuck in the environment. This happened to me twice, once on some stairs and another time on a balcony. Despite the zombie getting stuck in the environment, I was still able to deal with the zombie. Hopefully, when the final version is launched, it’s only these little bugs that other players run into as well.

Dead Island 2 is a case where I’m happy my expectations were not met. It’s a game with an incredibly long development cycle that was shifted between many hands. Normally, I expect the worst kind of outcome, thanks to past experiences. However, all things considered, after playing the game, I can assure you that Dead Island 2 feels like a solid, zombie slaying experience so far. We’ll see how it turns out when the game upcoming zombie-killing game gets released on April 21st.