The first Dead Island game released way back in 2011. And that zombie hack-and-slash franchise now gets a sequel in Dead Island 2. Oddly though, this time the drooling and flesh-gobbling infestation breaks out on the “island” of L.A.
After your character realizes that he or she is trapped in a city full of raging undead (“How did this happen!?”), there are a few storylines to wade through here with your gore-coated weapons held high. They involve fellow zombie-apocalypse survivors, such as a Hollywood movie star who befriends you and a doctor who declares he’s seeking a cure. And as your own zombie-slayer picks through boxes and burned-out buildings, there are also documents and notes that flesh out why this maggoty, rotting-filth plague is chewing its way through what remains of the City of Angels.
But truthfully, Dead Island 2 is more about questing, weapon-building and skull-mushing than it is storytelling. The biggest plot twist in the mix is that your character is actually bitten and infected early on. But you appear to be at least partially immune to the stuff in your blood. In fact, the disease, known as autophage, can offer special skills which unlocks a three-tier system that boosts character’s healing, damage and stamina abilities.
Gameplay-wise, you’ll have the option of playing as one of six possible characters, each with its own strengths, weaknesses and special abilities. One might be very fast and agile but fragile, while another is more tank-like and slow but has a great defense. It all comes down to choosing a zombie-bashing character that fits your play style.
Another aspect of this game that should be mentioned is its Skill Deck. Whereas many action games feature a skill tree that players slowly unlock and benefit from, this one features a variety of unlockable cards in different categories. Players can eventually shuffle those ability, defense, attack and strength-buffing cards in or out of their deck to help them build the perfect combo.
One of the “Slayer” cards, for instance, allows gamers to regain health for successfully maiming zombies, while one of the “Survivor” cards gives a minor boost to a character’s damage after a successful dodge or block. Strategically planning out your deck is an important part of play.
Dead Island 2 is, quite frankly, a brutal gorefest of a game. So there aren’t a lot of kuddos we at Plugged In can give it. That said, there are some heroic and selfless choices to be made amid the game’s hellish situations. Gamers will encounter many people who make completely selfish decisions in the heat of things. But they can choose to aid and save those that they meet. In a sense, then, this could be viewed as something of a fable about mankind and the choices we make.
Pretty much every other burning, bleeding and viscera-chomping thing here is problematic. The game hopes to draw players by offering them the ability to maim, dismember, behead and rip open enemy combatants in incredibly gruesome and explicit ways. Yes, those people are the shambling undead, but they’re still made of flesh and blood and entrails and bone. And you’re constantly being swarmed as you hack, burn, electrocute, rip off their jaws, pulp their skulls and detonate them.
Gamers begin with basic tools of destruction in the form of knives, wrenches and an occasional gun. But then they’re given the option to craft and enhance those base instruments with other bits to create more devastating weaponry. That arsenal includes flaming meat cleavers, electrified Japanese swords and shotguns that deliver skin-melting shots of acid.
We hear lots of corrosive language in the mix, too. Not only will you encounter f- and s-words and other crudities from those around you, your chosen character might be f-bomb prone as well. Some characters smoke. There are also scores of booze bottles, completely stoned people and drug paraphernalia to be found in the city ruins.
Frankly, I’ve gone to great lengths to rein in my descriptions of the sadistic carnage that Dead Island 2 revels gleefully in. It doesn’t even pretend to be more than action, adventure and pyrotechnic splattering guts. So, buyer beware.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.