Dead Island 2 Rise of the middle class zombie, Preview

LET’S FACE IT : Dead Island was equal parts fun and wasted potential. Some ideas were a joy, others were a nightmare. As a cohesive experience, it just didn't work. Undoubtedly, however, there was potential in the brand of stat heavy zombie RPG it presented and so it’s good to see a fully fledged second attempt at putting things right.

This time around it’s Spec Ops: The Line developer Yager in charge and tasked with giving Dead Island 2 the kind of focus and polish the original never had. Having now played a small slice of it, what immediately stands out is the attempt at amplifying the tone of comical dread this series has tried to sell it self on.

Within five minutes of play we’d crafted ourselves an electrified knife, hit zombies tens of feet into the sky with a shovel, worked as a four person co op team to protect a karaoke set from the undead hordes and made a crude bomb out of gas canisters. If you’re looking for a game to stream on Twitch or create a‘best of’ You Tube video from then this is it. You’ll get the hits.

 Our demo takes place in a Californian suburb, blindingly bright houses set against a Hollywood hills backdrop. Unlike the first game, the playable characters aren’t trapped in hell against their will… they’re enthusiastic contestants within it. When the zombie apocalypse hit, these individuals of questionable sanity decided to stay behind and enjoy the free-spirited carnage it afforded.

We’ve played as just two of this bunch so far, both falling into traditional visions of RPG stereotypes. One of them is the insanely powerful Berserker, able to deal and withstand increased levels of damage.


The other is the nimbler and subtler Speeder, able to move more quickly and assassinate the unaware from behind. Using both in cooperation is best; the Berserker taking the flak, while the Speeder flanks around behind for the instant kill. There’s plenty of loot dotted about for you to pick up and use to customise your killing spree. Investigating houses, supermarkets and petrol stations provides everything from shotguns to a mystery, fire based pickup that somehow coats your melee weapon in flame. It’s difficult to understand the physics of such a concoction, but it seems to work just fine in the spirit of the game.

Setting this kind of scavenger based mayhem within a sun drenched, Californian understanding of wealth works surprising well the environment is far more interesting than the drab surrounds of the last game and oddly inviting too. Killing zombies with shotguns and machetes amidst the picket fences and million-dollar swimming pools seems almost meant to be, given middle-class America’s unjustified expectations and fears of impending doom… be that from terrorism, riots and/or zombies.

Towards the back end of our demo, a random event is initiated that tasks all players with meeting up at a particular point and surviving against a few waves of increasingly tough zombies, from the standard walkers to hulking, muscle-bound eight-footers. You’re free to ignore such moments, but you’re missing out on big chunks of XP if you do.

Co-op, as a rule, is designed to be unrestrictive. Players are matched with each other within their area of the game, but nothing exists to force you to move around together or engage in the same activities. Playing together is more about killing together than locking you into missions and narrative as a group. Random moments, like the zombie waves, seemingly exist solely as a way to remind you explicitly that you’re not alone and that playing with others is more fun.

That’s exactly what Yager needs to do: make Dead Island 2 fun. We’ve got enough RPGs treading serious ground already, punishing you for every little mistake made with your loadout, your skill trees and your quest decisions. Putting the emphasis on easily consumed diversity is certainly no bad thing, especially where zombies are concerned.

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