Dead Island 2 Has All the Clunkiness of a Decade-Old Game

Long, long time.

Dead Island 2
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Dead Island 2 had a tumultuous development cycle, but it’s finally launching soon. First revealed in 2014, the game subsequently went through several developers before landing on Dambuster Studios. Now, the game is finally ready to see the light of day. While the upcoming zombie action-adventure has plenty of style, it ultimately still feels like it’s not ready for prime time, due mostly to its clunky combat and its restricted world.

Much like its predecessor, Dead Island 2 is a first-person action game that emphasizes melee combat. In it, you explore, find resources, and craft items to help you slay the endless waves of zombies that plague the city of Los Angeles (known as Hell-A). Dead Island 2 takes place a few months after the events of the first game and is largely linear compared to its predecessor.

Dead Island 2’s world feels restrictive, as nearly every stage is linear and narrow.

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Dead Island 2 doesn’t include an open world like the first game. Instead, it features large, linear sections of the city, with a handful of districts including Beverly Hills and Bel-Air. While it’s nice that Dead Island 2 avoids the level of bloat that so many recent open-world games have, it suffers from the opposite problem: It’s too restrictive.

It doesn’t feel like I’m navigating Bel-Air, but rather an extremely narrow, linear neighborhood that’s sectioned off by dead ends and barriers. This does make it a bit more digestible, but even after a few hours, I was already tired of backtracking through the same areas over and over, especially since there’s basically only one main path through each district. This is at odds with the main gameplay loop, which wants you to explore and collect resources, but due to the limited areas, scavenging for items gets old fast.

Retreading linear levels gets old very quickly in Dead Island 2.

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It’s likely the game’s scope was cut back to finally get it out the door after such a long development cycle.

Dead Island 2’s restrictive level design isn’t the only issue. Its combat is in dire need of refinement. The biggest problem is that it’s often difficult to connect with an attack due to wonky hitboxes. Sometimes, I’d swing a sword within point-blank range of a zombie to no avail — it wouldn’t register. This happened frequently and even led to my demise on a number of occasions, making the combat feel almost randomized at times. Sure, slicing an infected with an electrified rake is fun, but only when it works ... which isn’t as often as you’d expect.

Aside from that, there are very few reasons to try out the game’s multiple protagonists.

There are six playable characters to choose from, each with different attributes and skills. Dani has high stamina, allowing her to dish out a flurry of attacks before getting tired, while the stylish Bruno focuses more on critical damage.

While combat is fun, it still feels unpolished. Connecting with a melee attack feels wonky and doesn’t work as often as you’d expect.

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You’re unable to change your character after you pick them at the start, so you’re stuck with that protagonist for the entire experience. Yet Dead Island 2 seems to want you to play each character even if it offers virtually no incentive to do so. Since the story is exactly the same across each, the only reason to jump back in with another protagonist is to experience the subtle nuances of their toolkit.

This is particularly troublesome when certain skills (which come in the form of cards) are exclusive to specific characters — such as Dani’s Bloodlust ability that lets her regain health when slaying multiple zombies in rapid succession. It would be far preferable if you could swap characters on the fly.

Despite featuring six playable characters to choose from, there isn’t much of a reason to give each one a try.

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The game also suffers from downright terrible writing and unlikable characters. Dead Island 2 feels like something from 2012, with dialogue that tries very hard to be “edgy” without succeeding. This would be excusable if the gameplay were solid, at least, but Dead Island 2 is unfortunately a wall-to-wall mess.

Sure, the overall art direction has a lot going for it with some beautifully grotesque zombie designs, but Dead Island 2 so far looks like a fairly disappointing sequel that’s somehow 10 years in the making. Given the game’s imminent release date, it’s unlikely many of these criticisms will be addressed, so it’s best to keep your expectations in check for this one.

Dead Island 2 launches for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on April 21, 2023.

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