Dead Island 2 Is a Disappointing, Clunky Mess of a Zombie Game

Inverse Score: 6/10

Deep Silver

Even the barbaric way that zombie limbs explode into pulpy buckets of gore in Dead Island 2 isn’t enough to make it fun to play. Sure, laying into a horde of zombies with an assault rifle is classic gaming fodder, but Dead Island 2’s clunky melee combat is frustrating enough to soil the entire experience. It speaks to the game’s restrictive and oftentimes unfair design that punishes all but the most precise (and lucky) gamers out there.

How is a game that feels this janky the product of a 10-year development cycle?

Dead Island 2 is very much so a blast from the past. It looks pretty, but it’s a phoned-in first-person action zombie adventure with oddly unpolished combat, horrendous writing, and overly linear stages that lack depth.

While technically a sequel to 2011’s Dead Island, it feels more like a step back rather than forward. As players explore famous areas of Los Angeles, California, everything feels like more subtropical mayhem too similar to the original. At the start, a group of survivors attempts to escape the Los Angeles zombie outbreak via plane that’s quickly shot down by the army. Predictably, the characters embark on a quest to find a cure for the zombie infection while swearing and smashing their way through the gory hordes.

Inconsistent Combat

Clunky melee combat hampers the gameplay experience.

Deep Silver

Dead Island 2’s main gameplay loop requires players to visit different areas of LA (or as the game calls it, “HELL-A”) where they have to scavenge for supplies to combat the zombie hordes. Melee weapons like crowbars, bats, and swords each have their defining characteristics and encourage experimentation, particularly since they degrade as you use them (not unlike Breath of the Wild).

Melee combat itself feels unpolished and random, with inconsistent hitboxes that render most encounters frustrating. Sometimes, your nailbat might connect with the enemy, but the game won’t register the attack. And on the flip side, you might still take damage even when you’re beyond a zombie’s range. It makes for a lot of Game Overs that feel cheap and unfair.

Once you unlock guns (after a grueling six hours or so), battling with zombies feels much better. Ammo remains scarce, however, so you still have to put up with melee weapons throughout the entire game. If only you had more flexibility to pick and choose like in the first game.

Bafflingly, your resources (or lack thereof) carry over after each Game Over. If you spend all your medkits on a particular battle and then get taken out, you’ll restart the encounter with no healing items. So much of Dead Island 2 feels janky, outdated, and downright punishing. When you want to skip fights altogether in a game that’s supposed to be all about the zombie-slaying, then what’s the point?

Limited Scope

Dead Island 2 feels far too linear, with almost no incentive to explore.

Deep Silver

Combat’s restrictive vibes extend into virtually every part of the Dead Island 2 experience. Its semi-open stages feel stitched together in a way that’s a far cry from the first game’s open-world setting. This time around, there’s no real incentive to explore, and things start to feel repetitive and linear far too quickly.

Even progression feels restrictive, overly simple, and unsatisfying. A card upgrade system sort of functions like a skill tree, only the abilities don’t make much of a difference during the heat of battle, especially at first. Back 4 Blood’s approach actually feels meaningful thanks to the impact each ability has on the gameplay, but Dead Island 2’s skills feel tacked on.

Sure, the Drop Kick skill is great for crowd control, but most others like Pain Threshold — which grants a modest damage boost when dodging or blocking — feel underwhelming. So you never feel compelled to earn XP or complete side missions when the only rewards are so lackluster.

The game also offers six playable characters, each with their own unique abilities and personalities. However, picking a new character starts the game from the beginning. Much like the skill cards, many of the survivors’ abilities don’t make much of a difference, leaving almost no reason to play through the game again with a different character.

A Looker

Visuals and animations are the game’s strongest points, offering a distinct style.

Deep Silver

Dead Island 2’s best qualities are the over-the-top action and gore, which are gut-busting and laughable in the best way possible. In one memorable sequence, my character Jacob grabbed a zombie by the throat, bashed its skull in and then decapitated it after its eyes popped out.

The beautiful world design is also packed with little details that give it life. Nearly every area is packed to the brim with bits of environmental storytelling from little scraps of food to stray pieces of trash.

Dead Island 2 combines somewhat realistic character models and assets with an almost cartoonishly vibrant color palette that makes everything from zombie guts to clothing shops inside a mall pop from the screen. This game may feel and play like something from 2011, but it at least looks like a prestige zombie game from 2023.

Was Dead Island 2 worth the decade-long wait? Not at all. Unrefined and inconsistent combat coupled with linear level design leaves you with few reasons to keep going. Once you realize it’s all style and no substance, the novelty wears off fairly early on.


Dead Island 2 is available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Inverse reviewed the PS5 version.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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