Playing Dead Island 2 feels like I’ve been transported back to how gaming felt in the PlayStation 3 era, albeit much prettier and with a controller that doesn’t weigh like it was made primarily for toddlers. Returning to 2013’s gaming tropes in 2023 was a pleasant enough trip down memory lane for a short time, before descending into an experience that really drove home how far gaming has come in the past decade.

Beginning the game and choosing my character based off stats I didn’t understand because there hadn’t been any actual gameplay yet, I eventually settled on Carla. “My choice won’t matter”, I thought, “I’ll just slap the game difficulty down to easy at the first sign of trouble”. The joke was on me before I even fought my first zombie, as Dead Island 2 doesn’t have difficulty settings at all, with the player experience tailored to the stats you choose at the very beginning. My troubles didn’t end there.

Jumping into the actual gameplay of this 2013 2023 video game, my first impressions were strong. The explosive and bloody opening looks gorgeous, and the zombie slaying action is as gore-filled as you could hope. After surviving a dramatic plane crash and meeting our cast of side characters, eventually we find ourselves in a Los Angeles suburb swarming with the sunglasses sporting undead. The original scramble to find a weapon which didn’t disintegrate upon a zombie glancing condescendingly over their cool guy shades proved quite frustrating the first time I was let loose into the world. I often found myself unarmed as a result of the rapid weapon degradation, before becoming literally unarmed when a constantly respawning zombie chewed them off my shuddering shoulders. While Dead Island 2 is more than satisfactory at feeding my blood thirst, the endless waves of undead wore me down to the point I would only sprint between objectives inside my first three hours of gameplay.

I made the mistake upon being let loose upon ‘Hell-A’s residents of following the Xuligan method of aiming for the head. If you are planning on playing Dead Island 2 the most helpful advice I can give you is that aiming for a zombie’s legs first tends to be the most expedient way of dispatching them. One thing this game has which I love is, just like in Atomic Heart, every strike you inflict causes physical visible damage, with long cuts carving through flesh depending on your weapon type and trajectory. While I do advise the aforementioned leg shots are quicker for getting on with your day, I never got tired of battering a zombie’s face so much that their lower jaw was sent spinning off into the distance. Absolutely viciously delightful!

The combat is unforgiving, unrelenting, and before long, unbearable. I lost count of how many times one zombie in the mix would sneakily be a much higher level than the others, leading to lots of dying and reloading on my part. While loading times have come down significantly in the PlayStation 5 era it seems Dead Island 2 didn’t receive that memo, meaning the wait to get back into the action sits irritatingly on that spot between fast enough to wait and not quick enough that I don’t start flicking through my phone before it’s ready.

Zombies chew through my health bar a lot quicker than I’d like for a fun and colourful hack and slash, but fortunately this can almost be fully countered by getting health back through…countering. There were several fights early on where I’d try playing normally and get splattered across the tarmac, so would instead do nothing but counter enemies to see if that did the trick. 95% of the time I’d get through the entire fight taking next to no damage. I came in expecting to be able to creatively brutalise the shambling horde, but instead all I get to do is time my L1 taps with an occasional R2 if I’m feeling fruity. I absolutely hate this.

One special moment which occurred very on had me comment out loud to myself while playing “I’m surprised there haven’t been any jumpscares in this game”, only for a massive jumpscare to happen with seconds which made me audibly cry out for help. Usually I detest jumpscares but as that one was so well put together I couldn’t stay annoyed at it, until it reused the exact same tactic more than once within just a couple of hours of play, which ruined it.

A long running personal feature in games through the PlayStation 2 and 3 generations was that I seldom finished the games I started if they grew too difficult and stretched my patience. Predictably, Dead Island 2 decided to spring a couple difficulty spikes on me, which I could usually deal with by countering everything that came near, but eventually this option was also taken away. I tried for half an hour to complete a relatively simple task, but the punishment padded zombies wore me down over and over to the point I abandoned my save in search of a game more grounded in modern video game trends. Dead Island 2 certainly provided a jaunt down memory lane, but unfortunately all the memories it resurfaced were ones I had intentionally psychologically buried over the decades for a reason.

My admiration for the attempt at resurrecting gaming from the ‘good old days’ is matched only by my contempt for the decision to do so warts and all. Dead Island 2’s frustrating refusal of accessibility, compounded by its lack of new ideas or interesting takes on the games that fill second hand shop bargain bins, make it much more of a chore than a fun zombie game. It looks very pretty, and I enjoyed the return to self-contained levels instead of a copy pasted empty open world which would only add to the tedium I felt while playing this game in its current form.

Another feature I felt let down the already burdened experience was the levelling system. I understand how player levelling can help keep the game progression moving at a steady pace, but it loses me with the idea that zombies also need to have a level, where if one much higher than me simply brushes passed I’m instantly killed and sent flying into the neighbour’s pool. If you don’t want players going to places that are commonly blocked by locked gates in the game, maybe just make them impassable instead of letting us through to be obliterated by a hipster who hadn’t showered for years even before the zombie outbreak.

On a technical level it plays well, which is more than can be said of other games releasing at the moment, though with a development time which lasted longer than my 20’s that’s the very least it could offer. There are far too many games which accommodate all players and allow me to forget I was once bad at games, so patch in an easy mode or I’m not interested. I score Dead Island 2

5 / 10

Game code provided by publisher.

Written, edited and images sourced by Alexx.

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