Dead Island 2 preview (Gamescom)

One of the most eagerly anticipated releases of early 2023 is Dead Island 2 – we recently went hands on with it and here’s what we thought.

What we know

Developed by Dambuster Studios (who developed Chorus as well), Dead Island 2 was recently re-introduced to the gaming world by publisher Deep Silver, who also went ahead and announced a February 3, 2023 launch. Not only was a once-eagerly-anticipated game back, we also won’t have to wait long for it.

The game will launch for PC, Xbox and PlayStation, and will retain the crafting and rage elements of the first game while introducing tweaks to the combat system as well. Another big twist is a major change in scenery, as the action shifts from a somewhat generic tropical island to California, in and around its major cities. Because of a zombie outbreak, the state’s been declared a quarantine zone, and you find yourself in the middle of it.

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What we saw

Known only as an ‘unannounced game’ prior to Gamescom, we were happy to find out that our mystery meeting with Plaion was actually for the re-introduction of Dead Island 2, which was announced that week. Our demo session started with a short intro on the game by the developers, after which we played through an entire scenario in which we ventured onto a pier at nighttime to chase after a demonic clown and the many other horrific (often zombie-like) creatures that stand in your way.

Even though it appears as a mostly linear demo at first (your main objective is to get to the end of the pier), the developers did manage to put plenty of twists and turns into this scenario, which we played for about half an hour – ending with a boss fight against the aforementioned clown. Before getting there, you had to find alternate routes past collapsed parts of the pier, get past closed doors and stay alive during scenes where you’re locked in and faced with a sudden wave of enemies.

What we thought

Despite the new announcement, Dead Island 2 wasn’t a completely new title, but after years of having vanished from the public eye it was nice to see and play the game again. In its previous form, people seemed to react positively to what was shown at and around trade shows, so it was interesting to see if the game could reignite that flame years later.

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What stood out most was how our own frame of reference had changed in those years. Now, in 2022, Dying Light 2 was a game that feels somewhat similar in terms of its zombie-ridden theme and environment, so what was striking is how different Dead Island 2 immediately felt, at least in the demo we played. As a vivid reminder of what Dead Island stands for, the action almost instantly kicks off with some brutal melee combat, and ranged weapons and ammo are generally scarce.

Judging from the demo experience, encounters are often visceral and intense, especially when you’re heavily outnumbered – which makes this much more of a “zombies that try to overrun you” type of game, which feels like an homage to zombie films like the Dawn of the Dead remake. The new shift to a more urban environment and a Californian backdrop also helps this feeling, which should please modern zombie movie fans.

What the demo didn’t show us, apart from a few cutscenes, was a good look at the narrative the moves Dead Island 2 forward. It’s hard to gauge how engaging the story element is going to be for that reason – we like the premise, but the demo threw us right in the middle of the action instead of letting us warm up to the story. And while that might not completely please the narrative-hungry fans we are, the action was in your face and offered plenty of diversity in scenarios and enemy types to make sure we felt completely engaged with the demo for the duration of the session.

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