I really wanted to like the first Dead Island. I really did. It hit all the right boxes in terms on concept – 4-player co-op with a huge world to explore, customisable weapons to find and upgrade, varied enemies to kill – but it was all undone by a hugely inconsistent tone and some of the worst voice acting in recent years. As such I didn’t get very far into the game despite multiple tries to play through it, and I made sure to give Riptide a wide birth as well.
So it came as a welcome surprise when the Dead Island 2 announcement trailer caught my attention with a new, less serious tone that looked to inject some fun into the series. “This is exactly what happened last time, Carl, and the game didn’t live up to the hype,” I told myself, but after getting hands on with the game at this year’s Gamescom I’m far more optimistic that the handover of development from Techland to Yager Development (makers of the criminally underrated Spec Ops: The Line… if we ignore that multiplayer) will make it a win-win situation for both Deep Silver and consumers.
As explained in my interview with game director Bernd Diemer and producer Jan Eric Lauble, the game will contain a multiplayer element that allows for both co-operative and competitive play at a moment’s notice (otherwise labelled “mingle-player” by Diemer, which as a fan of Portmanteaus I was always going to like) but the gameplay demo I got hands-on with only highlighted the co-operative side of Dead Island 2. Teamed up with 3 other journalists, we were dumped into a map for ten minutes and were thrown optional objectives at us over time, but the main aim was to slay as many of the undead as we possibly could before the timer ran out.
I got hands-on with two characters (or classes) in the demo, the first being the Berserker; a brute-force class for those that wish to obliterate foes into a pulp, and the Speeder; a fast, nimble class that can instakill enemies with a deadly backstab. While they have different abilities in their arsenal, both have certain things in common. Players have two types of attacks with melee weapons, a fast and light attack and a stronger yet slower one. In the case of the Berserker, the heavy attack staggers his foes or smashes them in depending on their current health situation, whilst the speeder will slice anything in her way in half. In both cases, they leave the player open to attack momentarily, but in terms of balance of the overall action it works very well.
The ability to kick zombies back returns (meaning yes – you can once again kick zombies into swimming pools) but in the case of the speeder they have an extra trick. Kicking them from behind allows them to knock most zombies to their knees, stunning them momentarily. This provides options for players, as the speeder can use the opportunity to get an instakill backstab, or move onto the next foe and leave the stunned zombie to feel the pain from the Berserker. It’s a nice touch that allows for a bit more thought in co-operative play if a group wants to approach the game with more though.
Or you can slay them yourself for the gory glory. Because satisfaction.
The other thing in common between classes in the Rage mechanic. As players kill zombies they will build up a rage meter that, once full, allows them to unleash a super attack. For the Berserker, it’s a move called the Zombie Launcher, which hurls anything unlucky enough to be in rage a sizable distance across the area. It’s the definition of “satisfying” when executed, but then again the entire game plays in a much more visceral way, and that’s down to the consistence of tone – utterly brutal yet fast-paced gameplay. Traversing the small arena we had available was quick and easy, jumping over cars and fences with ease, and while zombies are still capable of overwhelming you if you’re surprised by a pack, jumping into and wailing on the nearest enemy is just too tempting. It’s almost as if the game is encouraging you to have fun despite the undead menace around you – a winning combination, if you ask me.
There were a few other aspects that were shown in the playable demo, such as the weapon customisation options that will be present in the full game. We were tasked with collecting batteries and gas / petrol to add an elemental effect to our weapons, but this was done automatically so right now we don’t know what the crafting element will be like. That said, adding lightning and fire to the weapons helped to mix up the action by setting things on fire and shocking enemies for a few moments. The horde mode objective we were given helped to highlight this, although I will admit that there were times where I felt there could have been more to kill, as four players were smashing up the enemies with ease – even with the presence of a few enforcer zombies to mix things up. Hopefully that’s a difficulty balance issue that will be resolved on release. Or maybe they were purposefully kind to us tired, weary members of the press.
For we were so tired. And weary.
Either way, I was having fun and wanted to carry on, which is more than I can say for its predecessor. The important thing to take away is that the reveal trailer matches the gameplay I got hands-on with, which is a great start for Dead Island 2, and I really do think that the franchise is in safe hands with Yager. As long as the overarching story helps to keep everything together (and Yager have promised it won’t get too serious) then it might be a case of second time lucky for the Dead Island series.
Dead Island 2 is currently aiming for a Spring 2015 release on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Stay tuned for our interview with game director Bernd Diemer and producer Jan Eric Lauble later today!