Review | Dead Island 2

Dawn of the Dead (Island)

Dead Island 2 is a real video game. Nine years after its initial announcement it is here, and it is great. LA, which isn’t an island, is suffering a massive zombie outbreak and has been cordoned off by the US government.  You are stuck inside and desperate to get out.  Using all manner of melee and ranged weaponry you’ll smash and blast your way through 10+ hours of the goriest zombie mayhem I have ever seen in a video game.  Add in a splash of pulp stylings, some truly horrific body damage physics, a basic but well-told story, and a ton of style and you’ve got the makings of one hell of a time. Dead Island 2 proves that sometimes a decade-delayed game can actually turn out well, so let’s get into it.

108 Months Later

I was not sure what to think when I was loading up Dead Island 2.  I remember hearing about it back in 2014 at Sony’s E3 press conference.  Nine years and three developers later it was loading up on my Xbox Series X and it felt a bit surreal.  Immediately the game’s style started to win me over. The opening cutscene is cool as hell, and the music kicks ass.  You’re hoping to get out of California, as the entire state is the epicenter of a zombie outbreak.  It has been 10 years since the first games in the series, and while LA isn’t technically an island, the fact that the US government has blocked all traffic in and out of it is the in-game reasoning for calling it one.

You will choose from one of six different characters to play from, and you cannot change once you’ve started.  I’ve played a fair amount of time as three of them so far, and they’re all well-voice-acted and interesting characters.   My single-player completion was done as the firefighting beefcake, Ryan. He’s a big tough boy who gains health whenever he knocks an enemy down. There is Jacob, who I used in my co-op run, who is an English bruv focused on getting critical hits.  Bruno, who we do talk about, is the low-health rogue type.  He does massive damage from behind and boasts great agility.  Carla is another tank type who loves to scrum against crowds of enemies and takes the least elemental damage.  Dani is a hard-drinking Irish lass with the best stamina.  Finally, there is Amy who focuses on throwing weapons to keep her slaying going.

I’ve tried playing at least through the intro with everyone, and the only character I found a bit annoying was Bruno.  Still, that was only about an hour of overall gameplay, and on the whole I liked the rest a ton.  It’s a very stupid game, at times, and it knows when to go to the edge of being serious.  It is never laugh-out-loud funny, but I chuckled to myself a lot while playing it and never once felt the need to skip a cutscene the first time through. The story, and I’ll keep it spoiler free, is standard for the genre. Side characters have interesting character arcs, and the writing is solid on the whole.  Dead Island 2 knows what it’s going for and it hits its mark more often than it misses. There is a mix of one-note side characters who don’t last long and others that are with you for long periods of time. Characters dying suddenly felt like a possibility at any time, which is key to any decent zombie comedy plot.

Dead Island was made by Techland, who went on to make two Dying Light games. Where that series differs from Dead Island 2 is the focus on movement. Dying Light is all about verticality and parkour. DI2 revels in its combat, with the FLESH system being the star of the game.  This might be the goriest, most over-the-top yet still realistic damage modeling system I’ve ever seen.  If you smash a sledgehammer into someone’s chest you literally tear the flesh off your enemies and see the ribcage and organs underneath.  When you slice a machete through a zombie’s jaw you can unhinge it and see their tongue dangling down.  It is incredibly detailed, often disturbing, and elevates the combat to heights that Dying Light has never achieved.

Zombie Massacre

Combat in Dead Island 2 is not that complicated.  The right trigger is your main swing.  Tapping it is a quick attack and holding it will charge up a heavy strike.  You can hold a few dozen weapons at any time and holding down Y will bring up a weapon wheel. Tank characters will use the left bumper to block, while the more agile ones have a dodge by default.  Timing a block or dodge so that it is successful at the last moment will trigger a stun on enemies, or slightly fill a stun meter on elite enemies. Once an enemy is successfully stunned you can press X to initiate a finisher.  These are some of the most gruesome and satisfying attacks in the game. They vary per weapon, and once you’ve punched straight through a zombie’s head and seen the scenery behind them through the hole you left, life is never the same.

While there isn’t a parkour system you can mantle easily using A to jump, and the fan-favorite dropkick is back.  Click in the left stick to start running, jump, and attack and every character can do a pro-wrestling-style dropkick that sends enemies flying.  There are different moves you can assign, as well, which we’ll hit in a bit.  Rounding off your main buttons are right bumper to use your throwables, called curveballs (more on those in a bit, too), using down on your d-pad to use health kits, and left to access an emote wheel for co-op.  Curveballs are a series of different ranged attacks that you’ll slowly unlock throughout the campaign.  I finished the story with only half unlocked so they are mostly tied to side missions and exploration.  My favorite combo was a water bomb tied to electrified throwing stars. 

The chemical interactions become a massive part of the game.  Earthquakes have ravaged LA and there are broken water and gas pipelines all over the place.  Utilizing in-game environmental items, curveballs, and weapon mods will allow you to electrify water and set gas on fire constantly.  There is also a “caustic x” acid that is truly horrifying to use.  Killing an enemy with the acid debuff results in all their clothes, skin, and most of their organs quickly liquefying in front of you as they fall to the ground.  Cans with each of the three major liquids (water, gas, and acid) are everywhere. Pouring, tossing, and exploding them become key to both combat and environmental puzzles. It is an immensely satisfying system that elevates what otherwise could have become too repetitive of a combat system.

Roughly halfway through you will unlock guns, and praise Jeebus, they actually feel good to use.  The default sensitivity is too low, so I immediately upped it while lowering the deadzone on the right stick.  It might not be DOOM Eternal or Halo Infinite, but it feels damned good to shoot in this game.  There are a lot of melee and ranged weapon types, and the customization system lets you mod them up to your liking.  You’ll be looting a lot in the game, and my only complaint would be that it isn’t as satisfying as looting in Atomic Heart.  Having to press the loot button over and over again simply doesn’t feel as good as sucking everything in like a human vacuum.  Once you have enough items and have located blueprints through progression and exploration, you can add on mods like explosive hits for blunt items and extra limb chopping on bladed types.  Like most of the game, it isn’t the deepest system, but it’s enough to keep things from getting boring over its runtime.

I Am Legend

There are 24 main missions and 31 side missions.  By the time I had finished the last mission I was at 14 hours of gameplay, but I had done roughly half of the side missions.  If you mainline the game you can most likely be done in roughly 8 hours or so, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice.  A lot of my favorite parts of the game, and many of its most enjoyable upgrades, were found in the side missions.  You will most likely notice a “missing persons” quest type in your player stats early on.  This didn’t unlock until the 2nd to last area, and you can continue to play the game after rolling the credits, so don’t worry about missing out on anything.

Maps are broken up into small sections, this isn’t a large icon-filled open-world game.  You can fast travel in a zone once you’ve found its map, though you do need to go to each map to fast-travel.  The levels aren’t that big though, so it was never an issue for me to run back to the map. Each zone is dense, with the main map icons being missions or fuse boxes.  Fuse boxes are essentially treasure rooms, and you’ll need to buy fuses from vendors or find them (rarely) in the environment to access them. Mission types vary up just enough, like most of the game.  The mechanics involved for most side missions are generally repurposed from main quests but with new characters and occasionally new areas that they take place in. One of the main mechanics you’ll want to explore for are your skills. These are represented as cards in the UI but don’t worry it’s not a card game in any way. Every character has a slightly different selection of cards which allows you to customize your playstyle to your liking. Want to cause an explosion when you heal? There’s a card for that. Prefer a jumping kick instead of the running drop one? Go for it! The skill system allows for you to focus on different stats or effects, which was a huge help in maximizing what I wanted for solo or co-op play.

While playing solo you’ll rarely (never?) have an NPC fighting alongside you, thankfully you can invite up to two friends to join the zombie-killing fun.  I played the game in co-op for a few hours after joining my wife’s game.  Performance was spotty at times, but it was ridiculously fun.  The game is smartly set up so that you can’t grief people heavily, and starting up missions or initiating cutscenes requires everyone to group up first.  Drops are per person as well, so there is no fighting over them as you’ll all get the same stuff every time.  Best of all, progression was shared.  I joined my wife’s game, and we completed multiple main missions together.  When I dropped out into my own single-player game those missions were listed as complete for me, praise Jeebus once again. There are few things as fun as seeing a tatted-up Irish lady non-stop drop-kicking zombies and sending them flying 15 feet as you’re swinging a rake so hard that it rips half a head off of an undead bodybuilder.


Graphically the game is a stunner. There are no graphical modes, instead, it just runs at a clean resolution and steady-feeling 60fps. LA is a bright, colorful, and vibrant landscape, at first.  Throughout the campaign you’ll visit a variety of places, some of which are truly horrifying. From Hollywood sets to the dankest sewers, beaches, and more it is a constant visual feast.  This is all enhanced by the aforementioned FLESH system. Every part of the human body can be chopped up, burned, electrocuted, melted, and smashed to bits.  If you’re squeamish with body horror then this is not the game for you.  They do not hold back and it reminded me of the grossest low-budget horror movies with their loving attention to gory detail. The only complaint I have about the graphics is how often I was fighting twins or triplets of the exact same character model. I get that it may be a memory optimization technique, but it was a constant issue where the exact same characters, sometimes groups of twins, would come at me at the same time.  There is a good variety to possible model combinations in general, at least.

The writing is solid, going for a comedic pulp style that is matched perfectly by the voice acting and music.  The soundtrack has a lot of real-world music in it that fits the vibe.  It never felt like a song was being played as an “I know that one!” type of reference. The voice acting, especially for Ryan, was really damned good. Production value wise the entire game was far better than I had expected going in. Bug-wise the game was nearly rock solid.  I had one instance of an animation getting me stuck in a wall, though I was able to jump out of it after some time.  Cutscenes would break occasionally with characters walking through the floor, though a day one patch is supposed to hit before launch so we’ll have to wait and see what it does.

Wrapping Things Up

Dead Island 2 is fantastic.  It knows what it is, and that’s a ton of sneakily smart dumb fun.  The FLESH system is horrific and awful and the best.  Smashing, chopping, burning, and exploding humans has never been so fun. At $70 some may want to wait as it isn’t the longest campaign. I’m already doing a second playthrough though, and this is a game I’ll be coming back to for a long time.

Dead Island 2

Played on
Xbox Series X
Dead Island 2


  • Looks Great
  • Fun As Hell
  • Solid Voice Acting
  • Excellent Location Variety


  • Occasional Bugs
  • Repeated Character Models
8.5 out of 10
XboxEra Scoring Policy

Jesse 'Doncabesa' Norris

Proud father of two, lucky to have a wife far too good for me. I write a ton of reviews, am a host on the You Had Me At Halo podcast, and help fill out anywhere I can for our site.

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