Dead Island 2 review: Sequel comes back to life with a bang

(PS/Xb/PC) **** Age: 18+

Michelle Fox plays the potty-mouthed Dani

thumbnail: Michelle Fox plays the potty-mouthed Dani
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Alive and kicking at last. You can’t keep a good zombie down. The undead have revived. The jokes just write themselves when it comes to Dead Island 2.

The sequel to the 2011 original has spent more than a decade in development hell, including several reboots and development studio sackings. I remember predicting confidently in 2015 that the game would be released within months, based on early preview code sent to media.

But here comes DI2 finally – and oddly enough it sticks closely to the template established all those years ago. That’s no bad thing at all. It’s an RPG with plenty of customisation and a broad assortment of weaponry.

What let the original down was an embarrassing level of technical screw-ups and a wearying degree of repetition. Dead Island 2 shifts the scenario from a tropical resort overrun with undead to a full-on apocalypse in LA (but retained the “island” in the title - go figure). You’re one of six “slayers” trying to find a cure for the outbreak and save the remaining uninfected hiding out in fortified buildings.

Cue loads of wisecracks about the spoilt rich and heaps of glamorous locations such as sprawling mansions, luxury hotels and movie sets. It's not quite open world and there’s a strong central plot line that shuttles you from the palatial manors of Bel Air through the seaside mayhem of Venice Beach to the streets around Hollywood Boulevard. Along with detours into sewers and metro tunnels, the variety of scenery helps disguise the fact that a lot of Dead Island 2 involves whacking aggressive zoms with melee weapons. Limbs fly, brains pop and entrails dangle – this is not a game for the faint-hearted.

The developers take a risk by not introducing guns until several hours into the unfolding bedlam, leaving you to craft increasingly potent weapons, such as baseball bats loaded with poison or machetes spurting fire. When the guns finally become available, they feel something of an anti-climax and lack impact compared with the deadly skull-crushing bat you’ve come to love.

With support for up to three slayers in co-op, Dead Island 2 focuses on maximum carnage. It gives you the tools (grenades, molotovs, etc) to experiment with emergent behaviour and set up massive kill zones. But it’s rarely as flexible as you want it to be and you’ll often find yourself backing away frantically trying to fend off waves of undead.

Surprisingly, single-player mode proves just as entertaining, thanks to some strong central performances from the slayers. Limerick actor Michelle Fox puts in a hilarious turn as bolshie Irish girl Dani. In fact, my bet is that Fox helped write some of her script, so evocative is her potty-mouthed dialogue, peppered with “feck”, “massive”, “gowl” and many more. Her character is supposedly from Cork but Fox plays it more south Dublin – perhaps the producers couldn’t handle the Leeside accent.

Watch out for Fox anyway in the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI too – she’s got a bright future.

One disappointment is that DI2’s combat comes off as a little disjointed. It majors on melee brawls but there’s a slight sense you’re not quite connecting with every blow. The game tries to compensate with some auto-targeting that can make your weapon noticeably jump forward to reach a victim. It’s never as buggy as the original Dead Island nonetheless.

Thanks to comedic interludes and solid foundations, this long-delayed sequel outperforms all expectations that it would be dead on arrival.