Hands-Off Preview: Dead Island 2 - California Dreamin'

When it was announced during Sony’s press conference at E3 2014, Dead Island 2 was introduced to the world with a kickin’ trailer that was cool, confident, and most of all, hilariously funny. Showing the zombie apocalypse through the lens of a sunny California coast, Dead Island 2’s debut already got off on the right, shambling foot.

After taking a bit of flack for misrepresenting the first game with an emotional but misleading trailer, and the weak reception of Dead Island: Riptide, the upcoming sequel in the zombie-killing series, in many ways, is off to a much bigger and brighter future, even one that may be soaked in the California sun.

Under the helm of Yager Development, creators of the much-lauded Spec Ops: The Line, they’re looking to establish the identity of Dead Island 2 right away. After a brief presentation and short gameplay demo with a build created last year, Yager showed that Dead Island is not meant to be comical and hysterical, nor dark and depressing like the numerous other zombie-apocalypse games out there: Yager instead says that with Dead Island 2, “we’re cool and kick-ass.”

In the demo shown at E3 2014, Dead Island 2’s vision of California was identified as the “picturesque” California of our dreams – brief landscape glimpses showed off the sandy beaches of San Francisco, the bustling downtown of Los Angeles, and plenty more. The in-engine landscapes showed the beauty and diversity of Dead Island 2’s new location, but the demo showed the grim, harsh realities that the zombie apocalypse hasn’t let up since the original Dead Island.

Taking viewers through a brief demo of the title, the E3 presentation of Dead Island 2 showed a mission with players exploring an elaborate and ornate California mansion, with a mixture of the open-world exploration and mission-oriented goals from Dead Island seen to be making a return.

Like the first game, melee combat drew a heavy focus with the player character carrying a trusty machete to dispatch zombies both at a medium distance, and up-close and personal. Perhaps the biggest revelation from the demo shown were the upgrades and attention shown to gunplay, as firearms played a much heavier role in the gameplay demo shown. Given the often-shoddy firearms present in Dead Island, the demo showed a sigh of relief to shooter fans, that both melee and guns will have equal chances of success on the (zombie) battlefield.

Continuing with the player engaging hordes of zombies outside the mansion, the demo also showed brief glimpses of renegade human bands that also acted as obstacles to overcome. Though the zombies and humans each presented their own challenges, either in terms of their sheet numbers or in the case of the weapons that they were packing, Yager is intent on giving players plenty of options to address combat situations. Taking plenty of cues from other popular open-world shooters and some inspiration from titles like Far Cry 3, situations where the environment can aid in a combat scenario were always present. In one case, a group of enemy players too close to an oil slick could catch on fire with a well-time shot or explosive: on the other hand, shooting open one of the mansion’s gates allowed for a horde of zombies to munch on the enemy humans just inside.

Though the demo shown was over a year old and noticeably a rough build, the promise of Dead Island 2 discussed, and shown, at E3 2014 is far from not justified. With the game currently targeting release in the first half of next year, there is still plenty of time to see where Dead Island 2 can go, but from what we’ve seen so far, it seems to be in a good place under Yager’s hands, and most importantly, how it will be benefitting from their ideas.

The original Dead Island’s trailer gave the impression of a stark, emotional journey through the zombie apocalypse, but noticeably underwhelmed when the full game released. This time around, Yager is intent on giving players the Dead Island 2 they want the first time, and through its demo and presentation, it’s already starting to show.

Dead Island 2 is set for release on PS4, Xbox One, and PC in Spring 2015.

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Ryan Meitzler

Ryan is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers and has been a lover of games as long as he can remember. He holds a BA in English and Cinema and lives in New York City.

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