Dead Island 2: Left 4 Rising With The Last Of Saints?

Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide both bored me to tears.

I need to get that out of the way now so you’ll understand I am not swept up by fanboy product lust when I say I am now, despite myself, genuinely interested in seeing where Deep Silver – via subsidiary Yager – is going with Dead Island 2, an inevitable sequel that seems like it’ll be denser, wackier, bloodier, sillier, and more fun than its predecessor in every way that matters.

At least, that is what I *think* it seems, anyway. During my hands-off demo at E3 2014, I didn’t actually see the game itself. Deep Silver’s Dead Island brand managers played only a prototype build from 2013 that, they said explicitly, does not reflect what the final game will look like. They insisted that the build shown off did at least reflect the essence of what they want that final game to look like, but claims like that must be taken with a large grain of salt – previous E3s are a litany of big promises that often don’t pan out.

And yet, despite this paucity of substance, the test build of Dead island 2 was promising. Or at least, it suggests the plan is to take everything that worked in the previous two games, and mash them up with elements from Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, The Last of Us, and maybe even the Saints Row Series. Again, the demo shown wasn’t remotely the game itself, but if it looked something like almost close to what we might be able to expect, possibly, when the game is released in Spring, 2015, then I like what I saw.

I think.

First, the tangibles: Dead Island 2 is set several months after the events of Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide. The zombie-causing virus has spread from the fictional South Pacific islands of the previous two games to the US West Coast, and as the plague intensifies, the US government has quarantined the entire state of California. Anyone who wasn’t able to get out of the state before the quarantine went into effect has been sealed in, left to fend for themselves against the growing swarms of the undead, as well as roving bands of vicious human survivors clearly bent on enjoying the new lawlessness to the fullest. Which of course turns the “Dead Island” title into a metaphor. The More You Know.

According to Deep Silver, the plan with Dead Island 2 is for everything to be ramped up. Environments will, so we were told, be more destructible. Combat will have more variety, with combo moves designed as much for the laugh-and-wow factor as for effectiveness. Weapons crafting is bigger and funnier, with possible combined weapons approaching the ridiculousness of the Dead Rising series. The violence and gore have been… dramatically increased. And the game will be more overtly satirical, the point being to lampoon – often to the point of parody – the ideal of California as paradise.

All of this and perhaps even a little more was evident in the test build used for the E3 demo. Set in a nameless, wealthy, Southern California suburb, we saw the unrevealed protagonist battle through hordes of zombies and even several hostile groups of humans.

The player character started the demo in a cul de sac, battling on the street, through posh front yards and in and out of large, wealthy houses now long since abandoned. Armed only with a knife, zombie takedowns at this point were mainly accomplished with the application of furious melee, but in doing so we were shown just how much gorier Dead Island intends to be. After knocking a zombie on its back with a kick, the player character stomped its head until it literally exploded in a shower of brains, bone and blood.

Soon after, a human enemy faction Deep Silver called “The Raiders” arrived on the scene, and combat then became a mixture of dodging human attackers and zombies. We were told there have been AI improvements that will allow players to take advantage of the different ways humans and zombies behave. In the demo, this was somewhat demonstrated when the player character deliberately opened a couple of gates, allowing zombies to pour into an area controlled by The Raiders. While the two groups were preoccupied with one another, the player character was able to sneak past them, at which point they created further chaos by using a crossbow to start brush fires in one of the houses’ back yards, then by picking up a discarded machine gun and shooting a nearby car, causing it to explode, which set zombies and humans alike aflame and damaged nearby objects like fences.

Shortly after, we were shown an example of Dead Island 2′s intended combos. The player character, by this point armed with a sledgehammer, was made to kick an incoming zombie in the shin, causing the zombie to spin around. The player character then swung the sledgehammer cricket-style, propelling the zombie several yards away, where upon hitting the ground it broke apart in a shower of gore.

We were also shown a bit of weapons crafting. Though we were told that in Dead Island 2 you will be able to craft new weapons anywhere, so long as you have the right resources, the demo still required use of a crafting bench. Finally, the demo took the player character into what amounts to a small mansion for a genuinely funny moment that, so we were led to believe, is demonstrative of the overall tone of the game. Shortly after entering the mansion, the power came on, and a record player began blaring “Love Is In The Air” by John Paul Young. It was a great bit of soundtrack usage on par with Saints Row IV, and suggests strongly the direction the series is headed. (More on that shortly)

Random notes:

  • There are several zombie types, each with, so we were told, individual movement, attack and behavior styles.
  • The game will encourage players to be creative, and vicious, with improvised weapons as well as normal manufactured weapons like blades and guns. “
  • Strategic dismemberment,” we were told. “Go straight for the head, or do more gruesome things”.
  • The demo pointed out a moment in which you stumble upon some survivors who apparently were just recently celebrating a child’s birthday party. The player character shot at some balloons, causing them to float away, at which point the demo narrator joked, “We have next gen balloon physics. You heard it here first!”
  • About those more destructible environments – we saw some small examples of this during the demo, but we were told it goes further than simply being able to destroy cars and fences. “Pull a pipe off a wall if you’re running out of weapons,” the demo narrator said.
  • To reiterate the gore factor, in addition to the zombie cricket move, you can throw weapons like the machete, pull it out, and behead the zombie while it’s stunned, resulting in a shower of blood almost as impressive as when a zombie’s face is stomped in.
  • During the demo, going into your weapons menu didn’t pause the game.

It needs to be repeated that nothing I saw during this unplayable demo was from Dead Island 2 itself. Thus it’s difficult to know exactly how to feel. But if the demo was an accurate demonstration of what the developers intend to do in the final game, be prepared for a much looser, goofier, bloodier, wackier game than its predecessors. In a way, the demo hints that the Dead Island series is headed on a trajectory similar to Deep Silver’s recently acquired Saints Row franchise. If so, I’m in.

But not just yet. We were told that Dead Island 2 will be playable at Gamescom and PAX, which makes the fact it was not playable at E3 even weirder, especially when you consider that the game is scheduled less than a year from now, sometime next spring. This could mean it’s being rushed out, making all the awesome-sounding talk of destructible environments, more gore, better AI and ‘next gen balloon physics” just that, talk. We’ll find out later this summer.


You can keep up to date with all the E3 news over on our E3 channel.

Ross Lincoln is senior editor of Comics and Cosplay at The Escapist. Find more of his GameFront work here, his Escapist work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @rossalincoln and @gamefrontcom.

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