Review: Dead Island 2 – Welcome to HELL-A

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After more than ten years of development and three studios, Dead Island 2 was released yesterday and we’ll have a look if the trip to HELL-A is worth it.

Dead Island 2 premiered at gamescom 2014. Unlike the predecessor, the game should be developed by the Berlin-based studio Yager. A few stands further, Techland, the developer of the first Dead Island and the Dying Light series, showed off their new game Hellraid. In the end, nothing came of either project: we never heard from Hellraid again and Dead Island 2 was initially to be developed by Sumo Digital (Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Crackdown 3) before taken over by Deep Silver Dambuster Studios (Homefront: The Revolution, Chorus) landed. Dead Island 2 was released on April 21st, 2023 for PC (Epic Games Store; test platform), Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Dead Island 2 begins ten years after the events of the first game. At the beginning you choose your Slayer. Choose from athlete Amy, pimp Bruno, mechanic Carla, retail clerk Dani, exotic dancer Ryan and stuntman Jacob. The characters differ in values ​​such as endurance, toughness and critical damage. We chose the tough and healthy Jacob. You can head to HELL-A solo or with up to three other Slayers via online co-op. Your progress will be saved whether you are a host or a guest. It’s just not possible to jump forward in the story. A technical limitation currently exists for gamers on consoles of the previous generation. On PS4 and Xbox One, you cannot host a session, only join an ongoing game. Dambuster plans to remove this limitation in a future update. Cross-platform play is possible within a console family, i.e. PS5+PS4 and Xbox Series+One.

Our journey through HELL-A takes us across Los Angeles, from the posh areas of Bel-Air and Beverly Hills to Hollywood, Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Dead Island 2 is not an open world game, the districts are rather large hubs to which we can return later using the fast travel function to trade or complete side missions. In our run we concentrated on completing the main story with its 24 quests and only did 3 of the 30+ side missions in our almost 20 hours of play. Over the course of the game we meet a colorful cast of wacky characters, including the protagonist of the predecessor Sam B, the actress and Sam’s ex Emma and the war veteran and film nerd Patton. The dialogues are funny at times and just like the whole game very much explicit, but the story about the protagonist, who is immune from the zombie virus and is being exploited by different organizations, is not really that innovative.

As in the predecessor, the main motivation to play stems from the intense combat and satisfying loot system. Your arsenal in Dead Island 2 consists of numerous cut and thrust weapons, firearms and projectiles such as swords, clubs, hammers, rifles, shotguns, throwing stars, sticky, chemical and nail bombs. Each weapon offers individual talents and can be heavily modified at workbenches scattered throughout the game world, for example to add elemental damage or increase critical damage and durability. You can find the upgrades throughout HELL-A or buy them from one of the few traders. At equally rare lockers you can get rid of excess weapons to sell them later. Increase your character’s abilities with countless cards that you earn through level-ups. The cards change both your movement repertoire (e.g. block, dodge, jump kick), the possibilities in the frenzy (e.g. elemental damage, prolonging the frenzy by killing zombies, special attacks like acid spit or ground stomp) and autophage skills. While in frenzy, your movement speed and damage increases. With the autophage you can let your inner zombie run free, but this comes at the expense of your humanity. Autophage cards allow you to prolong your frenzy, recover your stamina faster from killing zombies, or increase your attack speed, but at the same time reduce your maximum health and stamina regeneration. Even weapons can be used with zombie parts for the autophage.

Since your inventory is limited to 16 slots and you constantly find stronger weapons, you often have to exchange them. Fortunately, the weapons can also be dismantled into individual parts at the push of a button, for example like in Destiny, since experience has shown that the next locker is a good corner away. Each opponent has individual weaknesses that we must target with our numerous melee weapons, as well as specific elemental weaknesses. It’s a pleasure to try out and modify the different weapons. The degree of violence is very high even in the cut version here. Limbs can be chopped off from the undead with precise blows, but only as long as they are standing in front of you. Killed Zombies cannot be further mutilated. This is the only limitation we are aware of in the version of Dead Island 2 sold in Germany and we are happy to forgo this option as it doesn’t add anything to the game experience.

While we can defeat the zombies individually at the beginning relatively safely thanks to the precise controls, the game throws more and more waves of enemies with stronger opponents at you later on. Especially towards the end of the game it pays off to have completed some of the side tasks and leveled up your character properly, otherwise the last boss fight will become a test of patience. The environment can also be used as a weapon and so you can spread water on the ground, charge a car battery in a generator and throw it in the puddle – zack feddich zombie ragout. The same is possible with gasoline/fire and a toxic chemical. These traps only linger for a short time and need to be timed well. Between the fights and story sequences, the game occasionally throws in smaller puzzles in which you have to complete electrical circuits or equalize water pressure. This provides some variety, but these puzzles rarely get really tricky.

HELL-A is not only a feast for the undead but also for your eyes. In Dead Island 2 we visit its numerous iconic locations such as the Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood Boulevard or Venice Beach. The boundaries in the game world often feel too artificial, for example when the streets in the serpentines of Bel-Air are blocked by emergency vehicles just in such a way that we have to make our way through the mansions of the rich and famous. The numerous references to Hollywood classics such as Indiana Jones and Friends or George Romero, the forefather of horror films, add the icing on the cake to the Hollywood flair.

Unlike other recent PC releases, Dead Island 2 is pretty well optimized as far as we can tell with our test system. The performance never faltered and thanks to the FSR implementation, fewer compromises have to be made in terms of the spectacular optics, even on older scenes. The licensed soundtrack by artists such as Karen O & Danger Mouse, SWMRS and Perturbator and the score by Ross Tregenza, Nick Hill and other composers fit well into the B-movie setting. The quality of the English-language dubbing is top-notch across the board.


Dead Island 2 is a competent first-person shooter that offers you a lot of freedom and has a fantastic presentation. After the arduous development period, the final product has become surprisingly good. If you liked the predecessor, you will find proven qualities in Dead Island 2: a precise close and long-range combat system, lots of loot, at times hilarious dialogues and explicit imagery. While the relatively predictable, clichéd story quickly fades into the background, the role-playing elements manage to motivate Slayers until the end. With over 20 hours of play, the journey through HELL-A is also quite extensive. We would have wished for a little more variety and challenge in the interspersed puzzles, playable arcade machines and a somewhat more balanced finale would have been nice. The Expansion Pass is designed to offer new missions, enemies, weapons, skills and areas, so hopefully we’ll be find ourselves back in HELL-A soon.

Dead Island 2 was provided to us by the publisher. We captured the screenshots with the PC version (German version).