The first two Dead Island games were great. Not necessarily in a calculated and objective sense, routinely criticised as they were for the large number of bugs and issues that the games featured and with a game engine that really wasn’t pushing any boundaries, but certainly for the amount of ludicrous fun I personally had while playing them with friends.
Thankfully, Deep Silver and the development team at Yager Development – coming to the series off the back of Spec Ops: The Line, as Techland have moved on to Dying Light and Hellraid – know what it was that made the game attractive to people. It might have been the stunning reveal trailer that grabbed people’s attention, but it was the co-operative first person hacking and slashing juxtaposed with idyllic island of Banoi that actually got people to play the game. Dead Island 2’s reveal trailer did a lot to dispel the somewhat serious tone of the first two; this game is about having fun.
Though Dead Island drops the island setting, it still holds on to the idea of “Paradise meets Hell”. The attempts to control and contain the outbreak on Banoi have failed, and the virus spread across the globe in the months that have passed since then – a story set to be told in the freshly announced Escape Dead Island. However, it’s not quite hit everywhere just yet and, for want of any better solution, the containment efforts continue with swathes of California having been locked off, and providing Dead Island 2 with its beautiful, sunbaked setting.
The build shown behind closed doors at E3 was still rather early, and actually a snapshot from months before the show, as Gamescom is set to be their next public outing and a development milestone. However, the shift from Chrome Engine to Unreal Engine 4 will help the game’s graphical credentials. Certainly, some of the brief snapshots of where they are aiming were glorious, and I hope they can back them up later this year, but for now, the only Dead Island 2 image out there is the cover art…
Yet, it’s really all about the gameplay, and this looks to be a pretty logical extension of what went before. There are four new characters – Hunter, Berserker , Bishop and Speeder, this time around – and it’s still all about the first person combat, with a focus on hand-to-hand weaponry.
While things like the electrified swords will return, there are tons of new weapons, from crossbows to a new class of weaponry that comes by way of your everyday household tools for gardening and DIY. While you might be able to turn a strimmer into a far-reaching whirlwind of slicing and dicing, it comes at the price of making noise and attracting nearby zombies.
It’s lucky then that dual-wielding is added, so that you can tote a shotgun alongside your melee weapon, but this is just one facet of a game that looks to be more flexible, open and fluid. You can make upgrades to your weapons on the fly, for example, rather than having to get to a workbench, and you’ll be able to make use of car alarms or other loud sounds to draw zombies together before setting fire to them all, and watching as the fire dynamically spreads between them.
There’s greater variety in enemies too, with randomised zombies that will all look different and the
additions [Oops, as Forrest points ouot below, these were already in the first game… – Tef] of things like the Thug a bigger and burlier undead bloke that’s a long stretch from being one of the straightjacketed Rams that kept popping up in the original. Meanwhile, the human side will see more active AI factions, such as a roving band of raiders, who will get stuck in fighting the zombies, finally opening up the potential for three-way battles that were missing previously.
You do still have friends in this world, though, and a key character in the plot will be Max, a kind of wannabe John Connor, eager to lead the band of immune survivors into battle, but turning tail as soon as danger appears, given his personal lack of immunity.
Oh, and he has a trusty companion, a cat named Rick Furry. You can forget about sticking motion capture balls to a dog, though, as a new benchmark has been set. Yager have actually gone and motion captured a cat. I think that says it all.
It all comes together in another co-op adventure, but the horizons here have been broadened, opening up the world as a dynamic, on-the-fly online playground in which 8 people can come to compete, work together or simply ignore each other. It sounds similar to Need for Speed: Rival’s online mode in that regard, but there’s a tantalising prospect of getting eight of your friends together in one place, which also implies that there will be customisable characters, though I could not get this confirmed.
With their eyes firmly set on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, the team at Yager have seemingly been able to take the core ideas from Dead Island and then really flesh out those ideas as they rebuilt the game from the ground up. I know I’m quite eager to see more of this at Gamescom, even if just to see behind the scenes footage of a cat being motion captured…