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E3 2014: Dead Island 2 Preview: Enjoying a zombie-infested California

Dead Island 2 Screenshot - Dead Island 2

Deep Silver’s return to Dead Island isn’t what I thought it’d be.

In reality, I really don't think it's what any of us thought it would be. Maybe that’s why when it was one of the first things Sony presented at its press conference, we figured it was something totally new. 

It’s not, though. This is still Dead Island. And under the lead of Yager Development — creators of Spec Ops: The Line — Dead Island 2 sets out to tell players about the enjoyment of a post apocalyptic California.

At E3 we had a chance to sit in on a closed-door, hands-off demo of an early build of the game. The developers brought us up and down the streets of their glistening California, into a mix of some nasty non-infected, and even down into the depths where the dark reminded us of the series’ past.

The biggest change in Dead Island 2 is the world. No longer is the setting dark and gritty. Death is now bright, and all around you. The scenery change is indeed different, but was instantly refreshing and something crucial to help tell a more personal story, according to Deep Silver Senior brand manager Rupert Ochsner.

“We said, ‘No, no. We have to put it right in the center of civilization, so lets go to California.’ Because when zombies appear in California, you cannot ignore it — you need to do something,” Ochsner said.

Dead Island 2 Logo

Indeed, you cannot ignore the zombies in Dead Island 2. They’re everywhere. Dead Island 2 includes more zombies than ever — each flesh-eating foe unique from one another. To complement the player, the game gives you more ammo than ever before to battle the undead with.

This was evident early on in our demo during a sequence where raiders tried to get the jump on us. Their presence alone was enough to keep us locked in and focused on, but the noise of the enemies’ shots lured in several hordes of biters looking for any fresh flesh around. Thankfully, we were able to use the environment to cut off paths to attack, giving us a nice sightline to waste several clips on the enemies. The gameplay was frantic, but never out of control.

But again, this is still Dead Island, so melee attacks are still important. Players will have the freedom to slash and dash from zombie horde to zombie horde, but this time around you won’t have to worry about a clunky system that pulls you out of the experience.

“It’s a little bit more contextual without being quick time-y. It’s not really like a combo system, like X-X-Y-A-B and then the head flies off, there’s this natural flow in combat where it’s much more fluid,” Ochsner said.

Dead Island 2 Character

Our demo also told us that the developer isn’t interested in totally abandoning the gritty nature of the first two main entries.

“Though we are in California, we do also have some darker areas as well because we are a zombie game,” Ochsner said.

We got a glimpse of this as our character marched down into a cellar of a house to battle enemies in some close-quarters combat. The sequence was intensified too with a half dozen or so gas explosions, making fire just as formidable a foe as the zombies.

Our demo ended shortly after that, much to the applause of everyone in the room. Keep in mind that this was an early build — 2013 early. Characters weren’t popping with life like we’re told they will at release. Fire was burning with last-gen graphics. And of course, we weren’t actually playing the game (hands-on is expected at Gamescom and PAX Prime).

However, what we saw gave us every reason to believe that Dead Island 2 will be a breath of fresh air — a new beginning to a series that’s known more for its quirky faults rather than its mindless fun. Dead Island 2 respects its heritage and nods to it often, but this is California, and it’s about to get personal. 

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Tate Steinlage I write words about video games and sports. Hope you like them.
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