Dead Island 2 Preview

Paradise meets hell.

Well you know what they say: Third times a charm. Having thoroughly played the last two Dead Island games I can say that I had fun, but overall experience left much to be desired. From repetitive zombies, glitches, and a story that disintegrated rather than thrived, I wasn't holding out much hope for Dead Island 2. But I am proud to announce that what I witnessed today at E3 erased almost every single qualm I was prepared to have. It seems that the combination of next-gen graphics and a new development team, Yager Studios, may have turned Dead Island into the game it was always meant to be.

The first notable change is the setting. It is a few months after the events of Dead Island Riptide and the infection has spread outside of Banoi affecting other areas of the world. The entire state of California has been quarantined and is the sole setting of Dead Island 2. One man named Max, in the company of his pet cat, Rick Furry, has taken it upon himself to travel into the quarantine zone to live out his childhood dream of fighting in a zombie apocalypse. It is also Max's mission to try and gather as many immune individuals as possible to help quell the zombie outbreak. This is already shaping up to be a far more unique storyline than the past two Dead Island games.

There are four different classes of playable characters: hunter, berserker, speeder, and bishop. As in previous versions, each one has a special fury mode attack and a weapon of choice. The melee has been heavily enhanced, giving you more options when bashing a zombie with a blunt weapon, like a sledgehammer. Execute an uppercut swing with enough precision after a kick and you can send a zombie flying through the air so an ally can finish it off with a ranged attack. Or if they get in too close you can bash the zombie with your fists while still holding onto your melee weapon making for a face-pummeling good time.

A new aspect of the combat system will be dual-wielding. You'll be able to wield a melee weapon in one hand and some firepower in the other as you rampage through The Golden State. There's also a range of new melee weaponry being introduced, including motorized devices clearly inspired by everyday items one might find in their tool shed or garage. The most notable to me was a modified leaf blower with a ceiling fan attached to the end of it.

The level we got a chance to see gameplay for may have been an early prototype for Dead Island 2, but it already looks immensely better than any of the previous Dead Island games. We were shown a suburban neighborhood somewhere in the Bay Area looking out over San Francisco Bay. Max is driving the van down a seemingly quite road until, surprise, surprise, there is an obstruction in the road and you must venture into suburbia to find a safe place to hideout.

At one point in the demo the main character goes toe to toe with a Thug zombie and is able to kick him to the point where he could run around behind him and kick in his skull with a fireman axe. Pure zombie-killing perfection! The Thugs have been completely re-imagined in Dead Island 2 as more than just huge zombies that amble about aimlessly and charge at you if you get too close. The one in the gameplay demo had a very rotund figure, bald head, and was very mobile. Seeing such a fresh version of a signature enemy seen in the past two games makes me curious to see what they've done with the other staple enemies in the franchise

While searching around the map you encounter a random survivor who begins relating his personal life story before they are interrupted by the arrival of bandits. Human enemies are still as present a threat as they have always been in the series, only this time you have opportunities to turn the tide in battle by using zombies to your advantage. For instance, if you see a horde of zombies behind a gate directly behind a couple guys who have you pinned down by gunfire, you can find a way to unlock that gate from a distance so they can bear down on your enemies, allowing you to take out both groups of foes at the same time.

There are also advantages to fighting zombies indoors because you can pull objects from your environment like pipes and chairs and throw them at your enemies if you need to make a clean break or find a new weapon or more ammo. You'll still be able to modify weapons, which is something that they have never failed to deliver on, but they have managed to improve on it. You no longer have to wait until you get to a workbench to craft items that you already have blueprints for. They also showed off a new weapon, a heavy-duty crossbow that can shoot a range of arrows including electric bolts capable of halting an entire group of zombies with one electric charge.  

I had some qualms about Dead Island 2 after the announcement but they have been squashed for the time being. It seems that the switch from Techland to Yager Studios may have been enough to turn Dead Island 2 into something to really root for. Dead Island 2 will be released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC sometime in spring 2015.