Dead Island 2 Review – Painting the Town Dead

Still can't believe it's finally real.

Dead Island 2 Review - Painting the Town Dead Image Source: Dambuster Studios via Twinfinite

Dead Island 2 on PS5

I probably should start this off by saying I am a big fan of the original Dead Island games. I also long ago gave up hope that this sequel would ever actually materialize, considering that the development changed hands at least twice over the last 12 years. If you’ve been aching for some zombie gore and exploration as much as I have during that time, then Dead Island 2 might have exactly what you need.

Dead Island 2 starts with a handful of Los Angeles (humorously called Hell-A) citizens boarding a plane through different means. Some bought their way on the flight, whereas others sneak on or use trickery. This is the very last plane out of an overrun LA, but something bad inevitably happens, and the plane crashes. Your chosen survivor/slayer (from a choice of six) wakes up still in the wreckage but very hurt.

Their path through what remains of the plane eventually leads them to the rest of the survivors, including superstar Emma Jaunt. However, her status as a celebrity means she quickly abandons the area, leaving you to protect the only other people alive. While you fight valiantly, you still end up bitten. True to form with the original games, you discover you are actually immune and decide to use that immunity to help.

Beginning Zombie Fights
Image Source: Dambuster Studios via Twinfinite

In my first playthrough, I went with Ryan, a stripper who pretends to be a firefighter to slip onto the exfil plane. I don’t know if it’s been the bad string of protagonists with awful dialogue, but I enjoyed everything Ryan had to say. His snippy wit and angry retorts had me in a constant good mood when he’d speak up during a quest or in response to an NPC. It’s definitely possible the other slayers aren’t as fun, but I at least happened to make a good choice.

In all ways that matter, Dead Island 2 is somehow just… more Dead Island. Despite the long stint in development hell and the developer switches, the end result is still a game that delivers on the experience of the original. You still have an end goal as you wander through multiple zones doing various quests for a bunch of people as you hack apart zombies with modified weaponry.

While there are very few tasks that would fall into fetch quest territory, the game does reuse several objectives over the course of the game. More than a couple of times, you will be forced to scour an area for one single thing that is annoyingly well-hidden. While the bounds were always clearly set of where to search, the identifying icon for your objective is too small and easily overlooked. On top of that, occasionally, you will have to kill all of the zombies in an area as your whole objective, but if you die, you have to restart the whole section.

Combat is incredible and nowhere near as stilted as the original, but still does boil down to mashing R2 to win. Between the visual damage effects and the game’s great movement, I never felt this get to me, but others might not have the same experience. The stamina system has been fully reworked, so only heavy attacks are affected by it. This means infinite quick attacks and kicks, both things that drained stamina in a very annoying way in the first game. Weapon durability does return, though, and I slightly wish it hadn’t.

In the beginning, when you’re stuck with only low-durability options, they break very easily. This means you are often forced to use something you maybe didn’t want to or aren’t familiar with. On the bright side of that, weapons feel nicely appropriate to their type and are divided into several categories so you can get a handle on how it will handle if it’s something new you haven’t used yet.

There are the Headhunter weapons that do increased critical damage (crowbars, certain knives). I used a decent crowbar for a chunk of the game because seeing the contact yellow damage numbers of a crit is very satisfying. Normally charging up a heavy attack will slow you down, but Headhunter weapons don’t have that issue, letting you constantly regain the best angle.

After that, you’ve got the Bulldozer weapons. These are meant to knock zombies down and away and are usually two-handed weapons like a sledgehammer or baseball bat. Scoring just the right hit to fling a zombie to the ground is their selling point, but heavy attacks typically focus more on outright damage.

Maiming weapons are for going right for the limbs but are almost entirely useless in head-based attacks. Just about anything with a sharp blade counts as a maiming weapon, so it’s the most common type you’ll find. If you are wanting quick attacks that can easily take out the legs of every zombie in a crowd, these are what to focus on.

The last group is the Frenzy weapons that focus on their fast attack power to hit harder. Their whole benefit is that rapid attacks will trigger critical hits anywhere on a zombie, which will, in turn, buff their attack speed. If you want to focus on DPS, Frenzy weapons are a good choice, but not something I found myself sticking to as I preferred the direct purpose of the maiming weapons. It helps that one of Ryan’s special unique skills was health regeneration upon knocking a zombie to the ground, and nothing does that better than removing a leg.

The original Dead Island gave every character a special Fury attack that was unique to them, but Dead Island 2 removes some of that uniqueness. Instead, the Fury attack briefly turns you into a monster, tearing and slashing at enemies to regain health and do big damage. A lot of the game becomes how to keep that fury gauge skill topped up to unleash whenever you’re in a pinch. Though, it takes a decent chunk of the story for this to unlock, which makes it certainly possible players might feel the repetitive nature of the game set in a little too hard before things start to change up.

Dead Island 2 also features guns far more heavily than either previous game. The amount of ammo you can hold for each type never increases in any way, making preservation the ultimate goal. For this, I stuck to a Sporting Rifle, like the first weapon you get in the game. This semi-auto rifle that hit hard was the easiest to preserve ammo while getting the maximum benefit for each weapon shot, and so just made the most logical sense in my conservative approach to making every bullet count. Honestly, weapons handled so well that I occasionally forgot I wasn’t in an FPS like Back 4 Blood or Left 4 Dead.

One of the worst aspects of the original Dead Island was that you could be effortlessly knocked to the ground if a zombie interrupted an attack. Fortunately, that feature didn’t return. It has instead been traded for a quick time event whenever you get grabbed, which isn’t all that tough to deal with and typically isn’t all that frequent.

Dead Island 2 Guns
Image Source: Dambuster Studios via Twinfinite

All weapons can be outfitted with elemental mods or special perks that can upgrade certain characteristics like damage and durability. There are even more heavy-duty ones that can restore health through attacking or help you deal more damage, specifically to limbs. The nice thing about weapons is that they never become useless. You can pay a (rather expensive) sum and match the weapon up to whatever level you are at the time.

However, money is a slight issue. The amount you get from zombies really never changes. Even after the story closed out and I could still roam Hell-A, they would still only reward me with around $30-40. This felt particularly unfair when the repair costs for one of my best weapons was $3700 and the level match was $20,000.

Thankfully, there are plenty of excess weapons being dropped by enemies or hidden within the world to sell. You get 16 inventory slots, and when those fill up, there is a storage locker that will collect all the weapons you couldn’t pick up automatically when you leave a zone, similar to Borderlands 3’s Lost Loot machine. This also applies to thrown weapons you either don’t collect or can’t locate. Of course, it also includes a section for you to store gear manually you don’t want to hold but still want to keep.

One of the best new features is a sizeable group of throwable weapons (different from normal weapons you can throw) called Curveballs. These are things like shuriken or grenades that don’t have a limit. You have an infinite stock, but they work via a cooldown. It always feels great to get the Curveball back at just the right moment to demolish a group of encroaching undead.

Character progression this time around has also been changed. Everything now works entirely by equipping special skill cards rather than utilizing a skill tree and points. This is a nice system because cards can be easily swapped, and it lets you create a specific build that you’re happy with using. Would you like more bonuses for maiming zombies? What about augmenting certain non-weapon attacks like kicks? All of this is easily possible, and there are plenty of cards to earn on level-ups or loot from zombies.

To keep this from feeling stale, as players will likely have mostly the same cards up until a certain point, Dead Island 2 introduces the Autophage mechanics. Certain skill cards add to Autophage (typically for a solid benefit) to fill a three-segment gauge. This makes you stronger and augments your fury skill, but diving too far into this makes you less human and lowers other stats. You aren’t locked into this at any point, as cards can always be swapped, but it was a nice addition if you want to play up giving into the infection.

Dead Island 2 Combat
Image Source: Dambuster Studios via Twinfinite

The zombies themselves are pretty incredible as well. While there are certainly repeated models all over the place, that never mattered. It always felt good to smash a baseball bat into a zombie’s face. The gore mechanics in this game are crazy, too. You can actually watch a zombie face break due to said baseball bat, and it’s grisly.

The basic zombies are the walker and the shambler, with the latter being the weakest of them all and easily killed with only a couple of good hits. Things shift dramatically when the special infected come into play, and three of the five types are introduced before you get your first gun. This means you have to learn their patterns with melee before getting the chance to fight them the easy way. The Crusher is a hulking monster, and it takes quite a bit to make them take a knee in between all their ground-pound attacks. Upon learning the Fury attack, 90% of the time, I used it to kill a Crusher that I didn’t feel like fighting in a lengthy battle.

The game also introduces Screamers and Slobbers that probably do exactly what you think. The screamers attract zombies but can be silenced briefly with a curveball or (later) a gun. Slobbers are your introduction to caustic damage after having dealt purely with fire and electricity up to that point. The first boss fight with one was probably one of the toughest fights of the whole game, but very rewarding.

Zombie spawns are also the one thing that irked me in the game. Outside of safe areas, you aren’t really ever safe. But this is proven through means that are kind of annoying. You can open doors in the game but can’t close them. If you want a definite reprieve from the fighting (which is understandable), your only options are the safe areas.

Despite cleaning out a house, there is always the chance that zombies will have spawned inside somewhere, and they will suddenly just find you. I’d find zombies in places they completely shouldn’t be, and that slightly bothered me. On the bright side, there is absolutely never a shortage of zombies to fight or kill in creative ways.

Dead Island 2 should serve as a shining example for both games that make it out of development hell and sequels with a huge time gap. Unlike in some cases, I didn’t just get a zombie game that had the Dead Island title slapped on it, I actually got more of the game I wanted. I’m sure some of my love for the original is down to nostalgia, and I could probably never return to it. But whenever I’ve thought back on the first game in my head over the last decade, Dead Island 2 is absolutely the game I have pictured. If only more sequels could be this expertly made.


Dead Island 2

Reviewer: Cameron Waldrop
Award: Editor’s Choice


Terrific combat mechanics and weapon types.
Great weapon crafting.
Awesome gore visuals.
Skill cards allow players to make their own builds.
Entertaining main character dialogue.
Reworked stamina system from original game.
Curveball weapons are a game changer.
No shortage of zombies to slay.


Zombie spawns are a little wonky.
Money dropped by zombies doesn’t scale up with progression.
Overused quest objectives can be annoying.
Some players might feel bogged down by some of the games repetitive nature.
Release Date
April 21, 2023
Dambuster Studios
Deep Silver
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Copy provided by Publisher

About the author

Cameron Waldrop

Cameron is a freelance writer for Twinfinite and regularly covers battle royales like Fortnite and Apex Legends. He started writing for Twinfinite in late 2019 and has reviewed many great games. While he loves a good shooter, his heart will always belong to JRPGs.