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Dead Island 2 is Yager’s Take on Infectious Fun

Who knew California wasn’t an Island?

Dead Island 2 - Gamescom - 5

Dead Island set itself as a tropical getaway gone wrong, a holiday that became a nightmare where the only solace was knowing there was a way out by slicing, slashing, shooting, and bludgeoning your way out of the situation any way you pleased. While it wasn’t perfect in the polishing department, it was a bit of mindless fun. However, for the sequel, Yager want to go all-out and bring multiplayer into the centre of the action – and true to their intentions our hands-on session at Gamescom certainly seemed to suggest they were on the right track.

Our demo put us in control of one of two character types, the Beserker or the Speeder, where one was a heavy-hitting tank and the other is a lightweight and quick fighter – excellent for getting into and out of situations quickly. They work well together too, one providing support while the other sneaks in quick blows. The attitude they have fits the Californian sun too, with their immense readiness to bludgeon zombies with – as one Yager rep put it – ‘next-gen dismemberment’. But that’s okay, after all they’re all immune and so don’t have to worry about being turned while they slice the undead in two.

And that’s quite true, the dismemberment mechanics here are brutal – extremely brutal. While a light attack visibly cuts the skin, t-shirts and causes bleeding, a heavy attack certainly dismembers. A heavy slice with the Speeder can easily cut a zombie in half horizontally – while a Beserker’s heavy attack can split a foe in two right down the centre. It’s gruesome stuff, but also hilarious to boot. Design Director at Yager, Jörg Friedrich, gave me an insight into the general tone they were aiming for when he said that Zombieland was an influence for what they were trying to achieve.

“We thought we would go for something more like Zombieland – if that makes sense – because it’s fun and funny,” said Friedrich. “Yes it’s a zombie apocalypse, but you’re in California. It’s nice and beautiful, it’s bright and shiny and you can have lots of fun and do things that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. There’s an amusement park and, yes, you can have it all to yourself – and the zombies – but lets say you get them out and get used to them then you can do cool shit.”

And that’s so very true, the environment of a cordoned-off California is your playground. The demo area we were given to play in was set just behind the Hollywood sign  and was really just a big open area for us to explore. Working either together in this connected world, or just exploring alone was rather refreshing. It wasn’t completely objective free though, after leaving our gated safe starting are, were told that by visiting the electronics store or petrol station we could find resources to upgrade our weapons. Visiting the electronics store gave us a chance to grab battery packs to upgrade our weapons into a special electrified shotgun or machete depending on class. If you decided to pump some petrol, then a meant a flame fire axe, or fire-bullet pistol could be crafted.

It was this crafting system that Yager wanted to overhaul the most: “One thing that happened after we played together in the team was that we played and slaughtered zombies and we had lots of fun – the first game that is,” says Friedrich. “And then, I find this awesome weapon blueprint, and I really want that so ‘you guys wait here, I’ll go and find a workbench and I’ll craft a weapon and then I’m back’. So we thought ‘eh, how can we improve this?”

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While in our demo the weapons were crafted instantly to make it easier for people to experience using them, Friedrich assures us that this isn’t the case, “So now you can actually craft your weapon on the spot,” he continued. “not like in the demo where it happens automatically, you still need to go into a menu and go ‘okay, this part, that part, and shop-bought bits, and [makes combining noise]’ ready is your electrified shotgun. But yeah, now this time you can do it with your buddies and wouldn’t need to go away.” That’s largely because they wanted to turn the weapon upgrading system to a social activity where others in the world would have to defend you as you craft your item.

And there’s plenty to defend yourself against as Yager has given you a variety of zombies to go up against. Sure, it’s the standard fare from the likes of other zombie games, but they all feel like their being used rather effectively when mixed with the gameplay standards that the team has brought in to deal with them in crowd situations. For instance, walkers are thin, withered and shuffle around – barely responding to you unless you attract their attention. On the flip side to this are the Runners, who still have muscle mass and are largely quite alert to what’s going on around them; unsurprisingly, they run after you too. Suiciders act like your typical Bloater or Boomer, running in and blowing up doing area-of-effect damage in the process. However, through the use of your kick-back melee attack you can utilise these for destructive potential. And, finally, Thugs come in to provide the muscle – high health, high damage, low intelligence.

Put them together, and it makes for some incredibly fun gameplay – especially when optional world events crop up, asking you to defend generators, survivor bunkers or supplies from encroaching zombie hordes. While the one in our session wasn’t overly tasking, barely amounting to more than holding them off from breaking down a barricade between them and a movie bar on a hill, Friedrich promises that later events are far more tasking.

“There much harder defence scenarios where you have to think about how to do things, there’s a lot coming,” he said when TheGamersHub interviewed him. “They’re coming from different sides. Maybe I’ll put a trap here, or maybe I prepare a little homemade trap elsewhere. It’s about giving players tactical choices to do these things.”

And that’s really the take-home from all of this. What Yager has done is given players choices. Their beautiful recreation of the sunshine state stays true to the original vision of the Dead Island universe, but in exchange it completely revamps the systems and ideas that underpin it all. Seamless co-op, a focus away from story and onto exploration and emergent gameplay, and ultimately a determination to create something that’s exactly the game that they’ve always wanted to be playing. It’s certainly paid off so far, so let’s see what the Spec Ops: The Line developer can do with a world full of zombies instead.

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