Dead Island 2 Review – Sun-drenched Gore

Dambuster's zombie action game is a satisfying, perpetual cycle of gory combat, set in sunny surroundings that are just inviting enough to keep you going.
Dead Island 2 Review

The most vividly memorable moments in Dead Island 2 are its sporadic ‘boss’ fights that introduce new zombie variants – like one with the hulking ‘Crusher’ that wears a wedding dress. I remember dancing around it in the hotel ballroom, narrowly slipping out of its grasp while ‘Sad Wedding’ by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel blasted in the background. The little orchestrated routine could’ve made for a great music video.

In fact, the entirety of Dead Island 2 is kind of like a music video – and the opening images of dreamy Los Angeles iconography combined with ‘Drown’ by Karen O and Danger Mouse definitely help put you in that mindset. It’s a vehicle fashioned to deliver you one key thing – a song to the tune of a zombie-slaughtering power fantasy – and everything else is just an attractive flourish to enhance that. Dead Island 2 is a satisfying, perpetual cycle of gory combat, and its sunny surroundings are just inviting enough to keep that momentum going.


The weighty, animal nature of swinging makeshift melee weapons at unending queues of zombies is the core pursuit in Dead Island 2. The action is gratifying enough in its own right, but extra layers of gruesome spectacle help keep your perpetual motions rewarding, and more importantly, keep you motivated enough to move onto the next one, and the next, in your journey to unravel a narrative about how LA came to be ground zero to a post-apocalyptic pandemic.

Dead Island 2 is not an open-world game, but one of several discrete areas – some bright and expansive, some dark and claustrophobic, others a complex upper-class suburban labyrinth. But a focus on a being a ‘walkable’ game – where a jog is your fastest mode of movement, but everything still feels in reach – helps make the world of Dead Island 2 feel expansive without really being so. It also hones the focus on the environmental details, creating the sense of a world that’s truly become suddenly overrun and left as-is.

Image: Dambuster Studios / Deep Silver

You can’t walk in any direction for more than 30 seconds without stumbling across an undead corpse in your way, just asking to be smacked with a hammer, or beheaded with a fire axe. The path you walk in the name of helping fellow survivors, journeying to different parts of the city and exploring its cluttered nooks and crannies, will be a well-defined one, with a breadcrumb trail of body parts left in your wake.

At first, it feels like the endless cycle of killing zombies will wear out its welcome sooner rather than later, but strangely, it never does. Dead Island 2 takes a mostly grounded approach to your player character’s ability, with most weapon swings feeling slow and deliberate to give you the sense of exertion. That can come with its own inherent frustration, but the feedback you get from making your own impactful, violent mark is so barbarically fulfilling that it, quite frankly, disturbs me.

Each fleshy zombie in Dead Island 2 becomes damaged in unique ways, depending on where and how you hit them, and the kind of weapon you used to do so. Large gashes will be cut open and chunks of flesh will be ripped out, with sinewy insides being exposed in clear detail, wet organs spilling out. Enemies can be dismembered with ease, and skulls can be completely crushed. It’s often a queasy sight, but after a too-close-for-comfort encounter with that same skull, the tiny hit of adrenaline you get lets the rush take over, most of the time. 

Image: Dambuster Studios / Deep Silver

More advanced zombie variants regularly appear to mix things up with higher-stakes affairs, requiring a little more thought above and beyond a bloodthirsty frenzy. They push you to make more creative use of your weapons, your defensive manoeuvres, an excellent dropkick, and the environment (along with the elemental damage opportunities it provides) to more deftly suppress the threat of being eaten alive. An action-RPG-style looting system provides extra fuel to keep you constantly moving and in pursuit of your ideal arsenal, and an ever-growing variety of passive boosts, weapon modifications, and supernatural abilities provide a suite of options to consider in your encounters.

Read: Dead Island 2 Guide – Top 8 Tips To Remember Before You Start

It’s that relieved joy of staying alive in a world of do-or-die violence that keeps you more than happy to go on Dead Island 2’s tour through its world, comprised of interesting and attractive level designs, a strong sense of place, and the novelty of virtual Los Angeles tourism in some of the more iconic locations. The necessity to revisit each area is mostly a welcome invitation (with the exception of some underground locations), and a collection of scavenger hunt quests also invites you to more closely appreciate the details.

The game’s juxtaposition of bright and sunny LA and a portrait of American excess, along with the macabre nature of the walking dead takes more than a few pages out of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, an influence it proudly brandishes in obvious strokes. But its approach to satire is more often akin to the likes of Grand Theft Auto by way of Far Cry – that is to say, incredibly on the nose, and sometimes gratingly so (at least, to a non-American).

Image: Dambuster Studios / Deep Silver

Side characters include individuals like the content creator who will go to extreme lengths to get views, the director who will go to extreme lengths to get a perfect scene, and the sci-fi fanboy who will go to extreme lengths to impress his idol. The core supporting cast fares better from sitting at the more dramatic side of the scale, though the strange places the plot of Dead Island 2 ends up going is never really completely explored to any kind of meaningful fruition. There’s some kind of grander narrative painted just outside the bounds of the game’s depiction of LA, but the ambiguity relegates it to being little more than just some intriguing, bonus flavour notes. 

Read: Dead Island 2 review roundup

Like a music video, that extraneous colour and flavour don’t really need to make complete sense. Both are an attractive but ultimately cursory facade for the flesh and blood of Dead Island 2 – the constant, thumping blur of feverish hacking and bashing, of gore and viscera, that all swirl together in a cocktail of extreme queasiness. Dead Island 2 is fulfilling in that respect. By the end, it leaves you teetering on that precipice between wanting a little more and feeling satisfied enough. And that’s a good place to be.

Four Stars: ★★★★

Dead Island 2
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S
Developer: Dambuster Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 21 April 2023

This review was originally published on 18 April 2023.

The PlayStation 5 version of Dead Island 2 was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran