Preview: A look at Dead Island 2

Sony’s E3 press conference introduced a variety of features and game announcements this year. One video showed a man jogging down a boardwalk and listening to his iPod while a stream of zombies emerged out of the woodwork. The video turned out to be a comedic announcement trailer for Dead Island 2 where the jogger-now-turned-zombie is run over and his shoes are stolen. The video is a drastic shift from the dark and emotionally driven videos Deep Silver has previously created for its Dead Island franchise, and Yager Development is happy about that.

Dead Island 2 is all about embracing the fun of zombie slaying, at least that’s how Yager combat designer Daniel Nordlander put it. The game is about unleashing your inner zombie slayer and having consistent fun, though Nordlander stresses that this does not mean Dead Island 2 will seek to emulate Dead Rising’s level of kookiness.

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Co-op has always been emphasized in the Dead Island series but it wasn’t usually necessary to complete the games. It was certainly more fun to play with friends, but the multiplayer elements weren’t always polished enough to make co-op an enjoyable experience. Yager is amping up the co-op mode for Dead Island 2, starting with revamped zombie types. Different zombies elicit different gameplay, making vicious enemies like Thugs hard to defeat on your own, and  requiring players to stick together and work strategically as a team.

Moreover, Nordlander called Dead Island 2 “the world’s smallest MMO” as a way to emphasize some other new elements Dead Island 2 boasts. Dynamic events, which are commonly a part of modern MMOs, are also featured in Dead Island 2. Events where 25 to 30 survivors can participate in a single encounter to work together and defeat waves of zombies will randomly trigger. A variety of events also produce different outcomes. A chopper can crash nearby with necessary supplies, prompting a PvP event instead, giving the world of Dead Island 2 a more variable feel to it. I wasn’t able to witness this type of multiplayer action in-game, but if it works as they promise, it could provide for a  hectic and thrilling experience.

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Dead Island’s appeal has often been attributed to glitches that increase the absurdity of in-game action. Yager acknowledges that: they won’t be creating a broken game on purpose, but what they will do is embrace glitches and integrate them into their design. For instance, Nordlander explained how there’s an item called the zombie launcher available in the game, and as the name implies, it’s a weapon that gives the player the power to launch a zombie into the air. The idea for the weapon came when developers found a physics bug, and because they found it funny, decided to make it an actual feature. This approach makes designing and playing the game more fun, and it’s what Yager is hoping to convey in the end product.

Yager Development is no stranger to creating storylines, as their last and most popular game Spec Ops: The Line will attest. Nordlander confirms there will be a narrative explanation for the fictional island the first games took place in and how it connects to California. The demo I played took place in Los Angeles, but players will also be able to visit other California hotspots like the zombie-laden streets of San Francisco—all digitized in the Unreal 4 engine.

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Modding is also making a return, but Yager has done away with benches and allows players to do it on the fly using a pop up menu. Yager has also improved the smoothness of the game, playing it looked and felt more fluid . Speaking of looks, the game is a lot more graphic, which is a surprise. There is more gore and zombies are easily chopped into pieces, which isn’t necessarily a complaint given the evolution of the game in the hands of a new developer.

The zombies have also evolved: there is a stumble system to stagger multiple enemies in a domino effect that is ideal for those frantic moments you need time to build up your attack; zombies now react viciously to nearby noise; and the environment is more interactive. You can set grass on fire and light up zombies standing on lawns, but don’t think that means you’ll always have the upper hand—Yager guarantees there will be moments where you may have up to 100 zombies coming your way.

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Dead Island 2 will be available sometime in the spring of 2015, and in the mean time Deep Silver is on a mission to make good use of the Dead Island brand, given its recent announcements. I was ready to write off the Dead Island series after my disappointment with Riptide, but this upcoming title shows a lot of promise.