It was going to take a lot for me to come away impressed with a Dead Island sequel. But there are signs that Dead Island 2 is going to improve upon its predecessor. For starters, it's getting a fresh development team in the form of Yager, the studio behind Spec Ops: The Line and the upcoming "aerial armada" game Dreadnought. Also, despite the name, it's not actually set on an island, and instead takes place on the West Coast of America in sunny California.
Welcome to California. Bring guns.
Leaving the tropical island of Banoi behind for the vast expanses of California is quite the change, although just how much of the western state is making it into the game isn't clear. What I do know, though, is that the likes of LA's beaches, San Francisco's pier, and the Hollywood Hills are being touted as locations. Instead of largely uninhabited swaths of jungle, there will be houses, and offices, and regular joes trying to live out their lives in the middle of zombie apocalypse. Well, some regular joes at least. According to Dead Island 2 lore, the entire state of California was declared a quarantine zone by the US government, leaving just a handful of people around to fight it out amongst the zombie hordes. Cue the introduction of Dead Island's merry band of zombie-bashing zealots.
Max has a cat, and his name is Rick Furry.
Leading the charge from a clapped-out van is Max and his cat companion, Rick Furry, which--in a rather odd moment--Yager confessed to being the first motion-captured cat in a video game. You maybe remember Max from the trailer, or at least his foot, as he jumped out of the van to pick up a shoe. He's the fun-loving, adrenaline-junkie type, the sort that wants to get out there and smash some skulls in a bid to clean up the streets of California. Trouble is, he's not immune to the zombie virus. Enter Bezerker, Hunter, Bishop, and Speeder, Dead Island 2's collection of zombie-immune heroes that roam the streets of California. You're not the only ones causing havok on the streets, though. Other militarized factions and the US government will be there, guns blazing, waiting to take you down.
Speaking of guns, there will be projectile weapons in the game--including an AK47 and some neat flame-powered crossbows--but like its predecessors, Dead Island 2 focuses on melee combat. Crafting all kinds of kooky weapons from scavenged parts around the island will give you plenty of ways to bludgeon and chop zombies up, while the introduction of dual wielding means you don't have to give up your favorite slasher in order to have something long range. Also new to series will be motorized weapons--hedge trimmers, chainsaws, and the like--which you'll also be able to modify a la Dead Rising. They'll be noisy, though, attracting zombies, while the fuel to power them will be in short supply.
Whether these additions will make combat more fun, though, remains to be seen. I was never a fan of the combat in Dead Island; it always felt too slow and too awkward to be truly enjoyable, while the animations attached to them--particularly the disembodied leg kicking--were hilariously janky. Thanks to my time with Dead Island 2 being a hands-off demo, I can't give you a definitive answer on whether it fixes any of my gripes, but--thanks in part to its Unreal Engine 4 visuals--it certainly looked the part. Sledgehammers sent zombies rocketing into to the air, huge axes sliced them apart in an explosion of blood and guts, while flaming crossbow projectiles started up a smoking zombie BBQ.
Yager says the aim with Dead Island 2 was to make the combat less realistic and more entertaining. That's a positive change in my book, and based on the demo I saw, it's definitely looking less awkward than its predecessor. There are some other positive changes to the game too, including a new fury attack for the heroes, and "social" multiplayer that lets up to eight players share a map, and either compete, cooperate, or simply coexist on it. Sadly, like many of the games announced at E3 this year, Dead Island 2 isn't being released (on the Xbox One, PS4, and PC) until 2015, but we are at least getting a window of "spring."