Dead Island 2 Preview: "encapsulates what the series is all about"
Sit back, close your eyes, and take yourself to the summer of 2011. The sun is out, you've just finished school, and you hop on the Xbox 360 for co-op with your mates for some zombie-killing action on Dead Island.
It was no surprise a sequel was announced following the success of the original and Dead Island: Riptide, with the combat system and variety of weapons to cut your way through a horde of the undead on the scale of nothing we'd seen on that generation on consoles.
Fans alike rejoiced when we got our first peek at the next game for E3 2014, but nine years and three game studios later, Dead Island 2 will finally be in our hands come April 21.
We got hands-on with the Dambuster Studios title for some first impressions from the opening missions in Dead Island 2.
Combat worthy of a sequel
Going back to the 2011 release, being able to cut through waves of zombies one by one with weapons was great fun, but 12 years later, there are modern advances that meant that needed to improve - and thankfully, Dambuster has built on those grim bones.
The 'FLESH system' (as the team calls it) brings realistic action - as much as it can be in a zombie game. When swinging your weapon, your actions are reflected in the zombies themselves, showing bones, guts, the ripping of skin, plenty of blood, and more.
While playing, it felt so natural that it almost went unnoticed, but is a much-needed addition from just seeing splatters of blood in the original, adding a layer of grim depth we didn't know we needed.
The boss battles take things to the next level, especially with the first, Becki The Bride. With the additional health and damage required, the physical damage shown on the boss becomes more noticeable the longer you fight. You can even chop off limbs as you carve your way through.
A much-needed visual refresh
Within this preview, we were limited to working with a maximum of 60fs, alongside some performance issues stopping us from playing on maximum quality, but that didn't stop Dead Island 2 from looking gorgeous.
Albeit 12 years and two extra generations of console releases on from the release of its predecessor, Dead Island 2 is a strong step in the right direction. The game's setting in the beautiful hills of Hollywood really does shine. In one of the starting missions, you end up within an abandoned movie set, which pays homage to many film titles over the years.
A story worth forgetting
The original Dead Island's infamous trailer told a complex story, but the game itself made the plot much more secondary - and the sequel continues that trend, for better or worse. Set a few months after the events of Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide, the infection has moved to Los Angeles with predictable results.
There's some cringeworthy dialogue as you push your way through the city, with some jokes that just aren't funny. There are equally conversations that leave you with more questions than answers, but it's all a great excuse to explore your surroundings and push from set piece to set piece.
Sadly, the quest tracking feels a little too keen to talk about events to come, occasionally spoiling upcoming moments. Here's hoping the full release will have a little more nuance.
Much-needed variety and customisation
Following on from the four playable characters in the original, Dead Island 2 steps it up with an extra two. For this playthrough, I set myself up as Bruno, a hustler who's spent a lifetime planning and pulling off heists.
His Innate Skills (specialist features) are Backstab, where he gets a damage boost from sneaking up and attacking zombies from behind, and Rapid Reprisal, which boosts Agility and Heavy Attack Charges when he avoids a zombie blow.
Skill cards are a great addition to the combat, and are a step up from the skill trees seen in Dead Island. Gathered from levelling up, found around the map, or from simply killing zombies, skill cards grant special powers and abilities.
It never got old walking around with a skill card that allows you to one-shot (or nearly) zombies while doing a sprinting jump kick, and it’ll be fun to see how players tailor their builds to their acquired cards.
Weapon modding also improves from the first game, but doesn't reinvent the wheel from what we saw in the early hours. You can set your weapons up to burn or shock enemies to combat the specialist abilities that some zombies have, among heaps more options as the game progresses.
Overall, Dead Island 2 encapsulates what the series is all about...killing zombies and cutting loose in the apocalypse. If that sounds like your bag, then you'll likely have a great time on April 21.
If you're looking for a little more brain to feast on, though, you may want to look elsewhere.