'Button mashing' won't save you in Dead Island 2

A character smiles at the camera in Dead Island 2
(Image credit: Plaion)

“This is not a game, you can button mash and autopilot your way through,” says lead narrative designer Ayesha Khan, “It's very tactical.”

Dead Island 2 is designed to provide an immersive experience in which you gradually learn step by step the best ways to face each situation. The surroundings are more complex and your enemies are smarter, forcing you to learn the mechanics and pay attention to your skills. I know: it shocked me too. You have to think to play Dead Island now.

Long gone are the days of Dead Island zombies that all shopped at the same swimwear store, only differentiated by increasing levels. Now zombies will have unique abilities and smarter combat options, from electrically-charged enemies that shock any living (or dead thing around them) to screamers who attract hordes of the undead. Dead Island 2 looks to be a full-on fistfight. According to Khan, you really can have a “satisfying combat dance experience.”

With just a glance, you can read the visual cues you need to make combat decisions quickly. Khan is so confident in Dead Island 2's readability that you can even “turn off the HUD altogether" and navigate the complex fights. 

A large zombie is gearing up to punch the player.

(Image credit: Dambuster Studios)

You can also look to your surroundings and turn the elements against your enemies – the sparks leaping off an electrical enemy will conduct through hazards like water to take out anything stood in the puddle.

Using water bombs, you can even create your own hazards to fight against the undead.

Skin deep

Unlike the first Dead Island, where the tactical play amounted to knocking a zombie over with a kick, in Dead Island 2 every hit counts. Thanks to developer Dambuster's delightfully-named FLESH system (Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids), you can deliberately dismember each limb on the undead, altering its attacks.

"We do love gore," game director David Stenton says but this is more than just splatter, that dismemberment and attention to “the camera, controlling the hand feel, getting the movement right” draws the players into every fight. 

This is a very different Dead Island to the one fans of the original game may expect

Ultimately, this is a very different Dead Island to the one fans of the original game may expect. You may remember those simple, mindless, zombies as mere obstacles on your way to your objective. Dambuster wants Dead Island 2 to change direction in favor of more intense tactical play. Change isn’t always a bad thing, and it’s clear that a lot of time and thought has gone into this troubled sequel. But as a big fan of the original, where zombie killing was thoughtless fun, will something of that be lost with all this new complexity?

Elie Gould
Features Writer

Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications. 

Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.