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Dead Island 2 Developer Interview & Hands-On Preview

Straight from the mouth of the zombie masters.

Updated: Sep 2, 2022 2:30 pm
Dead Island 2 Key Art

During Gamescom 2022, we had a chance to do a Dead Island 2 Developer Interview.

We also got to go hands-on with the game.

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There’s a whole bunch of new information about the game.

So without further ado, let’s hear what the developers have to say about Dead Island 2.

Dead Island 2 Developer Interview

During a hectic and chaotic Gamescom, I was funneled into a room with two of the team behind Dead Island 2. Before I sit down with Dan Evans and James Worrall (no relation), it’s clear that they’re very excited about what they’ve been working on.

On the Subject of Tone

Dead Island 2 Gameplay Screenshot of Zombie on beach
Just another reason not to like beaches.

One of the most exciting questions on many fans’ minds is the game’s tone. After all, the big disparity between the tone of the original game and the announcement trailer was an issue that affected the first game. This time, the team is confident in what they’re trying to do with the game’s tone.

“When it comes to tone, we’ve focused on what makes us stand out. We’ve aimed for a very ‘pulp’ tone with the game, and we’ve tried to bring it out throughout.”

– Dan Even (Technical Art Director, Dead Island 2)

It’s easy to see what he’s talking about. The game avoids taking itself too seriously while leaving room for very emotional scenes. It’s a difficult balance to achieve and something the team has been working hard on getting right.

“With a lot of gore-heavy media, it comes across as silly if you take things too seriously. If you don’t take it seriously at all, it’s difficult to have emotional character moments. We’ve strived to get the perfect balance between the two.”

– Dan Evans (Technical Art Director, Dead Island 2)

For the most part, it seems like they’ve succeeded. In-universe, most of what happens is taken seriously, but the more eccentric side of the characters and the general presentation help it to feel closer to those pulp horror classics of the 80s.

Pulp and Gore

Dead Island 2 Gameplay Screenshot of Zombies Outside Rental Shop
The most impressive part is that this character keeps their nails looking fresh while taking off zombie heads with a modified pipe wrench.

As you can probably imagine, this focus on a pulp tone means gore all over the place. This has necessitated the creation of the incredible gore engine you can now see in the game itself. This new system has been with the game nearly as long as Dambusters has.

“We started work on the new gore engine really close to the start of our time with the game. We knew that if we wanted massacring zombies to be a fun core activity, it needed to have something special to draw players to it.”

– James Worrall (Creative Director, Dead Island 2)

Once you’ve played the game, it’s easy to see what they mean by ‘something special.’ The gore system allows you to chop away at zombies piece-by-piece. If you chop an arm, the entire arm doesn’t fall away. Instead, the arm will be cut exactly where you hit, allowing you to slowly whittle a zombie down to a nub if you have the time and inclination.

It’s not just about base catharsis, either.

“Obviously, we’re a melee-focused game too, so the gore system really helps to add a sense of weight to the attacks from a first-person perspective.”

– James Worrall (Creative Director, Dead Island 2)

It’s hard to disagree with that assessment. While many first-person melee games make you feel like you’re vaguely waving your weapon at the enemies, in Dead Island 2, you can almost feel the vibration rocking up your arm with every hit.

It makes removing a zombie’s head with a golf club incredibly satisfying, and combined with the huge variety of counter animations, you can sink hours into the game’s core loop without even realizing it.

Horror Movie Pedigree

Dead Island 2 Gameplay Screenshot of LA Vista
Just a completely normal scene of LA at night. Ignore the fire.

With a lot of love of pulp cinema, it shouldn’t be much of a shock that Dead Island 2 also takes heavy inspiration from horror cinema. In particular, Night of the Living Dead was a big inspiration, along with many ‘video nasties’ that would be passed around between horror-obsessed movie fans in the 80s and 90s.

“Night of the living dead with a huge inspiration for the game, along with the rest of the ‘dead’ trilogy. The pulp tone was also really informed by video nasties I watched when I was younger.”

– Dan Evans (Technical Art Director, Dead Island 2)

Those inspirations are very much worn on the game’s sleeve. The game is set in LA, affectionately called Hell-A in-game, and there is plenty of atmosphere and visual style at play that will be familiar to a fan of early Romero movies.

Managing the Open World

Dead Island 2 Gameplay Screenshot of ZOmbie being choked
Seems like a pretty baller move to just grab the zombie by the throat before you decapitate it.

My time with the dev team was running out, partially because Dan and I couldn’t stop talking about horror movies (Sorry, Amy), so I had to ask about one of my biggest concerns: the open world.

After all, in recent years, we’ve seen so many iterations of sandbox open-world games. There was some understandable concern about how the game would handle it. Luckily, my fears were laid to rest.

“We’ve really tried to make a refined sandbox experience that focuses more on environmental storytelling than forcible steering the player all over the place.”

James Worrall, (Creative Director, Dead Island 2)

It’s good to hear that the team wasn’t simply chasing the biggest sandbox because they could. The section of map that they’re providing for players to enjoy is certainly not the biggest, but it’s been crammed in almost every corner with things to do and discover about the world around you.

As you play, the critical path unlocks areas for you to explore but doesn’t force you into them. The onus is put very much on the player to dictate whena and where they’re going. Outside of some Metroid-Vania-style area-unlocking to help balance difficulty, there is a lot of freedom.

Dead Island 2 Developer Interview – Conclusion

Dead Island 2 Cinematic Screenshot of man in biker jacket and pink panties
You know, you don’t often see the ‘shirtless-biker-jacket-with-pink-panties-combo’ during a zombie apocalypse. Brave.

Having very much enjoyed my time with James and Dan, I was sad to say goodbye. This was partly because I was enjoying the chat, but it partially meant I had to stop playing and talking about the game. From personal experience, I can say that players will get well and truly stuck into this game when it comes out early next year.

READ MORE: Dead Island 2 Pre Order Editions & Pre Order Bonuses

A big thank you to the Dambuster Studios team, Dan Evans and James Worrall specifically, and Amy from Plaion for organizing the whole thing.

You can expect to see Dead Island 2 hitting store shelves on February 3, 2023.

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