Dead Island 2 contains the most graphically-detailed, up close, melee dismemberment unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Eyes pop out of sockets, skin gets flayed, innards spill, as you take bats and clubs to zombies’ faces. Surprising, the combat never gets old. However, ghosts of the first game’s inherent core do haunt aspects of this new entry into the zombie franchise.

Many of us did not believe Dead Island 2 would ever come out, with its constant delays and frequent silence from its devs and publishers. Revealed in June 2014, with a delightful trailer, the “island” in the title had somewhat, er, vanished as the game  takes place in Los Angeles. The previous titles, Dead Island and Riptide, both took place on, well, “islands”. In a delightfully sunny, lush world – covered in gore and zombies – the trailer teased a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at Hollywood mixed with horrific, zombie violence.

And surprisingly, it succeeds to a large extent.

This first-person, RPG-lite action-horror title is set days after a zombie outbreak, where LA is quarantined. Picking from a handful of survivors, with their own dialogue, skills, movement and so on, players must navigate through this zombie-torn world to find safety, shelter and help others along the way.

I must say, I absolutely loved my character Amy: she is a young Asian-American Paralympian.

She moves like the wind and when you bring your foot down to smash a felled zombie, you see her prosthetic right leg covered in the USA flag. She is witty, cynical and clever. She felt responsive and her melee combat was some of the best – I preferred it to even the glorious melee in Dying Light, by original Dead Island devs, Techland.

The game is designed for co-op and thankfully drop-in and drop-out handles smoothly. Even when playing with strangers, it was enjoyable. The difficulty ramps up, so you must keep an eye on each other. Further, the other five characters help vary the styles of play, acting as tank, support, runner and so on.

For a game that was supposed to release in 2015, Dead Island 2 looks, feels and handles extremely well. Dambuster must be congratulated for released a polished title, with few hiccups, stutters or bugs – as someone else noted on Twitter, who would’ve bet the long-delayed, previously-thought cancelled title would be one of the most stable games of 2023.

It’s a visually gorgeous game, thanks in part for ditching its open-world structure. Instead, we are given large levels. While you can make your way from A to B, there are sidequests, collectibles and environmental puzzles. Because each level is small, it is very detailed, deep and multilayers. Underground garages, deeply detailed mansions, glorious gory massive 5-star hotels – the devs spared no expense and the artists certainly earned their paycheque in how well-realised the levels are. Further, realistic physics and reactive materials immerse you in the combat, when you are swatting left and right.

The environment also allows you to mix elements for massive destruction: For example, creating pools of water then electrifying it when zombies enter; tossing a weapon at an open fuel canister as zombies get close. Using the environment to your advantage makes quick work of the monsters, but also feels fantastic and clever.

Unfortunately, the game’s roots have poisoned it somewhat. This is an inherently co-op experience, as the first game was. The world feels sometimes quite lifeless – ignore the pun – clearly articulating itself around the combat system more than anything. Puzzles can be clunky at time, feeling like they’re there mainly to tick a box than because it fits in with the world. NPCs are little more than quest givers and vendors, doing little to exist alongside you. This only makes the game feel lonely and sometimes quite stale.

The game is incredibly humourous, however. Early in the game, you navigate through a YouTuber’s mansion – belonging to young people with too much wealth, time and undeserved fame. This obviously fits a lot of such people, like Logan Paul, including a white board marked “apology” with a part marked “show some tears here” demonstrating how fake it all is. The mansion is beautifully detailed, so it was enjoyable to smash the expensive items this YouTube crew owned, especially when it meant beating up zombies who wearing t-shirts indicating they are fans of the show. Knocking their skulls and washing zombies fly through glass and doors was endlessly enjoyable – but more so when it was in a house which was a monument to unbridled capitalism.

If you have friends to play with, I highly recommend Dead Island 2: it’s beautiful, funny, has excellent combat, diverse cast of characters and heroes, and wonderful, deep level design. A solo play, however, will show the seams of its limited mechanics and lifeless world, however. But even a solo play, which was most of my playthrough, was still enjoyable because of the incredible melee combat and highly detailed, close-up gore.