I’m sure there’s a lot of stories we don’t hear about in terms of games getting cancelled before ever seeing the light of day, or changing studios/studios helping out without much fanfare, but that’s not the case for Dead Island 2, which has had an extremely public development period that spans 10 years.
It’s all been on the table since the very popular trailer announcing the game was shown at PlayStation’s E3 press conference 2014. After the first game was a massive hit by Dying Light’s Techland, Yager (Spec Ops) were tasked with developing the sequel with it getting as far as having a Gamescom demo years and years ago. Development was moved onto Sumo Digital (Crackdown 3/Little Big Planet 3) before Deep Silver’s internal studio Dambuster Studio (Homefront: The Revolution) took it on.
Prior to the game getting re-revealed at Gamescom, we got to go hands-on with the game and chat to Creative Director, James Worrall and Game Director, David Stenton.
The game was originally set in Los Angeles when it was shown off nearly 10 years ago, and aside from that, that hasn’t changed, but we were led to believe that almost anything and everything from the game has changed (outside of existing gameplay mechanics such as being an action RPG, having damage numbers as such).
Given the fact that this game had gone through two studios before Dambuster, I wanted to know if there was any reluctance to take on developing the game or any extra pressure given two studios had failed to do it justice.
“No I wouldn’t say so. We were excited because of that passion for gore, for 80s pulp horror, for buckets of blood. We all enjoy the old Evil Dead films and sort of over the top horror movies. and we were absolutely confident that’d we’d able to focus on what were were passionate about personally and that was important to us that we’ve be given the space to do that.” said Game Director, David Stenton.
“One of the reasons that really attracted me to this and one of the reasons why I thought we’d do really good job is that I thought there was a real opportunity on that pulp, fun tone so that it had an almost kind of arcade quality combat system, but the pulp tone allows us to add a little bit levity.” said Creative Director, James Worrall”
We’re focusing on the zombies. There are no human factions. You’re never fighting humans, there isn’t some kind of post apocalyptic durge or commentary or commentary on how humanity is a cancer on the earth. A lot of zombie IP at the moment put zombies in the background and focus on human being horrible on each other, but we wanted to take it back to that 80s movie kind of approach which is humans versus monsters and the monsters in our case are zombies. It makes for quite a pure experience and certainly sets us apart from almost all the other zombie IP out there.” continued Creative Director, James Worrall.
I don’t remember too much of the Dead Island story more than 10 years on, but something that really surprised me with this is how much the personality of the characters that I got to see shine both in personality and how good they look in terms of realism and decent motion capping.
There’s six characters that you can play as in in the game. In the demo, we got to play as Amy, an Asian-American athlete who has a blade on one leg, but I wanted to know how the six characters works in the context of gameplay and story.
“We don’t have a branching story, but each of six characters has their own personality, their own voice and their own dialogue in each scene, which is an amazing achievement. The narrative team has done a great job writing all this dialogue and managing to fit all of these characters in the same scene.” said Worrall.
“Each character starts off with a tiny weighting from a strategic point of view, so each character has two fixed skill cards which will give them a bit of a bias. When it comes to the skill deck, the way these cards are found are found in a slightly different way for each character, but by the end of the game, you’ll be able to take any of the characters and build whatever build that you want. The skill card structure can be pulled apart and rejigged at any point so for instance, you can start off with a character that has a flying kick, but you might want to change it to a drop kick and then the cards that boost that, so it’s fully customiseable” continued Worrall
“You’re playing as one character from start to finish, but we’re predicting a certain amount of attraction to replay the game from beginning to end using a different character.” said Worrall in relation to a question about whether you can swap between characters during a play through.
“Obviously we’re bias, but the different personality types are so fun, so to be able to replay the game with a different voice and different characterisations does make a difference, so I’m sure people will have favourites.” said Stenton.
Another thing that really stood out to me is the gore in Dead Island 2, which has not only a huge improvement on what we saw in the original game, but as far as zombie mutilation goes, it seems to take things further than we’ve even seen before with a procedural gore system.
“We always knew we wanted to go the whole hog and have the gore system be fully procedural and it was trying to find the best way to deliver that … One of the most fun things to do in the game is to melt zombies because I think that shows the potential because we’ve really modelled the clothes, the skin and it melts through to the organs and beneath there, you know, individually modelled and simulated gall bladders, intestines and down to the skull as well”. said Stenton in response to a question asked by AusGamers.
Dead Island 2 launches on February 3rd for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.