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Dead Island 2 preview: First impressions at E3 2014

What is Dead Island 2?

Coming to Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Dead Island 2 release date Spring 2015

Before we start, you have to know that I am not a Dead Island fan and publisher Deep Silver will have to do a lot to impress me with Dead Island 2. But at least it's off to a good start.

Firstly, Dead Island 2 is in development at Jager, which wasn't responsible for any previous Dead Island games, but instead worked on titles like Spec Ops: The Line. Secondly, it's not actually set on an island, but rather along the sprawling coastline of California.

That means major Californian landmarks like San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood in LA will all become your zombie playground and Jager claims this game will have more zombies than ever before.

It's not just more zombies, either. Thanks to the power of the PS4, Xbox One and PC, each zombie will apparently be unique, with not one single undead looking alike. We're not quite sure how true this is at this stage, because the demoed gameplay was from an early build created at the end of 2013, but we're not sure how much you'd actually notice. From the looks of it, there will be thousands of zombies spread over the Californian map, so we doubt you would be checking each one for its individual characteristics in the heat of the moment.

The game is centred around a new NPC character called Max and his cat, Rick Furry. Max is on an epic quest to find immune humans, despite not being immune himself. He's trying to build up a special zombie task force to battle against the undead hordes, which is where you come in of course.

It's worth mentioning that the cat Rick Furry could play a major role in the final game, or at least the comedy. Jager is particularly proud that Dead Island 2 is the first videogame to feature a motion-captured cat.

This is just one of the examples as to how Dead Island 2 is trying to be a little more light-hearted than previous instalments in the series, which is also evident in the trailer above that was shown during Sony's E3 2014 press conference, much to the amusement of the crowd.

The gameplay we were shown during E3 saw us holed up in a suburban part of San Francisco, starting out in Max's RV with some other members of the crew. We worked our way through the houses to one known as the Clubhouse, where we were asked to help fight off the oncoming horde by a guy who had taken up residence there.

This gave us a look at how the combat has changed in Dead Island 2. As with previous titles like Dead Island: Riptide, the combat is still very melee focused, as ammo is scarce and you won't want to attract zombies with the noise of your bullets ricocheting through their comrades. The player hacked through zombies with a machete and even hilariously took some out with a wine bottle, with mini-cutscenes seeing him knife them through the head for an instant kill in some cases.

One of the new contextual attacks in the game is the backstab, which sees you take down a zombie by literally stabbing him in the back.

Dead Island 2

There are new motorised weapons to play with in the game, although we didn't get to see any of them. However, like guns and other weapons, this new motorised arsenal will definitely quickly notify the zombie hordes of your location.

Dead Island 2 also lets you modify and craft weapons at any time without having to find a workbench, and you can You will  dual-wield weapons too, both of which are a welcome addition to the combat.

From what I've seen so far, this game is far more visceral and in your face that previous games, with zombies more often than not getting right up against you trying to bite your face off.

A great new addition to the game is the ability to set traps for the zombies. You can use fire barrels and other in-game content to kill multiple zombies in one foul shot. In the gameplay demo, I saw how cars could be shot from afar to set off alarms and attract the zombies. I set off one car alarm, waiting for all zombies to draw near, and then shot another car to move them closer to an explosive petrol barrel, which was then shot for a fireball zombie attack.

Dead Island 2

Max and co will also have to deal with other armed forces on the Californian streets, including the LAPD. However, they can be used to distract the zombies as the AI of both the undead and the cops will fight against each other, letting you slip past unharmed.

There seems to be more room for creativity in the new Dead Island, but we're not seeing huge improvements over the mechanics of previous titles yet, although this is a very early build.

There have been some visual tweaks though, with the lighting and shadow effects particularly prominent thanks to the sunny Californian setting. When looking down the street, you can also see the heat haze rising off the pavements, which is a very nice impressive touch of realism.

First Impressions

With California and all its related landmarks now becoming part of your zombie playground, we're hoping that this could be the defining game in the Dead Island series. The visuals and lighting effects are already impressive and the gameplay shows some potential, even at this early stage. Hopefully, as the game develops and gets closer to launch, we'll discover the things that really make Dead Island 2 stand-out from its predecessors.

Read more: Xbox One vs PS4

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