It’s early days for Dead Island 2, which popped up at E3 2014 as a pre-alpha tech demo. The same demo, in fact, that developer Yager used to land itself the sequel gig, following Techland’s successful efforts on Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide. One look at it and you can see that it’s clearly an incomplete vision of the game, but it also demonstrates that the Spec Ops: The Line dev intends to build on Techland’s foundation.
How? A motion-captured cat, for one. Maybe not a marquee gameplay feature, sure, but Dead Island 2‘s mo-capped cat is the first of its kind in video games. Three cheers for blazing trails!
The game’s story picks up a handful of years after the events of Dead Island: Riptide. Zombies aren’t just trapped in a tropical paradise anymore; they’re everywhere. California — Dead Island 2‘s setting — is completely overrun. It’s not clear how Yager intends to realize that in the game as an open world, but Los Angeles and San Francisco are both places you can visit.
As with the previous two games, all of Dead Island 2‘s playable characters — Berserker, Bishop, Hunter, and Speeder — are immune to the epidemic. They get around with the help of Max, who doesn’t share their immunity but stays safe inside his armed and armored mobile home. Max is a cowardly thrillseeker who chooses to live vicariously through his zombie-slaying friends during the post-apocalypse. He’s also the caretaker of Rick Furry, the aforementioned mo-cap cat.
No, we don’t know how Rick Furry’s presence impacts the game. But did we mention that he’s a mo-capped cat?
Yager’s E3 demo focused entirely on showing off Dead Island 2‘s combat system, which looks like more of a revision of the previous games than a wholesale makeover. The focus is still on dishing out melee beatdowns on the walking dead, though a stronger emphasis in the game on human factions ought to create more opportunities for gunplay. At one point during the presentation, a gang of raiders assaults a mansion that the demo’s driver is holed up in and a shootout ensues.
Dead Island 2 does introduce some fresh ideas into the series’ arsenal. Dual-wielding is now an option, with players able to mix and match one-handed melee and ranged weapons however they’d like. Some combo weapons are also motorized now, though the added power these provide is balanced by their need for fuel and the amount of zombie-attracting noise they make. The combo system as a whole has been reworked as well, with players now able to cobble items together without having to find a workbench.
While we got an early taste in the demo of how Yager handles combat in Dead Island 2, everything else we know about the game at this point is based on promises and stated plans. The intent is to realize an Unreal 4-powered virtual world in which no two zombies look alike, even the “super” zombies. The story, which Yager’s hired an “Emmy-winning writer” to work on, depends on players juggling the sometimes at-odds needs of different factions.
The proof-of-concept demo makes it clear that Yager’s got a handle on what people like about the Dead Island series’ flavor of RPG action. The in-your-face brutality of demolishing an undead creepster with any old item that’s handy — a knife, a sledgehammer, a scoped crossbow armed with electrified bolts (true story) — looks just as satisfying as it’s always been. And having the ability to enjoy online co-op that supports up to eight players is a welcome improvement from the previous two games’ 4-player cap. But it’s all just promises at this point.
We look forward to seeing more. There are lots of questions still to be answered with a new developer stepping in, but it looks like Yager gets it. The team has plenty more opportunities to show the actual game off too, as Dead Island 2 isn’t expected to arrive — for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One — until spring 2015.