Dead Island 2 Review: The Deader the Better

Dead Island 2 is a whirlwind power fantasy of a game that delivers outrageously disgusting violence with engaging combat set in an incredible world.

Dead Island 2 : The Deader the Better
Developer / Publisher: Dambuster Studios
19 minutes & 41 seconds read time
TweakTown's Rating: 91%
TweakTown award

The Bottom Line

Dead Island 2 is a grisly whirlwind of chaos that prioritizes fun above all else.


  • + Amazing graphics, gore system, and tons of freedom
  • + Ultra-satisfying combat and side missions
  • + Short but sweet
  • + It feels like a video game
  • + Style and substance


  • - User interface
  • - Glitches and bugs
  • - Price

Should you buy it?


Intro - Welcome to Hell-A

  • Developer: Dambuster Studios
  • Publisher: Deep Silver
  • Release Date: April 21, 2023
  • Platform: PS5, Xbox Series X/S (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC
  • Genre: Action, Survival FPS Horror
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Extreme Gore Warning: This review contains images of extreme gore.

Dead Island 2 freely injects into your eyeballs the kind of gore you'd expect to see on the darkest corners of the internet, complete with writhing entrails, exposed brains, and extreme mutilation. This is a game where the entire combat loop centers around utterly decimating human-like enemies in some of the most barbaric and horrible ways, using melee weapons to smash, maim, tear, and dismember via a robust physics system. The graphics and visuals are so good that there's no mistaking what is happening or what you're seeing; it's there, stark and immutable, and you really can't unsee it.

The game relies strongly on shocking butchery, and throughout my playthrough, I've had to frequently take breaks in order to cleanse my mind. I don't advise playing this game for extended periods, and I certainly do not advise anyone to buy this for their children.

Dead Island 2 is firmly the type of game that you may be able to comfortably play if you can watch Herschel Gordon Lewis or David Cronenberg movies without batting an eye. Even still, I haven't really come across any films or TV shows that are as brutally gory as Dead Island 2.

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Dead Island 2 proves that the old adage is as true today as it was back then: good things come to those who wait.

It's been nearly 10 years since the game was revealed at E3 2014, and the game's long development issues are well-known among fans. The great news is that Dambuster Studios not only saved the game and released a stellar product but kept the franchise's style and authenticity intact. Dead Island 2 feels like a Dead Island game, and that's not always possible when projects change from studio to studio and are mired in development hell for many years.

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Overall, Dead Island 2 may be the best zombie game on the market today because it caters to the broadest audience and keeps true to the age-old formula. The game appeals to the inner savage within players, rewarding them for slaking their thirst for vicious, bloodthirsty violence. It also has this crazed mania about it that's kind of hard to explain, but it's one part horror and one part comedy.

Apart from the gameplay, one thing I love is that Dead Island 2 doesn't overstay its welcome. By the time things start to get stale, you're probably close to beating the game anyway, or you can easily just swap out a build style and try something new. This is incredibly refreshing to see a next-gen AAA game respect your time in a way that fosters experimentation and innovation on behalf of the player.

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Gameplay - Confident Combat, Fun is Prioritized

What I like most about Dead Island 2 is how confident the game is in its own identity. There are no frills here; just brutal, gore-tastic zombie-slashing mayhem. Dambuster knows why you bought this game, and they're not playing around. There's no feigning realism--the game knows itself and doesn't waste your time.

You're here to slay zombies, collect loot, and explore the horrors of a blood-soaked Los Angeles, and Dambuster delivers just that... and then some.

Read Also: This Dead Island 2 build will carry you through most of the game using your fists

From the get-go, the game establishes itself as a raucous, outrageous experience, the likes of which spawned in the 1970s during the grindhouse exploitation era where violence was a style, and it was so prevalent that it was almost comedic.

Like Spinal Tap, Dead Island 2 amps it up to 11 and delivers some of the most grisly and hilariously over-the-top slaughter-fest action in modern gaming. You'll slice and dice zombies, behead them, smash in their skulls, blow them up, electrocute them--you can unleash your inner demented Kevin McAllister in a supremely twisted Home Alone where the world, not your parents, has abandoned you in a playground of devastating weapons. It's up to you what kinds of maniacal traps you set for your undead foes.

There's no weakness here, no Walking Dead-style one bite, and your done rules. You're a walking force of death, a hero straight out of a Robert Rodriguez action flick; you shrug off zombie bites like it's nothing and take on hordes of monstrosities like child's play. That's the real fun of this game; Dambuster treats you like you're the Last Action Hero of the zombie apocalypse genre, and Dead Island 2 is all the better for it.

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Actually, now that I think of it, Dead Island 2 may be the most intensely violent video game in the history of the industry. It's definitely the bloodiest game I've ever played.

As cliché as it may sound, you're not locked in with the zombies... they're locked in with you. You are literally an undead superhero that brings utter destruction in your wake.

In this way, Dead Island 2 is more than just another survival horror game; it's a playground where you can live out absurd violence the likes of which hasn't been seen since Peter Jackson's 1992 film Dead Alive (if you know, you know).

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Despite being hopelessly outnumbered by teeming hordes of undead, I never felt afraid. Fear isn't something that Dead Island 2 really brings. Some of the areas are very creepy, but ultimately this game is a pure power fantasy and sets itself apart from other horror survival games on the market.

Combat is where Dead Island 2 excels. I've had a blast just beating the literal brains out of zombies, even if it's disturbing and rather gut-wrenching at times. Using Carla, I managed to play most of the game primarily using my bare fists--a feat that requires you to equip a broken weapon so you default to an unarmed state.

This is how I actually prefer to play. Weapons do a lot of damage, but the fists are a lot faster than any other weapon in the game-well, maybe except for brass knuckles that are decked out with higher-end mods--and they don't use any durability. Plus, being able to smash and bash zombies into oblivion has its own sick thrill to it. You can eviscerate enemies with swords, cave their heads in with hammers, or blast them with guns...but there's something brutally satisfying about knocking some squishy heads in with your knuckles.

What I like most about Dead Island 2's combat is the counter-stun combos that allow you to keep a ferocious momentum of destruction for minutes at a time. It's entirely possible to demolish dozens of zombies at any given time because of this combo.

Essentially, you can just block attacks and press RT a the right time to stun enemies and then press X to grab them and dish out a finishing move that heals you in the process. It's a lot like Doom Eternal's Glory Kills mechanic.

Dambuster didn't have to put this feature into the game-they could have easily just made it so you had to be more careful and decisive with your attacks-but again; this is a prime example of fun being prioritized over everything else.

The combo only works on lesser enemies and not on big baddies like the screamers, puke-slinging horrors, or the bodybuilding Hulksters. It actually makes it difficult to die outside of environmental hazards like fire or caustic damage. The combo essentially turns regular shambling zombies into walking health packs, and it surprisingly doesn't break the game but only propels and amplifies the fun factor.

This combo made me feel so invincible that I was confident enough to use my bare fists for most of the game. Playing like this comes at a steep cost, though, and the game will force you to adjust your playstyle. Zombies scale with your level, so you'll sometimes run into your current strategy not being effective. Level scaling also boosts health quite a bit, and it was often tough for me to deal enough damage with my fists to kill certain enemies, so I had to switch the skill cards around and be more cunning with my weapons of choice.

This flexibility is a big part of what makes Dead Island 2's combat so fun. Besides the visceral and crunchy brain-blasting chaos, Dambuster gives you complete control over what strategies you use across multiple dimensions of play, including environmental hazards, move set, weapon type and mod customization, and most importantly, what skills you can assign at any given time.

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Dead Island 2 makes a welcome change to how skills are assigned and used. The skill tree is gone, instead being replaced with a "card" based system. These card systems can be a bit convoluted in some games (like Back 4 Blood), but it actually works extremely well in this game.

You unlock more cards as you level up, and there are also skill cards found throughout the map. All in all, I could mostly ignore the skill cards for portions of the game and didn't really need to adjust my build very often because I found the fantastically fun combat loop.

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The world itself gives you more agency because you can use turn nearby objects into traps to dish out fierce damage. Substances have surprising interactivity and give you more tools to deal with mobs of undead. There are jugs of oil and gas everywhere that can be lit on fire to deal AoE damage in pools, and barrels will explode. There are also barrels of caustic acid that the military was using to dissolve bodies in the hope of covering up the deaths, and some enemies, like the CDC workers in full antiviral gear, are immune to the acid.

The reactions are logical. Water will conduct electricity, and you can use live wires or car batteries to zap enemies. Zombies are stupid, so they'll just walk into anything and everything. Substances will also interact with other substances. Water will put out fire and cleanse acid--a handy tip for areas that are hazardous, like the sewers.

Gorgeous Graphics, Visuals, and Environments

We all know the story by now: a pandemic breaks out and turns people into marauding undead brain-eaters. Los Angeles has been locked down and isolated by the CDC and the Army, but predictably, things are wildly out of control, and there's no one at the helm.

But instead of a more dour and dismal tone, Dead Island 2 keeps things bright, sunny, and colorful while adding a spark of somehow humorous, unhinged vivacity that counterbalances the extreme levels of disturbing blood and guts. The world might be filled with the dead, but L.A. still feels alive nonetheless, and that's because of Dambuster's creative and well-designed city streets and locations that anchor you to this digital arcade of bedlam.

This isn't an open-world game, and it's all the better for it. Instead of spreading everything out, Dead Island 2 condenses areas into more refined spaces that have surprisingly layered interactions. There are secrets, collectibles, hidden weapons, side quests, and a ton of water pipes, explosive barrels, and even car batteries that can be used to unleash devastating elemental hazards against foes.

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Dead Island 2's graphics are fantastic. The lighting is immaculate; you see reflections on practically every applicable surface, from marble floors in the illustrious Serling Hotel to the windows and everything in between.

Neon signs glow at night, fires cast eerie shadowy light on the walls, and parking garages have some of the most distinctly creepy visuals that I've seen in a video game. Dambuster has channeled many horror movie visuals and tropes in this game with its clever use of lighting effects to the point where this game both looks and feels like a big-budget horror flick.

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The game takes you across ten zones spread across Los Angeles, from the esteemed Bel Air and the Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach and Monarch Studios, my personal favorite. The locations are realistic thanks to the graphical fidelity and presentation, and the atmosphere is believable while also blending that feeling that you're in a movie with the foggy distance of a power fantasy dream.

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The Santa Monica Pier is lit up and ghastly, and the Ferris Wheel glows red like a bad omen. Venice Beach is brightly lit, and there's even the notorious Muscle Beach workout gym complemented by the rolling tide and colorful, almost tropical color scheme.

The CDC HQ brings to mind the old 1990s miniseries based on Stephen King's The Stand, and Ocean Avenue is littered with shops and remnants from a sane world.

Contextual Enemies and Engaging Side Quests

The game has a nice array of side quests that introduce new characters, and they're usually pretty memorable. There's Sebastian, an actor on the Space Fox TV show, some stoner idiots who somehow stayed alive during the outbreak, not unlike Seth Rogan and his band of misfit morons from This is The End, and even a scientist who makes you fight off waves of zombies at the Halperin Hotel so he can "examine" your work as a zombie slayer.

The quests aren't too demanding and typically offer substantial rewards, whether it be a new weapon--sometimes you get multiple rare weapons that can dish out tons of damage--or a nice XP bundle that unlocks new skills and abilities.

Quest-giving NPCs are often in a safe zone, and some actually sell you gear. Warrant Officer Rodriguez in the Venice Beach army base will sell you some pretty high-quality ranged weapon mods and even has blueprints for heavy rounds. She is a must-visit if you're into guns, and yes, that's definitely a viable build...but you probably don't want to use Carla for this kind of build.

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The side quests also give you a reason to explore Hell-A even more. Honestly, this bloody version of L.A. does bear exploration and you should be looking around the areas just to absorb the unique locales, let alone for items and the sweet thrills of zombie-slaying action.

What's interesting is the side quests seem to be meaningful, maybe not as meaningful as The Witcher 3, but they aren't as rote and mundane as a fetch quest. One quest had me ignite three "death pits" by Venice Beach. These were tons of dead bodies mixed with oil meant to be burned as open mass graves by the beachside. I lit the pits, and the entire sky filled with black smoke, creating a claustrophobic fight against fiery zombies. It was actually a tough battle--fire damage is no joke in this game--and I had a blast taking them out.

The game does a good job in restricting a portion of the areas to make you want to return later and collect more loot. The most common of these are areas that have a missing fuse to open a door. You'll often find high-level gear from chests in the locked areas, so definitely save these for later.

One annoying thing is that Dead Island 2 has a lot of chests that require a specific set of keys to unlock. The zones are filled with these, and gamers can collect notes and little clues to find the keys. Sometimes you will find skill cards in these chests, so they are worth pursuing, but are not required.

That's one of the most refreshing things about Dead Island 2. The game doesn't really force you to do anything--you can choose your skill cards and swap out a build at any time or swap out weapons at any time as well. It's a unique system that lets you become a jack-of-all-trades at a whim and encourages experimenting, especially in multiplayer sessions when things get truly difficult.

Side quests and collectibles are also entirely optional and are not needed or required to beat the game. It certainly helps to collect as many materials and weapons as you can, though.

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Often times you will find named enemies like The Cable Guy (yes, really) that will drop keys specifically for an unlocked door or chest. The Cable Guy drops keys to his van, which has a nice superior-grade item within. What's even cooler is the game sends you on a scavenger hunt and has you find the door or area that the key unlocks, as opposed to just showing you where to go on a mini map indicator.

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Dead Island 2 has great enemy variety both in type and presentation. The zombies all have varied appearances and are surprisingly fresh--even if they're dead.

Shamblers, walkers, runners, screamers, beekeepers (swarm walkers), bloatslingers that blast projectile acid vomit, hulking bodybuilder-type monstrosities that hulk-slam on the ground and act as walking meat walls of death. There are quick zombies straight out of 28 Days Later, and even zombies that are ignited or undead lineman who are electrified and will explode in a shower of sparks when attacked. Some zombies have glass stuck in their bodies and harm you if you punch them with your bare fists or fist weapons.

The enemies drop unique crafting materials needed to make rare mods that can radically transform a build. Some of these rare mods can actually leech back HP on strike, which is tremendously beneficial.

I absolutely loved how the zombies are contextual and actually reflect the areas that you find them in. For example, you'll find boom operator zombies with giant boom mikes strapped to their backs as well as costumed actor zombies in Monarch Studios, or elegantly-dressed zombies in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills.

Next-gen G.O.R.E. System

The gore system really needs to be mentioned here. We've already talked about how violent and realistic Dead Island 2's gore effects are, but Dambuster goes above and beyond here. I daresay to get the full visceral effect of the gore system, you really need to use your fists.

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It's possible to literally punch the enemy's faces off. Each successive hit will deform an enemy's body, especially their heads, which lose a layer of flesh with each punch. By the time they actually die, they are just bloody pulps of mush. Also, the finishing move for the counter combo with any fist weapon has you smash your fists right through their heads to the other side. Their eyes will fly forward, and brains will shoot out the back of their heads from the force. The same is true for the bodies; punching or slashing will slice pieces of skin off.

I did try out all weapon types just to see how they reacted with the gore system. Blade weapons will slice, and katanas can slice off limbs and behead enemies in a grisly display of lethality. Two-handed hammers may be the best damage-dealing weapons in the game and can actually break bones backwards or smash off limbs altogether.

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Headshots with guns actually remove heads, baseball bats will knock-in skulls, and two-handed javelins and spears will skewer enemies with cruel force.

All of the weapons have their own unique finishing moves that can be unlocked from the counter combos, and they also do different things to enemies in combat, fully exemplifying the dynamic and impressively realistic G.O.R.E. system.

Spoilers - Extra Thoughts and Observations

Spoiler warning

There are some light spoilers on some pop culture homages, themes, and nods in Dead Island 2. If you'd like to keep these things a surprise then skip this portion.

Dead Island 2 makes nods to classic horror writers and directors, and if you're a fan, you'll get a kick out of the following references:

  • Romero Awards (George Romero, Night of the Living Dead)
  • Serling Hotel (Rod Serling, Twilight Zone)
  • Argento Sky Lounge (Dario Argento, director of Suspiria)
  • There's a Plymouth Fury in Bel-Air (Stephen King's Christine)

Notable NPCs

  • Emma Jaunt - Diva actress turned survivor, lives in ridiculous wealth and is a pivotal part of the story.
  • Sam B - He's back! Who do you voodoo?
  • Rikky Rex, singer of Gods and Whiskey, stoned out of his mind.
  • Stoners in the Blue Crab
  • Warrant Officer Rodriguez - Venice Beach
  • Francesca - Beverly Hills, crazy artist who is using dead bodies to make sculptures, very twisted and macabre and bizarre.
  • Patton - Obsessed with Emma Jaunt movies, but he doesn't watch them...he imagines them.
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Notable sequences

The following are a few of the noteworhty sequences of the game that I experienced, but this is not nearly all of them. I've omitted quite a few just to ensure I don't spoil too much.

  • Military base in Venice Beach - The ending sequence makes you fight through tons of zombies, dozens and dozens of them in a tighter corridor-style military base.
  • Fighting enemies next to a giant spider in the Monarch Studios movie set, using pyrotechnics to take out hordes of zombies.
  • Horrifying Cronenberg deformations and monstrosities in the sewers, and a segment where tons of enemies spawned.
  • Insane horde fight in military base at Venice Beach.
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Other Thoughts, comparisons to other games, etc.

I actually like this game more than Dying Light 2, and it all comes down to one simple reason: Dead Island 2 is not a long, drawn-out experience. The developers put action front and center. The game does have a story, but it's really in the backseat to the grisly mayhem that you unleash with your wanton bloodlust and creativity. And to be honest... the story is like something out of a pulp horror comic, which makes me like it all the more.

There's something just so enjoyable about a game that throws you right into the fray and forces you to fight your way out by any means you deem fit.

Dead Island 2 is not convoluted and allows players to not only slay zombies right away, but you can switch up your build at any time. Being able to swap out skill cards on-the-fly is a great addition that creates significant freedom for the player; you're not roped into a massive skill tree where most of the nodes and unlockables are negligible passive bonuses.

Dambuster has given you some great tools to mix and match, however, and more importantly, whenever you want. I love the idea of being able to easily swap out skill cards and change up my build, or switch to a different weapon at any time. Maybe I'll want to use my electrified pike for a bit and just skewer zombies, or swap things up with a super fast knife that dishes out devastating fire attacks.

Wrap-Up - The Most Zombie-Slaying Fun Yet

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Dead Island 2 is no-holds barred, good old-fashioned zombie-slaying fun. The game firmly understands its identity and doesn't waste your time with a bunch of extra busywork; you're here to smash the undead and wreak as much absolute destructive havoc as you can. The developers know what you want to do and are all the more willing to give you the tools to make your diabolical head-smashing, flesh-tearing, and limb-slashing fantasies a reality.

The game's systems are easy to understand and even easier to use. Dead Island 2 respects your time and does not require you to spend dozens of hours collecting mushrooms, crystals, or some other inane crafting materials-in fact, it's entirely possible to just mostly ignore the pick-ups and continue your slaughter fest.

At its core, Dead Island 2 is a disgusting, brutal, and messy thrill ride of a game that combines a dementedly comical spirit, impressive graphics, truly memorable environmental storytelling, and an explosively fun combat loop into one blood-soaked package.

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Dambuster has done their homework to the point where this game isn't just imitating or paying homage to creative horror, but redefining what we should expect from the genre. Dead Island 2 makes you feel like you're in an old-school 1970s grindhouse exploitation film or maybe one of those cheesy-but-fun gorefests from the '80s, keeping the authenticity of the franchise intact.

This game is a must-play for a fan of gruesome horror, but be forewarned: The gore is so dynamic, realistic, and truly brutal that it might auger into your mind and stay with you for some time.

For people like me, that's the sign of a good horror game.

What's Hot

+ Amazing Graphics - Dambuster has pulled off some serious wizardry here. Dead Island 2's environments are stellar and very well-created, with nearly every area being memorable in some way in regard to presentation, exploration, and interactivity.

+ Ultra-Satisfying Combat - I've had nothing but fun beating the literal brains out of zombies in Hell-A. All the weapons have their own unique styles, mods, and handling, but the game isn't stingy and will dole out items often enough that you can often try new things. I absolutely love the jump-kick and the counter-stun combo that carried me through the entire game.

+ Short but Sweet - Dead Island 2 isn't necessarily short, but it feels that way, and that's a good thing. Gaming is bloated with too many 100-hour games that soak up your time. Dead Island 2 respects your time and offers a chaotically engaging experience that you can pick up and play at any point.

+ It Feels like a Video Game - This might sound strange, but Dead Island 2 never lets you forget you're playing a video game. The immersion is there to an extent, but it's offset by such ridiculously comical mayhem that it has the spirit of an old-school arcade. There's no emphasis on crazy physics systems or meticulous realism-you're jump-kicking your way to victory while utterly manipulating the world around you in creative ways to achieve the ultimate goal of zombie eradication.

+ Gore System is Unlike Anything Else in Gaming - Dambuster's new G.O.R.E system is nothing like anything I've seen in gaming before. There are violent games... and then there's Dead Island 2's hideously grotesque presentation. There are physics systems for jiggling brains, decapitated heads, smashed-up limbs, and practically everything else you'd expect to see in a Korean horror film. Body parts are flying everywhere, zombies are exploding in piles of guts and gore, and throughout it all your character has this wild devil-may-care attitude that just somehow clicks into place.

+ Tons of Freedom - A big part of Dead Island 2's fun is how it lets you swap out skills and weapons on-the-fly. You can change up your build at any time or even pop a new mod into your weapon to radically change your experiences in combat. Nothing seems permanent, and that's a good thing; you're a kind of rip-roaring storm of fury that adapts and finds new, creative ways to wreck everything in the room.

+ Side Missions Are Actually Really Good - Side quests in games can often feel like chores. There are fetch quests or the usual monster-killing mission. Dead Island 2's quests actually engage you with the map and the goofy, often-ridiculous characters in a way that's compelling but humorous. For example, you might come across the Goat Pen in Bel-Air, a massive mansion that lampoons famous YouTubers, and you know that there's something there, maybe something hidden. Something more than meets the eye. Turns out there's a great quest there that's as fun as it is hilarious. Dead Island 2 is filled with side missions that have you returning to places that you feel are important or unique.

+ Style and Substance - Los Angeles doesn't just look great, it actually has its own personality. Apart from the ridiculous head-rolling violence, the world looks and feels real. Dambuster establishes their own style with extras like posters, artwork, luxurious hotels, and the in-game map goes a long way to creating a bombastic and anarchic feel to the game that perfectly captures the spirit of the West.

+ No Microtransactions - This game has online co-op like the previous Dead Islands, but there are no modern-day microtransactions involved. The Gold Edition comes with some extra item packs, which are actually pretty helpful, and access to the expansion pass.

What's Not

- User Interface - Dead Island 2's UI is pretty simplistic, and while serviceable, I very much disliked it at first. You get used to it, and once you do, you understand that complexity isn't needed for this type of game.

- Glitches and Bugs - I experienced three crashes while playing Dead Island 2 on the Xbox Series X, as well as multiple bugs and glitches where I would counter-combo and enemy and then go flying across the screen. They weren't game-breaking bugs, but they were still there. Also, I had a lot of issues recording screen capture footage in Dead Island 2-pretty much all of my captures on Xbox Series X were unusable.

- Price Tag - $69.99 is a steep cost for any game these days. While I really enjoy Dead Island 2 and recommend it, I could see how it's a tough sell at ~$74 after taxes. I would try to find it for a bit cheaper if possible, pick up a used copy, or wait for a sale.

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Graphics and Visuals


Fun Factor






The Bottom Line

Dead Island 2 is a grisly whirlwind of chaos that prioritizes fun above all else.

TweakTown award

Dead Island 2: Day 1 Edition - PlayStation 5

Today Yesterday 7 days ago 30 days ago
$69.99 $64.78 $69.99
* Prices last scanned on 6/9/2023 at 5:04 am CDT - prices may not be accurate, click links above for the latest price. We may earn an affiliate commission.

Derek joined the TweakTown team in 2015 and has since reviewed and played 1000s of hours of new games. Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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