When Deep Silver first revealed Dead Island 2, the fact that it wasn’t another grim CGI trailer made it immediately apparent that this Dead Island will be different. I expected it to be another decent tropical zombie bash ‘em up that would do a sufficient job of keeping me and my friends busy for a few months until something else comes along.
It’s obvious their ambitions are loftier than that with this sequel, and much of that ambition rests on its new developer. Replacing Techland is Yager, the studio that showed us all how awful war can be with the relentlessly grim Spec Ops: The Line.
A talented developer is no guarantee of a game’s quality, and neither is actual in-game footage. The latter is a tough lesson I’ve learned from games like Aliens: Colonial Marines and the 2008 reboot of Alone in the Dark. What we’ve seen of Dead Island 2 so far certainly looks like a Dead Island game, with its vibrant colors, brutal melee combat and undead hordes, but this game also promises to be as different as it is familiar to fans of the series.
I enjoyed Dead Island and, to a lesser extent, its pseudo-sequel Riptide. The addictive co-op helped me overlook the repetition and uninspired quests, but I’ve never been able to fully ignore the series’ wildly inconsistent tone. Both games have struggled with this. Their trailers were serious — bordering on the depressing — but the games they were created to market were lighter and focused more on combat than on delivering effective, emotional tales of human survival.
Jörg Friedrich, Design Director at Yager, addressed this frustrating issue in a recent interview with Wired, where he explained some of the inspirations behind the tone of the upcoming sequel. “We’re not trying to be silly. We’re not Shaun of the Dead or Dead Rising. We’re not running around in pink underpants with a teddy bear hat.”
Friedrich clearly isn’t afraid to throw a bit of shade at the competition, and I’m all for that. It’s interesting though, because Dead Rising 3 also shares the same tonal problems the Dead Island series has struggled with. It’s impossible to take a serious cut-scene seriously when it comes thirty seconds after I deployed a machine gun teddy bear to mow down a few hundred zombies so I could crush a couple thousand more on the motorcycle I outfitted with a steamroller, all while dressed as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.
I called myself the Yellow Mist, by the way, and the newly reanimated citizens of Los Perdidos quickly learned to fear the roaring sound of my modified bike, for they new its thunderous roar meant the imminent arrival of death.
So where is Yager taking inspiration from? It sounds like they’re looking in exactly the right place.
“We’re more inspired by Zombieland.” Friedrich continues. “That’s a serious zombie movie and the scenario’s not fun. But what makes it fun and interesting is that the characters don’t have the usual motivations of just surviving.”
That gives me a lot of confidence in the developer, because it shows they already have a clearer plan for this series than Techland ever had. Zombieland was ridiculously successful in balancing its copious amounts of humor and emotion in a very natural way. Accomplishing that with Dead Island 2 will be no easy feat, but I think Yager is more than up to the challenge.
Dead Island 2 is slated to hit PC, PS4 and Xbox One in early 2015.