This Was 2023’s Sicko Game of the Year

Dead Island 2

Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.

Director Lucio Fulci was built differently. More specifically, his approach to the undead in his films. It was notably more grotesque than even some of his most revered peers. While George Romero’s undead trilogy was carefully crafted with social commentary in mind. Fulci reveled in crafting repulsive, maggot-brain-infested undead who were quite literally falling apart. 

So, color me surprised when Dambuster Studios not only raised Dead Island 2 from the ashes of its decade-plus in development hell but ended up delivering the most Fulcci-esque zombie game ever made. In other words, if there was a category for “Sicko Game of the Year”, Dead Island 2‘s refined combat handling and responsive zombie feedback and gore would have nabbed it easily.

‘Dead Island 2’ Brings New Levels Of Gore

I’m not typically a fan of measuring a horror game’s worth by its gruesome content. There’s much more to the genre after all. But, the level of gory undead carnage within Dead Island 2 is unprecedented. Dead Island 2 empowers the player with visceral melee combat that essentially turns them into a meat grinder, and the only meat on the menu are zombies.

There is not a blow wasted of a hammer or a swipe of a machete in Dead Island 2. Every player action has a strategic and aesthetic response plastered across a zombie’s character model. Zombie flesh is flayed, bones are broken, and that’s just the beginning of the game’s maimed system. Early on, players may be inclined to swing wildly at zombies, given the game’s more action-oriented nature. But as with the best game designs, patience and strategic planning pay off tenfold. When targeting specific zombie limbs (legs being the sweet spot), the player can maim that limb, rendering it useless.  

Variety In Zombie Types Makes The Player Hone In On Maiming

Given the various types and numbers of zombies the player can face at a given moment, prioritizing maiming zombies can make any overwhelming horde slightly more manageable. The shambler, slow-moving zombies aren’t much to worry about. But throwing a runner or crusher zombie into the mix can make any fight quickly spiral out of control. This is where strategy becomes imperative, and maiming must be factored into the best offensive plans. When faced with a horde, my go-to crowd management strategy was aiming a bulldozer-type melee weapon, such as a club, at a group’s knees, sending them flailing to the ground. This gave me a moment to regroup while they were immobilized. Also, it ensured that the wounded zombies could now only pursue me by crawling, as their legs had been shattered.

Strategic Value In Its Gore System

While there is strategic value in the maiming system, it’s also gruesomely satisfying to see and hear these undead monstrosities crunching and snapping before the player’s eyes and ears. In zombie games, the damage inflicted by the player is often lazily reflected across zombie models. A gash here, a head exploding there. But in Dead Island 2, the wear and tear of zombies are sickeningly realistic in their portrayal and detail.

Hit a zombie in the face enough times with a blunt weapon, and their lower jaw will disappear. Slash a zombie in the chest enough times, and a gaping hole will appear where their nips once were. However, the most brutal and creative reflection of Dead Island 2‘s gore and maiming system is that of the game’s finishers. Sure, you could stomp down on zombie’s heads and watch as your character is showered in brain matter in slow motion. But why deprive yourself of the game’s bevy of customized and creative weapon-specific finishers? 

Finishers Make For Quite A Mess

For example, after dealing enough damage with my electrified meat tenderizers, a zombie becomes stunned, prompting me to execute a finisher. Each finisher is different based on the weapon selected. In the case of the meat tenderizers, the finishing move is to punch through a zombie’s head, revealing a gaping hole once the player retracts their arm. Equally satisfying is a slow-motion decapitation with a katana or embedding my fire axe into the skull of a zombie that genuinely sells the game’s sicko factor. 

Like Fulci’s undead, Dambuster Studios revels in their commitment to zombie gore. And while creative carnage is all well and good, it’s seeing the player’s handiwork spelled across the corpses attempting to feast on them that provides the player with both empowerment also makes the core gameplay loop (that will last for 15+ hours) one that I never grew tired of. While fetch questing around LA will undoubtedly become trite after a while, Dead Island 2‘s combat and varied zombie designs kept me engaged in a way the original never did.



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