Lifeless Island 2 is a zombie hack-and-slash with an unnecessarily mysterious previous. Its predecessor, Lifeless Island, established the collection as a blood-soaked trough of B-movie sensibility, however a nine-year-long recreation of sizzling potato tossed sequel Lifeless Island 2 behind a curtain, obscuring it from the general public after being introduced, with Wizard of Oz bombast, at E3 in 2014.
The sport you’ll get later this week, on April 21, shouldn’t be that 2014 recreation, neither is it the astonishing product of 9 years of arduous programming. Dan Evans-Lawes, technical director at writer Deep Silver, stated the sport had “principally a whole restart” as soon as it landed, lastly, in developer Dambuster Studios’ palms. However I can forgive it for the wait. Lifeless Island 2 is an entertaining gorefest, and it solely ever slips when it tries to be greater than that.
I expertise all of it as Dani, one in all six playable Slayers you choose early within the recreation with innate expertise (I select Dani as a result of she regains well being for killing zombies in succession). I information her in first-person across the recreation’s balmy however bleeding model of recent Los Angeles, often seeing her lengthy shadow, or her stained weapon, or her palms, which she stares at intently upon discovering zombie bites don’t instantly flip her to a maggoty killing machine.
Unleash the beast
She’s only a common killing machine. I hold her working with talent playing cards I choose up across the metropolis and from downed enemies, and add them to my editable deck, which is organized in a four-card-tall half pyramid. The highest of the pyramid, the place the usual Skills card kind resides, has 5 whole slots, then protecting Survivor playing cards get 4, and it decreases from there.
Which may not sound like a lot room for tailor-making your Slayer, however I discover it simple to work with. There are an enormous quantity of playing cards to find after which select from, all impacting sure points of your Slayer’s defensive, offensive, or Autophage qualities, these final being potent talents that flip you into extra of a zombie, on the expense of your well being.
However I typically ignore my full breadth of choices. I like taking part in protection, so I hold early Skills playing cards like Dodge, which stuns enemies if you keep away from their assault, and Slayer playing cards like The Limb Reaper, which lets me maim a zombie for well being, round for the complete recreation.
Whereas sure enemies are proof against sure forms of assaults—a zombie in protecting firefighter gear doesn’t care a lot for fire-based assaults, for instance—talent playing cards change the way you heal, hit, and kick in broad strokes. Enhance your slide assault injury, press R3 to spice up your bounce kick, issues like that. And since you may alter or add to your deck at any time, testing playing cards out at all times feels low stakes, in contrast to a talent tree or different kind of level-up system that requires you spend non-refundable factors. This hands-off strategy is sensible for Lifeless Island 2, which undoubtedly needs you to kill zombies, however doesn’t usually care how.
Due to this, whether or not I jog by way of the Santa Monica Pier’s comfortable sand, or on the ruined asphalt round deserted sizzling canine carts in Venice Seashore, or wherever else within the recreation’s extremely explorable (however not open-world) map of L.A., I don’t hesitate to hit swarms of roaming zombies with my flaming meat cleaver.
Or, normally my flaming meat cleaver, however my weapon wheel is continually rotating. I uncover extra uncommon weapons as I progress by way of the sport, and I fill their restricted improve slots with the steel components, blades, and different crafting supplies I choose up across the cracking metropolis. In an effort to search out probably the most damaging improve combos, I additionally rig my weapons with ridiculous modifications by way of found blueprints and mutated physique components, like Leaky Implants and Contaminated Flesh, each of which permit for weapons like wakizashi swords to glitter with electrical energy, or for shotgun bullets to ship skin-melting, corrosive goo.
Whereas filling out my talent card deck and experimenting with weapons, I shortly regulate to the sport’s most typical goal, “Kill ‘em all!”, and really feel grateful I don’t get queasy at online game gore.
Online game carnage, to me, is an exhilaration secure zone for horror followers who can’t deal with revolting shock websites and Cronenberg skin-ripping. I can not deal with these issues, so Lifeless Island 2 is like coming into air con throughout a very suffocating summer time, and I discover comfy enjoyment of making consecutive hits and watching zombies reveal their meat, muscle, and bones. Other than giving into a couple of yelps when an enemy lunges at me the second I open a locked door, I’m by no means terrified by Lifeless Island 2, I’m sadistically amused.
Apart from after I’m pissed. And I’m pissed throughout just about each Lifeless Island 2 boss combat, which, in contrast to its unconstrained, wild zombie fights, all disappointingly go for some annoying gimmick I’ve to evolve to. They’re tough however, in contrast to the remainder of the sport, unpleasantly so, requiring me to depend on a doubtful mixture of luck and technique as an alternative of what I’m used to, uncooked power. (The earlier video games’ Fury Mode returns, letting Dani cut up enemies aside along with her naked palms as soon as I construct the meter up by way of fights and consuming power drinks.)
One boss combat suggests I exploit numerous button-controlled pyrotechnics to win, however the flames solely have an effect on the boss when it’s within the precise proper location on the precise proper time. One other, the Butcho clown combat described by reporters previewing the sport final yr, frustrates me much more.
Half of Butcho’s physique is proof against assaults. He’s in a position to continuously regenerate well being by feeding off of downed zombies, and extra zombies slowly enter the world as you combat, so Butcho has a unending meals provide to heal with. I begin to cry whereas combating Butcho in the course of one sleepless night time, and although I admit my clown phobia and the grating Goosebumps-type carnival track that performs in the course of the combat wasn’t serving to, I hold fascinated by the distinction between “get good” and unfair.
Die, zombie, die!
I finally defeat Butcho on what looks like a fluke, a few seconds the place his physique contorts and takes extra injury for no apparent purpose.
I believe these extra actually role-playing game-style fights drag Lifeless Island 2’s pacing down, and their issue degree additionally make the sport really feel annoyingly skewed extra towards its multiplayer operate in essential locations. As a single participant by circumstance (the sport isn’t out but!) I’m grateful for after I handle to beat them, so I can hold skipping alongside the sport’s drama-and-guts-filled West Coast.
Drama and guts is what I need out of Lifeless Island 2. The sport’s butchery is real looking sufficient, although, that I finally get curious, and slightly disturbed, in regards to the satisfaction I obtain in committing a lot unreal slaughter. It’s, nevertheless, exhausting to not be glad when the sport retains rewarding me.
Mass homicide will get me XP towards leveling up, which occurs routinely as I full its 24 major chapters, a few of its 33 obtainable aspect quests, discover lacking individuals, and obtain problem achievements. Dani’s well being bar, injury dealt, and protection incrementally enhance as I degree up, which permits me to pursue tough major story quests, entry gate saved enemies (an out-of-your-league monster has a cranium floating over its head), and “match” weapons to my degree, bringing mainstays to new, heinous heights. Moreover, my beforehand locked talent card slots free themselves as Dani will get stronger.
I crunch on health-replenishing snack bars dropped by downed enemies to maintain doing all of this. And as my Dani retains killing, my zombie information grows to the scale of a medieval bestiary in a collectibles tab that tells me the sorts I’ve discovered—widespread Walkers vulnerable to limb loss like leaves wilting off a desiccated rose, bulging Slobbers that projectile-vomit caustic slime, meathead Crushes that considerably resemble the Liver King, and so forth. I develop favorites (Incendiary Walkers carry gasoline canisters on their again, permitting me to create huge explosions after I hit them with one in all my “curveball” projectiles) and least favorites (Butchers, which have arms like choked bone spurs and block virtually each assault), however the variety makes for intriguing, fluid fight in a recreation oversaturated with it.
However the recreation’s story, which is regularly revealed by way of notes I uncover and by chatting with the sport’s many personalities—individuals like a drunk, has-been rockstar and a chef trapped in zombie hell together with his apron nonetheless on—acknowledges my inner battle about discovering pleasure in energy and violence’s unattractive actuality.
Like when it leaves quick meals wrappers on a desk, or preschooler artwork taped to a fridge in a random, abandoned residence, for instance. These particulars, and lots of the recreation’s expertly collaged storylines, set up that this metropolis was secure and alive just a few days in the past. You’re killing individuals. A brutal actuality has pressured you to behave brutish.
So when environments look stunning, it’s on this off-putting method that feels correct to a sudden zombie apocalypse. Ambling seashore monsters are shaded by descending peachy sunsets, and the sport affords up nuanced textures for blood—congealed and glossy when dried to a wall, matte and expanded when sunken into patio furnishings. It’s complicated. Dani is usually confused by the decay round her, or, as an alternative, she’s ferociously offended in regards to the individuals with precise energy, the governments and billionaires, who appear happy to let demise rule.
I really like that this recreation affords a sequence of semi-pure enjoyable; it’s a fable with a lesson, if you would like it to be, or common zombie mayhem when you don’t. I’m solely ever sad when Lifeless Island 2 boss fights pretzel it into one thing aside from what it’s educated me to imagine it’s, a dopamine feed with biking battle and payoff.
Although, in truth, the boss fights are rare sufficient that my general enjoyment of the sport stays shiny. Via its skillful environmental design and indulgent fight, Lifeless Island 2 is likely one of the finest, most disgusting playgrounds I’ve ever performed in.