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Dead Island 2’s effects are “complex” and “difficult to implement”

Dead Island 2 creative director James Worrall breaks down Dead Island 2's new technology in our interview
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Dead Island 2 has been nine years in the making, and Dambuster Studios is the third and final development team taking up the torch to push this project through to release. Since 2018 Dambuster has been working away at creating an entirely new vision for Dead Island 2, with the setting of Los Angeles – or Hell-A – being one of the only aspects that has been carried through from the original pitch.

“There was a bit of pressure, right? There’s a big fanbase to please,” creative director James Worrall tells GLHF. “We just kept our heads down, we focused on quality and that core experience. When we announced the game at Gamescom, it was such a privilege and a relief to see how the fans reacted, we realised that we were doing the right thing. We had a demo at Gamescom, and what we’re getting a lot from media is that they’re really pleasantly surprised.”

We’ve been playing Dead Island 2 as part of a preview event, and we can echo that sentiment. Combat is weighty, while elemental influences add an extra dynamic to combat, allowing you to kite foes through hazards. They are just the dumb undead, after all.

Dead Island screenshot.

“There are two big technological USPs in Dead Island 2, and those are the flesh engine, and the environmental effects. It is complex, and it was difficult to implement. We had to do an awful lot of work to ensure performance isn’t hit too much,” Worrall explains. “But we knew it was worth it the first time we got it working and had a play around with it. There’s a sense that any time you set something up there’s a 50% chance it’ll go horribly wrong – it’s this wonderful, entertaining failure.”

Worrall says the flesh engine is the “absolute core of everything we do,” which underlines how vital it is to making combat satisfying. Punching or slicing a zombie’s various body parts will see jaws break, arms come off, and flesh tear away from bone. You can use this to maim foes, rendering them less lethal, or just blast them to pieces for fun.

“This was our primary pitch when we wanted to pick up Dead Island 2, because from our point of view, if you make a combat system which allows you to hack, slash, stab, burst, melt, burn, and all that stuff procedurally, it comes with advantages,” Worrall continues. “The big one is that it creates a combat sandbox that offers infinite possibilities for how to kill zombies – and that gives us plenty of opportunity to build an RPG combat system around that.

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“Personally, I love the brass knuckles, because the way you can dance in and out of combat – it’s literally like boxing. And at the other end of the spectrum, I like jabbing at zombies up against a fence with a polearm or spear, or something like that,” Worrall says, outlining how the variety of weapons slots in with combat. “The game design team has spent an awful lot of time balancing those numbers and the pros and cons with each of those weapons, and I think they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Truly, combat makes the world of Dead Island 2 go round, and that’s why the story has taken a backseat in much of the marketing. Who needs a fable when there are zombie heads to smash in, right? That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, though, as Worrall tells us. “We haven’t really talked about narrative in the marketing campaign, and the core story is fairly simple, but there are details everywhere that point to a much bigger truth – so keep your eyes open.”

Players will be able to keep their eyes peeled and uncover the full story of Dead Island 2 on April 21, one week earlier than previously announced. Make sure to read our full Dead Island 2 preview and keep your eyes peeled for a full review from GLHF before release.