When it was announced back in July that Deep Silver, the German publishers of the Metro series and Dead Island, had dropped Spec Ops: The Line developer Yager from their upcoming zombie shooter sequel Dead Island 2 it wasn't looking too good for the franchise.
The announcement that Yager had been dropped is still surrounded by a deal of confusion, mainly due to the fact that the game was far from in the early stages of development when the news broke back in July. In fact Dead Island 2 was a whole three years into development when Deep Silver released this statement:
"With Dead Island 2, Deep Silver has always been dedicated to delivering the sequel that Dead Island fans deserve. After careful consideration, today we announce the decision to part ways with development partner Yager. We will continue working towards bringing our vision of Dead Island 2 to life, and we will share further information at a later stage."
Even now Deep Silver has remained pretty quiet about why Yager was dropped, but it is likely tied to the delays already experienced regarding Dead Island 2's release date. The game was first announced back in the summer of 2014, slated for a "spring 2015" release, but in May of this year was pushed back to an unspecified time in 2016.
At the time the team cited that Dead Island 2 wasn't quite as good as they had wanted it to be around the time of release and that the extra time would be put over to making it even better come release day. Two months later, and Yager are off the project. We haven't really heard much about the game since then, which means that the information we have about it thus far could be subject to change. But let's hope it doesn't change too much, cause it's all looking really good so far...
Location, Location, Location
Well, first things first, unlike it's predecessor it's not going to be set on a true island. This time around Deep Silver have opted for a different type of exotic setting, namely California, and will feature iconic landmarks like the Hollywood sign (which you can see in the image above), the Santa Monica Pier, the beaches of Los Angeles and various locations within San Francisco.
Dead Island made impressive waves even before its release when the first narrative trailer for the game dropped, and the sequel has followed suit with the purely cinematic and thematic trailer parodying superficial Californication culture.
New Characters, New Zombies
Dead Island 2 will feature multiple playable characters, four in total, two of whom we saw in the Gamescom footage.
Ryan: "Berserker", a former volunteer firefighter who uses heavy weapons.
Ashlee: "Huntress", the guns expert, a former teacher and party girl.
John: "Bishop", a preacher who functions as support/healer and uses throwable weapons.
Dani: "Speeder", a stuntwoman who uses bladed weapons and is quick on her feet.
These characters are our special humans who are seemingly immune to the zombie plague sweeping the state, finding their place within the new zombified world order and establishing a quarantine zone whilst indulging their own personal interests.
Like its predecessor Dead Island 2 will feature regular zombies (Walkers) and Left 4 Dead style "special" types. These include the Suicider, described as "a living blob with a very short fuse. All its attacks are related to area of effect damage. Use it to damage other zombies!" and the Thug: "fatter, taller, slower and stronger than Walkers. He uses his strength to knock down his opponents. That means you." But zombies aren't all you have to worry about, there's other uninfected humans too - Raiders - who true to their name are only out for their own personal gain and won't hesitate to use you for that gain.
Improved Gunplay, But Still Plenty Of Stabbin'
The combat itself does look very similar to the original Dead Island with its focus on brutal melee attacks (and it is brutal) but the gunplay mechanics appear much improved; the demo footage reading more like a balanced FPS than it's predecessor which was criticised for it's dodgy gun handling. Dead Island 2 will also feature eight person co-op and the usual vast array of weapons and modifications therein.
Combat promises to play out in an environment of more fluidity this time round, as so stated Deep Silver Creative Producer Sebastian Reichert: "We want the combat to be more of a sandbox." This means there's a wealth of replay value in the game, experiencing different situations and encountering a different mix of human and zombie opponents each time round.
In the spirit of this theme, before he was booted off the project Yager Producer Michael Kempson described Dead Island 2 as the world's smallest MMO:
"We ended up with basically a localised MMO on our hands. A very small MMO in a big open world."
According to Kempson Dead Island 2 opens online by default, creating a new server for the player through which you have the option to pull in friends or strangers. When a new player enters your server you can play with them, fight them or ignore them, further increasing the unique replay value.
Of course this may be subject to change now that Yager are off the team, with development now being handed to an as yet unnamed studio. With the release date still unspecified we're just going to have to wait to see what Deep Silver have in store for Dead Island 2 with the next update.