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Xbox Game Pass Just Quietly Added the Most Overlooked Zombie Game of 2023

Take a trip to HELL-A.

Dead Island 2
Deep Silver

Despite bearing the word “island” in its name, Dead Island 2 doesn’t take place on an island at all, and it’s the smartest thing the game could have done. Dead Island 2’s apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles is utterly fascinating to explore, especially as the game leans hard on its satire of American culture and media. That setting breathes new life into the zombie genre which has been oversaturated for years. Combine that with Dead Island 2’s gritty combat and dismemberment systems, and you have one of the best zombie-slaying games seen in years. Now, Dead Island 2 is at available on Xbox Game Pass, making it the perfect game to while away a weekend.

While at first glance, Dead Island 2 is a sequel to the original Dead Island released in 2011, it’s light on direct ties. After years of troubled development, the project was taken over by Dambuster Studios, which explains how the sequel feels a bit different from its predecessor. You choose from one of six playable survivors, who each fill a different role or class. A zombie outbreak has rocked the city of Los Angeles but you’re somehow immune, and it’s now your job to get to the bottom of everything.

Dead Island 2 does wonders with its setting, both in terms of visual design and satire.

Deep Silver

The main story of Dead Island 2 is, admittedly, its worst aspect. The narrative doesn’t go anywhere and fails to do anything meaningful. But in this case, the game’s other aspects are enough to overcome that. The star of the show is the surprisingly imaginative recreation of Los Angeles, which is a joy to explore.

Dead Island 2 isn’t open world, but features zones that you can travel between. Each zone is themed as a different section of LA, and Dambuster has done a phenomenal job of nailing the vibe of the iconic city: from crawling through the zombie-infested halls of a five-star hotel, to the eerily abandoned sandy shores of Venice Beach. There’s an astounding amount of thought and detail put into each area of the city, and that’s supported by a playful sense of satire.

For example, exploring the opulent houses of Beverly Hills has you stumble upon a Content House, a collective where content creators and streamers live together. Exploring the ritzy establishment digs into how the creators tried to maximize their views with the zombie outbreak, and side quests introduce you to some hilariously obvious caricatures of streamers. While the main story falls flat, poking around and finding little details helps flesh out the world of Dead Island 2 in more dynamic ways, while also yielding vital supplies and equipment.

The other positive is that the minute-to-minute gameplay and combat linking that exploration together is surprisingly good. Dead Island 2’s melee combat feels brutally visceral and incredibly satisfying, with one of the most grotesquely detailed dismemberment systems ever seen in a game. It makes your melee strikes feel like they have real weight behind them, as with each blow you can both hear and feel the zombies crunching.

Dead Island 2 is exquisitely brutal and gruesome, with combat that feels satisfying.

Deep Silver

There’s also a satisfying gameplay loop in terms of finding new weapons out in the world, gathering supplies, and using those to craft new weapons. Again, methodical exploration is what makes this element of Dead Island 2 tick, and it’s supported by an in-depth progression system that lets you alter your character’s play style by equipping cards. Your card loadout could boost your health and stamina to turn you into a walking damage-soaking tank, or you could focus on your speed and evasion as a long-distance fighter. Every character can be transformed into a few different builds, offering a lot of variety to the combat system at large.

The big caveat that comes with everything Dead Island 2 is that it’s very much the kind of experience that you need to already be interested in. If you’re not into zombies or systems-heavy experiences that focus on exploration rather than story, it might not be for you. If both of those aspects sound like your deal, though, Dead Island 2 is likely going to be a new favorite.

Dead Island 2 is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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