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Dead Island 2 encourages more than just brainless brawling

If you want to survive in Dead Island 2, you'll need to do more than just wave a big stick around - you'll need to fight with your head and your heart

Dead Island 2 hands on gameplay: A man in a Hawaiian shirt points a pistol directly at the camera

Let me be clear: I hate nothing in this world more than clowns. Their red noses, creepy eyes, and stupid hair make my skin crawl, so when Deep Silver told me I’d be beating the crap out of one with an assortment of weapons in Dead Island 2, I couldn’t be more delighted.

However, for this mission, I’d be going in alone – something I’m not exactly used to. I’ve played every single Dead Island game over the years in co-op with my fiancée, and if anything went tits up, I knew that he had my back. Not this time, though.

That thought terrified me somewhat, especially when one of the developers at Gamescom told me that the combat system in Dead Island 2 has evolved since the last game in 2014. You can’t just charge in with a baseball bat anymore – you have to think about your actions and carve out a path for yourself, all with lightning speed.

At first, I found that problematic, especially since I basically had to work my way through a pier crawling with the undead in search of a laptop which contained something called a Blood Drive. I’m not particularly sure what Amy – one of the six playable characters – needed it for exactly, but that was the least of my worries.

At first, the zombies I encountered were fairly slow and basic – the kinds you’d find hobbling around the hotel lobby on Banoi Island. So, knowing that the laptop was on the end of the pier, I took a deep breath and charged forward. What I found is that I didn’t need to fight these guys – I could run past them and they weren’t too bothered to pursue me.

That all changed when I got up to the pier, though. The clown – my worst nightmare – wanted me dead and I wanted to return the favour.

However, to find him and the laptop, I needed to fight my way through hordes of more challenging zombies, all of whom came in different shapes and sizes. Some of these zombies did exactly what you’d expect, but others had a few tricks up their sleeves. But then again, so did I.

You see, in Dead Island 2 you don’t just have weapons at your disposal, you have perks and powers too. While clobbering a zombie over the head with a pipe is still encouraged, so too is combining those attacks with everything else on offer. During my 20 minute hands on, I was able to master things like dodging, ranged and charged attacks, and signature moves.

Dead Island 2 gameplay: A zombie wearing a crash helmet on a Venice Beach in LA

Every character has a special move they can deploy if their stamina bar is full and in Amy’s case, it’s one that prioritises crowd control. When things were getting a little hairy as I approached the Ferris wheel – something I needed to stop to move past it – a simple click of the bumper buttons on my controller made Amy pound the ground in rage with her fist, knocking the enemies nearby backwards.

This is particularly useful when you’ve got meathead-like zombies running towards you and ones that seem to harness the power of electricity. You don’t really want these zombies to get too close to you, so knocking them back is perfect for those clutch situations.

Plus, combining these attacks helps build up your Fury meter, which, if deployed, basically brings out your inner zed thanks to the infection coursing through your veins. Here, you’ll ditch your weapons and rip the flesh of your enemies off with your own bare hands, which is as grisly as it sounds.

The gore is horrifying, but in a good way. The old games, while still letting you slice and dice your way through hordes, didn’t exactly give you complete gore. Dead Island 2, however, does all that and more. If you want to see it for yourself, watch the uncensored version of the Opening Night Live trailer, complete with the Dead Island 2 release date – trust me, it’ll be worth it.

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Still, I digress – there’s still the small matter of the clown to deal with. And boy, did I deal with him. The clown, complete with his stupid red nose, shows up a few times during my night time jog on the pier, but I didn’t really get a chance to have at him until I’d fought my way past the main horde and then clambered onto the Ferris wheel.

This big baddie then jacks my ride, piercing his dagger-like hand through the roof of my carriage. He captures me and I wake up to find him next to me, feasting on another corpse. As I try to escape his sharpened forearm goes right through the palm of my hand.

You can imagine how I feel about that, right?

So I pick myself up off the ground and ready myself for a fight to the death. Over the last 15 minutes, I’ve tried out different tactics and different weapons, and now it’s time to put all that to the test. Out of all the weapons I have in my arsenal, I opt for a pair of electrified daggers, which up until now have served me well. While the sledgehammer does some damage, I found it to be too slow and the rifle on my back just didn’t do as much damage as I was hoping.

During my tussle with the clown – who I learn is called Butcho – I’m able to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge in between his attacks, landing devastating blows at every opportunity. But just when I think I have him pinned, he scuttles off to one of the many corpses lying around his lair and begins to feed. In order to defeat this clown quickly and efficiently, you’ll need to run after him and stop his buffet before he becomes too strong.

This loop goes on for a little while, but, you’ll need to stay on your toes to survive. Learning the strengths and weaknesses of your weapons is important, as is the timing of your combinations later down the line.

By the time I’m done with Butcho, my pulse is racing and my heart is pumping just like the good old days – and that’s just from a 20 minute mission.

Dead Island 2 gameplay: A muscly zombie jumps to punch the plyer, who holds a sledgehammer

While I’m still reserving my judgement on the game until we see Dambusters explain the skill tree, the upgrade system, and more of the story, I’m feeling positive so far. Dead Island 2 is exactly what you want from a game that’s been nearly ten years in the making: it’s gory, engaging, fast-paced, and more importantly, it’s fun.

And let’s be honest, for a game that’s been resurrected after being sliced and diced more times than a zombie in a blender, that’s no bad thing.