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Dead Island 2 takes aim at Los Angeles culture, the rich, and influencers

Getting stuck in development hell often doesn’t bode well for games. For every Final Fantasy VII Remake or The Last Guardian, there’s an Aliens: Colonial Marines or Duke Nukem Forever. Often, the final releases lack a compelling design identity, chasing trends that popped up over the years and feeling like a mishmash of multiple developers’ ideas of what the game should be. My biggest fear going into my hands-on demo with a near-final build of the oft-delayed Dead Island 2 was that it’d feel devoid of much creativity or lack a clear vision; thankfully, I was dead wrong.

It’s well known at this point that Dead Island 2 had an extremely troubled development cycle, suffering many release date delays and developer shifts. Despite that, Dambuster Studios’ final version of Dead Island 2 features some creative gameplay ideas, like the gory F.L.E.S.H. dismemberment system and environmental interactions, as well as inventive set pieces that lean hard into its comedic bougie apocalypse in Los Angeles premise. These moments could define Dead Island 2, reclaiming its troubled narrative come release day.

HELL-A, visualized

Dead Island 2 begins with the player surviving a plane crash after a rich person on a flight out of LA turned out to be infected and attacked everyone on board. After choosing a character and navigating through the wreckage, I found a rich actress Emma Jaunt and her manager. They ultimately abandon the player as they try to help others but tell them to come to Jaunt’s house in Bel-Air if they survive.

It’s here where players get the hang of Dead Island 2’s melee combat and degradable weapons as they fend off hordes of zombies. While I did eventually succeed, my character was bitten by one of the people they were trying to save. It turns out the player’s character is immune, so they eventually regroup with Emma Jaunt and her “friends” at her luxurious Bel-Air home and worth with them to escape LA. The first step is for the player to contact the government to inform them that they are immune.

Dead Island 2 zombie

Dead Island 2’s vibrant word design started to stick out as I trekked through Bel-Air to get to the Hallerpin Hotel, where the military had staged itself and asked survivors to come to. Houses in Bel-Air were overly extravagant, with large infinity pools and room for private events. Still, none of it was actually practical enough to protect these people as they were overrun with zombies. Dead Island 2 color palate is bright and vibrant, nicely contrasting with the horrific zombies and extreme gore I saw throughout the adventure.

I became even more impressed when I took a shortcut through another Bel-Air house, only to open a door and see a giant whiteboard with a video script written on it. “I’m alone in the house, it’s 1 a.m., and I just wanted to say sorry to all of my fans that I’ve disappointed but most importantly my sponsors — I’ll do better next time,” it read. “[CRY HERE FOR SYMPATHY] This isn’t scripted, this is from the heart. Please take the evacuation seriously, it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have joked about it — love you all.”

Oh god, I’m in an insufferable TikTok House, and someone here was making an apology video for joking about the zombie apocalypse.

Dead Island 2 screenshot of zombies surrounding the character's pov.

Upon further inspection, I discovered that this place was called the “GOAT Pen” and was home to several influencers, only one of whom survived. I scavenged for supplies throughout this home, seeing sets built for all kinds of content creators, bongs and beer bottles strewn about everywhere, and even a giant game room with a bowling alley and arcade cabinets referencing Timesplitters and Homefront: The Revolution.

On top of being pretty funny, stumbling upon the GOAT Pen reinforced just how vapid LA culture was, even before the apocalypse. It also demonstrates a deeper effort on the developer’s part to make each place players explore distinct and not just a bunch of copy-and-pasted buildings. There’s a real spark of creativity here in Dead Island 2, and that was only affirmed as I experienced some of the main story’s set pieces.

Beyond the basics

Arriving at the Hallerpin Hotel, it was clear that something was off. Humans are nowhere to be seen, only body bags, zombies, and a pool filled with a deadly chemical. It quickly became apparent that anyone who came here was killed by the military or turned into a zombie. While this level’s premise could’ve stopped there, there was another twist: the military interrupted a wedding when they showed up at the hotel.

The overtly positive vibes and decor of a wedding ceremony and reception added an unexpected spin to this mission. I had to fight a zombified groom and best man at the altar, and after contacting a doctor over a radio left behind here, I had to fight a giant zombified bride in the hotel’s ballroom to the song that was probably supposed to be her first dance with her husband. It’s a video game boss fight that I’ll remember for quite a while.

A screamer yells on a beach in Dead Island 2.

After that, I returned to Emma Jaunt’s house, only to learn that her assistant had gone rogue to get supplies and prove his worth to Emma. I eventually arrived at Monarch Studios, full of complex sets filled with zombies instead of actors and crew. While searching for Emma’s assistant, I had to fight through various film and TV show sets. Standouts for me were fighting hordes of enemies in the multicam set of a sitcom called Friends Without Benefits and exploring the fake marshes of Rise of the God-Spider, where I fought zombies in costumes of questionable cultural sensitivity.

The Monarch Studios set pieces emphasized some of Dead Island 2’s visual and gameplay strengths. It sports an impressive amount of variety in zombie designs, which I noticed more than before as I moved from set to set in this movie studio, and the looks of the zombies changed accordingly. Meanwhile, these sets were of environmental interactions that allowed me to electrocute zombies, set them on fire, or slowly kill them with acid. These elemental effects, weapon customization, and a detailed melee combat system that chips off skin and flesh depending on where you hit an enemy add much more player agency than expected to gameplay.

This all came to a head in the Monarch Studios boss fight. It was against a bloated zombie that could spit acid — not a new concept in this genre — but a giant mechanical God-Spider loomed over the area, and I could interact with various control panels to cause different elemental effects on the area to chip away damage on the boss and other regular zombies that spawned. Once again, the developers turned what could’ve been a boring boss fight into a memorable setpiece tailored specifically to Dead Island 2’s unique gameplay systems.

Something new

These novel ideas all help Dead Island 2 stand out from the countless zombie games and AAA open-world titles I’ve played. By going beyond basic level ideas and adding lots of character to many of the game’s set pieces, the Dambuster Studios team that brought Dead Island 2 to the finish line is asserting itself as creative and passionate. It could have been a lackluster and uninspired game, and I honestly would’ve understood and accepted that, given its tough development cycle.

Instead, this first chunk of the game I went hands-on with has convinced me to play more when it launches so I can see what other wacky ideas it has in store. Even if the final version of the game isn’t amazing, the fact that Dambuster Studios managed to give the released version of Dead Island 2 such a distinctly polished and cohesive identity should be appreciated.

Dead Island 2 launches on April 21 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.

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Bringing VR’s best Star Wars game to PlayStation VR2 was a no-brainer, devs say
star wars tales from the galaxys edge psvr2 interview ilmxlab starwarstalesee screenshot c 3po and r2 d2

When ILMxLAB learned about the PlayStation VR2, Director Jose Perez III thought it was a "no-brainer" for the studio to bring the Oculus Quest game Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge to the new headset.
"We're always looking at how we can push the fidelity of the work that we're doing," Perez III tells Digital Trends in an interview. "PlayStation VR2 is ridiculously powerful; we got really excited about what we could bring to that. We started talking with our friends at Sony because we had a great relationship with them for Vader Immortal, and it was really a no-brainer. Then, you put the headset on, you start feeling the haptics, and you start seeing what you can do with the visual fidelity and lighting, and it's like, 'Oh, this is awesome!'"
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge - Enhanced Edition | Official Trailer | PS VR2
PlayStation VR2's launch and its first wave of games are nearly upon us, and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge Enhanced Edition is one of those titles. This is a make-or-break time for VR, which is still struggling to move into the mainstream but could become more popular if Sony's headset can offer a compelling and accessible virtual reality experience. Ahead of its release, Digital Trends spoke to Director Jose Perez III and Producer Harvey Whitney from ILMxLAB to learn about the process of crafting one of these critical "no-brainer" launch games and PlayStation VR2 will ultimately stand when it comes to the future of VR gaming.
The power of PlayStation VR2
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy's Edge was originally released for Meta Quest VR headsets in November 2020. It's set on the planet of Batuu, which people also explore at Dinsey parks, and follows a Droid Technician who gets caught in the middle of a grander fight against the First Order after crash-landing on the planet. At the time, it was meant with decent reviews and only got better as its story was completed and expanded with the Last Call DLC.
After getting the "Enhanced Edition" of the game for PlayStation VR2 greenlit, ILMxLAB actually had to go and make it. As the team was dealing with new hardware for the first time, producer Harvey Whitney thought it was good that the team's first project on PlayStation VR2 was an enhanced version of an existing game.
"Early on, knowing that we already had the content that was created for the original, that changes things quite a bit," Whitney tells Digital Trends. "We're not redeveloping the story and coming up with all of that. We just had that opportunity to work as a team and ask, 'What do we really push here, and where are the changes that we want to make, and what we can do to really take advantage of this hardware?'"

The VR space is full of different headsets with unique specs, with the much higher specs of the PS VR2 standing out. The PlayStation VR2 sports some impressive specs compared to its VR peers, displaying content in a 4000x2030 HDR format at a 90Hz or 120Hz frame rate. Plus, games have the PS5's power, spatial, and brand new Sense controllers to take advantage of, rather than the 2013 console and 2010 motion controls that limited the original PlayStation VR.
PlayStation VR2 supports Roomscale, Sitting, and Standing play styles, which added more complexity as Tales from the Galaxy's Edge supports all three. Thankfully, Perez III that bringing Tales from the Galaxy's Edge to PlayStation VR2 was relatively manageable because of how impressive the system's specs were.
"A lot of the development processes are similar [to other VR platforms]," Perez III says. "We're still working inside of Unreal, and we're doing a lot of those same processes. But we don't have to look at performance quite as much as we do on some of the other devices, so we're able to open up a lot of things or not be as concerned about certain things. That comes with better hardware."
Better hardware, better games
Looking at the biggest games of the PlayStation VR2 launch window lineup, the visuals of titles like Horizon Call of the Mountain and the VR modes of Resident Evil Village and Gran Turismo 7 are impressive. In our discussion, Whitney also made it quite clear that one of the real advantages of working on this remaster was not having to worry about strict limitations on the visuals or even the audio. "We got lucky in the sense that there's a lot more to PlayStation VR2 that we hadn't had previously," Whitney says. "We could really push the graphics and make it shine. But then there were also some other things that came into play. We totally redid the audio, it sounds amazing."

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Modern Warfare 2’s new season is proof Call of Duty needs to take a year off
Main characters of Modern Warfare 2.

The eagerly anticipated second season of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has a lot in store. It'll incorporate a new small-scale Warzone 2.0 battle royale map called Ashika Island, along with new DMZ features and a fresh set of weapons to try out. While Season 2 certainly has lots of exciting new content in the pipeline, things are looking dire for Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, as very few new features are planned for the update.

Sure, it's nice that Warzone 2.0 and DMZ are getting so much attention during Season 2, but the latest update is a grim sign for the overall life cycle of Modern Warfare 2 -- a game that seems to have been left in the dust as Activision sprints on to its next project,
Modern Warfare 2 road map
So, what exactly is Modern Warfare 2 getting alongside Season 2? On paper, it seems like a sizeable amount. That is, until you break down what's in the works.

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Dead Island 2 avoids Star Wars Jedi clash by bumping up its release date
Dead Island 2 zombie

Dead Island 2, a game that never seemed like it was going to come out, has gone gold and even had its release date moved up by a week. Originally slated for April 28, Dead Island 2 will now be released on April 21. That means it'll launch one week before Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, which just had its release date pushed to April 28.
The developers of the LA-based zombie game revealed the news via a tweet with a video that highlights a bunch of comments asking if the game was polished and if it will actually ever be released before it confirms that Dead Island 2 has gone gold and is coming out a bit earlier than we currently expected.
Release dates moving up instead of being delayed are a rarity, with one of the only recent examples being Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Still, the delay makes sense now that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is coming out on April 28. This announcement also feels cathartic after Dead Island 2's rough development. The zombie sequel has notoriously been delayed significantly more than most games. Originally announced in 2014 with a Q2 2015 release window, Dead Island 2 got pushed back again and again, switching developers multiple times and slowly seeming more and more likely to become vaporware.
Deep Silver Dambuster Studios' new version of the game finally reemerged as the big final reveal of Gamescom Opening Night Live 2022, but even after that, the game got delayed one more time to April 28. Even if it's moving its release date up by just a week, the fact that Dead Island 2 has gone gold and even moved its release date up a bit feels like the satisfying end to an excruciatingly long journey. Whether it's good or not, we finally don't have to wait much longer to actually play Dead Island 2.
Dead Island 2 will be released for PC, PS4, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on April 21. 

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