Eurogamer published a statement from Deep Silver that confirms Dead Island 2 is still being developed by Sumo Digital. But the publisher declined to provide any additional information, like a revised launch timeline or an idea of when we might hear more about the project. Fans of the first Dead Island, which remains a beloved part of my own PS3 library, might appreciate Deep Silver’s dedication to the franchise. But how many people are still waiting around for Dead Island 2?
Things have changed pretty drastically since Dead Island crept onto the scene in 2011. Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead aren’t the only recognizable names in zombie killing anymore. Dying Light (and its post-launch expansions) continued to evolve the open world gameplay pioneered by the first Dead Island. ZombiU found a way to incorporate the zombie transformation into gameplay — by allowing you to recover gear from your reanimated corpses — and a parade of PC releases (from DayZ to H1Z1: Just Survive) tried to become the first widely-adopted zombie survival MMO. Even the Zombies mode from Call of Duty has drawn enough of an audience for Activision to consider spinning it off into a separate series.
The rapid growth of zombie-themed open world and survival games has also given birth to a new (and staggeringly successful) sub-genre: last man standing shooters. The genre, heavily inspired by Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, pits large numbers of players (usually 100) against one another in a deathmatch where there are no respawns. And each contest unfolds in a rapidly shrinking open world environment. PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds and H1Z1: King of the Kill, remain permanent fixtures on Steam’s Top 10 Games (by current player count) list, topped only by Valve’s own Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. PUBG has been particularly impressive, selling more than two million copies (and counting) in just six weeks.
The last time I saw Dead Island 2 in person, way back in 2014, it was clear Yager (the studio originally tasked with developing the sequel) understood major changes would be needed for DI2. The next game in the series was going to be multiplayer-focused, set in California and the combat was even more over-the-top than the first Dead Island. You know, that game where you could walk around with a flaming machete or a police baton with live batteries attached to it. But even that iteration of the series would likely struggle in today’s market. Sunset Overdrive reset the benchmark for cartoonish violence and tongue-in-cheek humor. State of Decay delivered a sense of persistence we’d never experienced in single-player zombie survival games. And an avalanche of massively multiplayer and procedurally generated titles, like Unturned or 7 Days To Die, give players sprawling maps and new environments to explore as desired. So where does Dead Island 2 fit in these days?
Dead Island was the only open world zombie game on the market when it debuted in 2011. It broke new ground and forever changed players’ expectations for big budget zombie games. But it would be foolish to think the franchise could trade solely on those accomplishments in 2017. Dead Island 2 is virtually guaranteed not to be the only big budget zombie game to debut in whatever calendar year it finally emerges. There’s not even a guarantee it’ll be the only one released that month. We can’t completely write off the project because of studio juggling in world where Final Fantasy XV exists. But the commercial success of Dead Island 2 isn’t the foregone conclusion it would’ve been a few years ago. Certainly not in the wake of the disasters that were Escape Dead Island and Dead Island: Epidemic. And not with a four-player sequel to State of Decay confirmed to be part of Microsoft’s E3 2017 lineup.
To be clear, there wouldn’t be many people happier than me if Sumo Digital finds a way to revive the Dead Island franchise. I lost dozens of hours to the original game and was eagerly anticipating the sequel. But I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether Dead Island’ s time in the spotlight has already come and gone. Let’s hope the new Dead Island 2 team proves me wrong.