Zombies have been a major part of gaming over the last half decade or more. 2015 is not going to be an exception to that rule. Our most anticipated zombie title of 2015 is one where co-op takes centre stage - namely Yager Development's Dead Island 2.
Two things worth noting is the change of development studio from the two first games in the series (Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide) from Techland to Yager Development (Spec Ops: The Line), secondly the game will offer more of a sandbox co-op experience (sort of like in Dead Rising 3) for up to 8 players on the same map.
Where there was quite a discreprancy between how Dead Island was portrayed in the trailer that made it famous (in the tone of the story as opposed to the actual action that played out) - the Dead Island 2 developers decided to embrace the chaotic and comedic tone of the gameplay and use that as a frame for the entire game.
The setting has also been switched out from the exotic islands found in the previous titles to a place most people are familiar with - California. Maps based loosely based on Los Angeles and San Francisco have been confirmed. The game is built using Unreal Engine 4 and it certainly looks the part.
"We built LA and it was super big," said design director Bernd Diemer in an interview we did with him during Gamescom. "You know level designers, if you don't watch them levels grow. That's what they do. Then we looked at it and we had this really super annoying bug that the player would fall through the world. Randomly. You know you are walking around and all of a sudden you fall through the landscape into eternity. Our guys couldn't find what was wrong with it. You know it happened sometimes, sometimes it didn't."
"And then we finally started talking to Epic and said ' hey dudes, we have this weird error, falling through the world' and they said 'hmm, we've never seen that before. Let us take a look'. We gave them a build and one of their guys looked at it and met with our guys and then they said 'actually, what's happening is we have a limit of half a million physicalised entities in the world and you guys are past that'. And then we said 'can we have more, please?' and then back and forth Epic and our guys did deep metrics shit. That's the proper scientific term. And talked to Nvidia cause it was related to GPU as well and now we can have more."
Lots of physicalised objects make it fun to blow things up, and if the Gamescom demo is anything to go by this is going to be one explosive undead barbecue. What makes Dead Island 2 different from say the earlier games in the series or say Left 4 Dead, is that 8 players are dropped into the world and they're free to go about their own business. Sure they're going to be encouraged to go to certain places and help each other out (or compete for resources), but the game strays from the formulaic co-op we're used to. It's an interesting and somewhat risky approach.
And what about the narrative. Clearly this is something Yager Development are known for - surely they haven't completely forgotten about that in favour of situational zombie comedy? It remains to be seen, but when speaking to representatives of the studio we learned that they will use music in a similar fashion to how they did in Spec Ops: The Line, in order to create a specific atmosphere or mood.
The recently revealed Dead Island 2 Beta will be made available to PS4 players 30 days prior to PC and Xbox One punters (promoted as a GameStop exclusive or via vouchers you get with Escape Dead Island), but currently there is no firm release date, although it has been confirmed for release during the second quarter of 2015.
As you'd expect there is plenty more zombie survival in store for us in 2015. The most obvious competition comes from the team that worked on the first two Dead Island titles - Techland - whose Dying Light is set to headline a zombie packed January (we'll also see the first episode of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 launch this month). Where Dead Island 2 is taking some of the most appreciated elements of Dead Island to heart and is going for an even more over-the-top experience, Dying Light has focussed a lot of attention to the first-person movement of the player and instead moved towards more of a survival horror theme (especially during night-time).
Another brand of zombie survival is the strain that DayZ helped popularised - while said standalone experience will remain in Early Access for 2015, the plan is for Sony Online Entertainment's H1Z1 to enter Early Access in January. The developers have emphasised it's not simply a DayZ clone and H1Z1 promises a fully fleshed out eco-system, intelligent undead and base building. Down the line H1Z1 is said to include servers where players set the rules, the option of playing as a zombie and more of everything (basically).
For more on Dead Island 2 read our hands-on impressions from Gamescom.
Dead Island 2 - interview with creative producer Jan-Eric Lauble (Gamescom)