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Whatever Happened To Dead Island 2?

There was never much doubt that the 2011 zombie RPG, Dead Island, would be greenlit for a sequel, especially after selling over 1 million units in North America at launch. Indeed, since its release, Dead Island has had quite a few spinoffs: the standalone expansion, Dead Island: Riptide; the poorly received adventure game, Escape Dead Island; and the short-lived MOBA, Dead Island: Epidemic, which publisher Deep Silver referred to as a "ZOMBA" — you can pretty much guess what that stands for. There are quite a few iterations of Dead Island but fans have yet to get a proper sequel to the original.

What's proceeded since the original release is a confusing and long wait for Dead Island 2, which still hasn't hit shelves years since it first went into development. Updates have been scarce and vague, and all we know for sure is that developer Sumo Digital is currently working on the game. (Sumo is facing its own problems with Crackdown 3 at the moment, though.)

Will Dead Island 2 ever arrive? According to Deep Silver, it will. For now, all we can do is track the long and winding road this zombie RPG sequel has faced.

Techland almost made Dead Island 2

The original Dead Island arrived in 2011 to both a positive reception and financial success. Selling over 5 million units by 2013, Dead Island proved to be a strong new IP for publisher Deep Silver. Dead Island 2 was quickly greenlit with developer Techland once again at the helm.

But what began as a sequel soon became yet another new IP for the studio, which decided that, with a bigger focus on freedom of movement — the crux of what would become Dying Light — and a "more mature and dark" tone, it was best to move on from Dead Island and its partnership with Deep Silver. It didn't help that Techland had a different vision for the next Dead Island game than what the publisher wanted.

"[Deep Silver] had a lot of ideas about how they wanted to run the franchise," Techland game designer Maciej Binkowski explained to Eurogamer in 2014. "Even with Dead Island there were a lot of moments where we would disagree on the creative vision of the project, so this might have been one of the factors."

Techland's decision to leave Dead Island behind proved to be the right one. Dying Light arrived in 2015 and had sold over 13 million copies by 2018. A sequel, Dying Light 2, is now on the way.

Yager Development was hired to develop Dead Island 2 in 2012

It wasn't long before Yager Development, the studio best known for the trippy third-person military shooter Spec Ops: The Line, got word that Deep Silver was looking for a new team to take over development of Dead Island 2. In 2012, Yager pitched its take on the sequel and got the gig. 

It helped that many of the people working at Yager were big fans of the first Dead Island. According to Michael Kempson, former producer at Yager, the developers were spending their lunch time playing the zombie game. 

"It was the game you couldn't get around in the office," Kempson told Polygon in 2014. "It was on every retail console we had. People were playing it at lunch time. It went on like that for weeks and weeks."

Yager and Dead Island 2 seemed like a match made in heaven. 

The Yager version of the game took place in California

Yager wanted to take Dead Island 2 in a different direction. Leaving the fictional island "paradise" of Banoi behind, the team decided to instead set the game in sunny, zombie-infested California.

The studio's version of the game would have traversed several different parts of the Golden State, including "the beaches of Los Angeles, the hills of Hollywood, and the streets of San Francisco," according to Polygon. That's a lot of terrain to cover but Yager stressed that it was not creating a "hyper-realistic" version of California for "artistic reasons."

"When we first thought of California, what came to mind was this postcard California," Kempson explained. "If we went down the Santa Monica beach right now, went to the tourist store and they had a postcard of California — that's how we approached the vistas and the scenery. It's the version that I think people are going to recognize from television and movies."

Yager's Dead Island 2 also had a multiplayer component

Yager also hoped to expand the Dead Island franchise's multiplayer presence. While the first game had an online co-op feature, Yager pushed things a bit further with a "localized MMO" approach for Dead Island 2's multiplayer. With "seamless social multiplayer," up to eight players could team up against the horde. Players would have popped into your game seamlessly unless you opted out of the feature for a single-player only experience.

Sebastian Reichert, creative producer at Deep Silver, described the multiplayer as "the world's smallest MMO" to Polygon. When players encountered each other on the same server, they could choose how they wanted to interact with each other, whether that meant teaming up or going about their zombie-killing business. They could also choose to attack each other over resources.

"Maybe you're pissed at how I behaved," Reichert explained. "We wanted to make sure there's more than living next to each other and cooperating. There should be a chance to compete with each other."

Dead Island 2 was officially unveiled to the public at E3 2014

When Yager's game was finally unveiled to the public at E3 2014, it arrived in style, with a trailer as creative — if not as dark and heart wrenching — as its predecessor's famous announcement trailer. Dead Island 2's trailer depicts a character going for a morning jog by the beach as zombie mayhem ensues just behind him. He can't hear the chaos just a few steps away because he has his headphones in, but soon he understands when he begins to transform into a zombie himself, shambling towards the camera with the rest of the horde.

The studio also took the opportunity to show off a combat prototype of the game from 2013 to a group of reporters behind closed doors, according to Eurogamer, which described the game as a more "tongue-in-cheek fun" experience than a game about survival. "If Dead Island 2's California is a sandbox, then the zombies are your toys."

And then the delays began

At some point after Dead Island 2 was first unveiled, trouble began brewing at Yager. In April 2015, the studio was forced to delay the game from its original 2015 release window to 2016.

"We have always set ourselves a big goal for Dead Island 2: to create the sequel that takes Dead Island to the next level," wrote Yager in its announcement on Twitter. "A game that takes what our fans tell us they love about Dead Island — multiple different characters to play with, co-op, and turning a paradise setting into a zombie slaughter melee — and a game that adds a ton more content and combat options on top of that."

This was the first sign of things to come, although it's unclear if Yager knew it was on thin ice with Deep Silver. At this stage, Yager still seemed confident that the delay would help make the game better.

"Right now we are focusing purely on development, and we will have more info to share at a later stage," continued Yager. "We know that our fans will be disappointed by this news, but by giving Dead Island 2 more time we are confident that everyone will get a better game to play as a result."

Unfortunately, Yager never got to see its vision through.

Deep Silver fired Yager due to "creative differences"

Just months after Dead Island 2 faced its first delay, Deep Silver decided to fire the developer from the project in July 2015. A replacement was not named at the time.

"With Dead Island 2, Deep Silver has always been dedicated to delivering the sequel that Dead Island fans deserve," announced the publisher. "After careful consideration, today we announce the decision to part ways with development partner Yager. We will continue working towards bringing our vision of Dead Island 2 to life, and we will share further information at a later stage."

Timo Ullman, managing director at Yager, explained to Gamesindustry.biz that the decision had come down to creative differences between the studio and the publisher. "The team worked with enthusiasm to take Dead Island 2 to a new level of quality. However, Yager and Deep Silver's respective visions of the project fell out of alignment, which led to the decision that has been made."

The Crackdown developers took over production

A little less than a year later, in March 2016, the project was back on, this time in the hands of developer Sumo Digital, which currently has a pretty stacked slate of upcoming games that includes Team Sonic Racing and Crackdown 3.

In an interview with MCV, Dr. Klemens Kundratitz, CEO of Koch Media, Deep Silver's parent company, shared his excitement over this new phase of the project.

"Sumo showed so much understanding of the brand, had creative ideas and an excellent vision that was aligned with our own," said Kundratitz. "It just made perfect sense for us to move the project to them. We will reveal more details at a later stage, but for now I'd like to say that we are obviously super excited about the progress that we are making with them."

Paul Porter, COO of Sumo Digital, also seemed confident that they could turn around the game and make fans happy: "It's an honor to be charged with the evolution of such an important franchise in Deep Silver's catalogue. We're looking forward to exceeding fan expectation with an ambitious design that we're confident will take bone-crunching, visceral, zombie action to a whole new level."

No footage of the game has been shown since.

In 2017, Deep Silver claimed that Dead Island 2 was still in development

Yearly updates from Deep Silver have continued in the years since. In 2017, the publisher confirmed that Dead Island 2 was still in development despite the fact that fans hadn't heard or seen anything about the game since Yager had been fired. Unfortunately, Deep Silver had nothing new to show. "Dead Island 2 is in development at Sumo Digital, and we are excited by the progress the team are making with Deep Silver's most successful IP, " the publisher told Eurogamer. "When we are ready to share more information, we will."

Before the update, rumors had been circling that Dead Island 2 was now in development hell. It's unclear how far along the project is or whether Sumo Digital is even building off of Yager's work. If Sumo chose to start from scratch, that could mean fans have an even longer wait ahead. It's also worth noting that Sumo currently has its hands pretty full with Crackdown 3, a game that has faced plenty of delays and setbacks of its own over the past few years.

The last update before the silence fell

If you want to play a new Dead Island experience in 2018, it'll have to be on mobile. While in the process of promoting the new mobile tower defense game, Dead Island: Survivors, on Twitter, Deep Silver was once again asked the million dollar question: when is Dead Island 2 coming? The publisher's answer didn't exactly inspire hope that fans would see more of the game any time soon, but the company did at least confirm that Dead Island 2 was still in the works. "What's going on is that it's in development and we won't be showing more until we're ready," explained the official Dead Island Twitter handle, which isn't very prolific these days, posting only a few times in the last couple of years. "Appreciate the wait is painful, but Dead Island 2 is still coming."

Indeed, the wait might be painful for the franchise's fans, but at least there's hope in knowing the project is still on and still has a chance of seeing the light of day, even as it shambles on through the dark.