Has there ever been a point when you’ve looked through your gaming library and wondered, “Huh, whatever happened to this title?” Well, I’ll be taking a look at videogame standalones/franchises and the lead up to their eventual absence. With that being said, today I’ll be asking the question: “Whatever Happened To… Dead Island 2?”
This edition of Whatever Happened To… represents something of an oddity in the series. Generally, we’d go through the history of a specific franchise and examine the lead-up to and ultimately the reasons behind exactly why it’s either remained dormant for so long or been abandoned completely. What sets this edition apart is that Dead Island 2 still technically exists. Yes, the first numbered sequel to Techland’s original Dead Island has been languishing in development limbo for some time now with very little information conveyed from neither the publisher nor the multiple developers (more on that later) but, conversely, it’s never been officially cancelled either. So what happened between the game’s unveiling and now?
Released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2011 and 2013 respectively, Dead Island and its standalone expansion Dead Island: Riptide, a duo of survival horror action RPG’s that chronicled the events of a zombie outbreak within a tropical island paradise, were developed by Polish studio Techland and published by Deep Silver. In 2012, prior to the release of Riptide, Techland was set to commence production on a new game in the series, with Dead Island 2 reportedly going so far as the pre-coding planning stages. However, Techland instead opted to pursue development on the similarly themed Dying Light in collaboration with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and thus Deep Silver began the search for a replacement developer. Berlin-based studio Yager Development, finalising production on Spec Ops: The Line and eagerly looking for a new project to begin work on, pitched the game to Deep Silver in mid-2012 and was signed on as the developer on Dead Island 2 soon after.
Around two years later, at Sony’s E3 2014 media briefing, Dead Island 2 was officially announced alongside this trailer:
The initial response to the announcement was - if the reaction from the attendees at the media briefing is any indication, anyway - overwhelmingly positive. Deep Silver soon followed up the unveiling with a demonstration of an early build of Dead Island 2 - set to release on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 - at Gamescom 2014. The presentation showcased locations set in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco, alongside two of the four playable protagonists and a small number of the new weapon modifications and zombie types that were being added for this new title. Subsequently, save for a vague Q2 2015 release window, all was quiet on the Dead Island 2 front, as is often the case in videogame development. That was until July 2015, when Deep Silver announced that it was parting ways with Yager Development and handing the development reins over to another, at the time unannounced, studio. An official statement from the publisher read:
"With Dead Island 2, Deep Silver has always been dedicated to delivering the sequel that Dead Island fans deserve. 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."
Deep Silver neglected to offer any explanation on why exactly it had chosen to drop Yager as developer on the project; however, a subsequent statement issued by Yager managing director and co-founder Timo Ullmann shed some light on the situation that had arisen:
“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.”
So, conflicting creative visions were the reason behind the splitting of Deep Silver and Yager Development. This resulted in Yager Productions - a sub studio set up specifically to work on Dead Island 2 - filing for insolvency the same month the announcement regarding their split with Deep Silver was made. What followed was another lengthy span of radio silence regarding Dead Island 2 before, in March 2016, UK based Sumo Digital made the announcement that it had taken over development on the project.
And that’s basically the last instance the public at large saw, heard or even got a faint whiff of anything Dead Island 2 related. In August 2017, Deep Silver saw fit to reassure expectant fans that Dead Island 2 is indeed still in development. Further reiteration surfaced in July 2018 when the company’s official Dead Island Twitter account issued the following:
What's going on is that it's in development and we won't be showing more until we're ready. Appreciate the wait is painful, but Dead Island 2 is still coming.— Dead Island (@deadislandgame) 5 July 2018
So what exactly is the deal with Dead Island 2? As stated near the beginning of this article, the game’s never been officially cancelled, and Deep Silver - on the odd occasion it does deem it necessary to even mention it - seems adamant that it’s still coming. The fact that the publisher is so reluctant to let us know in what year we can expect Dead Island 2 to arrive - let alone a specific date or even a vague release window - speaks volumes. This is a project whose reins were handed over to a different studio three years into its development. As is evident from the recent news surrounding Metroid Prime 4, when a new studio comes on board to take over development duties, it’s not unheard of for all previous work to be scrapped completely so that the new studio can start from scratch.
Also of note is that Sumo Digital has, since its involvement with Dead Island 2, either solely developed or assisted with development on multiple titles including Forza Motorsport 6: Apex, Forza Horizon 3, Hitman, Snake Pass and Crackdown 3. Furthermore, Sumo also has Team Sonic Racing currently in the works alongside - presumably still - Dead Island 2. Even for a company with multiple studios and approximately 500 employees, that seems like one hell of a workload when taken on in conjunction with a project whose development was already troubled to begin with. Has Sumo bitten off more than it can chew, perhaps? It’s also a fair assumption that development on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of Dead Island 2 might even not still be underway, given that we’re five years and change into their lifespan. With both Microsoft and Sony rumoured to be formally announcing their respective next consoles as soon as this year, could Deep Silver and Sumo have been prepping Dead Island 2 for a re-reveal on the new hardware?
Whatever happened to Dead Island 2? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.