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Dead Island 2 Steam Deck performance report: a mostly sunny outlook

Plus the best settings for handheld slaying

The Dead Island 2 intro movie playing on a Steam Deck. The RPS Steam Deck Academy logo is added in the bottom right corner.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

I’m too prejudiced against first-person melee games to enjoy Dead Island 2 as much our reviewer Rick Lane did, but even a mind as narrowed as mine can appreciate its slick performance on PC. I wanted to see how well that smoothness and stability would carry over to the Steam Deck, and although the long-delayed zombie mulcher needs some cuts to quality settings, finding the right balance will have Dead Island 2 running almost as comfortably as the very best Steam Deck games.

Alas, it’s still not the ideal handheld game, thanks both to the odd crash (lowering settings helps with this) and the fact that it needs some tinkering with the Epic Games Launcher to get it playable in the first place. Still, playable it very much is.

Liam took a look at Dead Island 2 to answer one simple question: was it worth the nine year wait?Watch on YouTube

Let’s start by addressing Dead Island 2’s lack of a Steam version; it launches on February 21st as an Epic Games exclusive, and since DI2 isn’t even listed on Steam right now, that’s unlikely to change any time soon. Luckily, there are workarounds: you can either install the Heroic Launcher, or follow our handy guide on how to install the Epic Games Launcher on the Steam Deck. Both of these should allow you to get Dead Island 2 downloaded onto the handheld, still using your regular Epic account.

I have the Epic Games Launcher itself installed on my Steam Deck, and didn’t have any real trouble installing Dead Island 2 in turn. There is a scary-sounding error message that appears every time I launch, with an error code that relates to an Epic Online Services malfunction, but closing the message permits the game to launch and run as normal. I can still use the co-op mode’s Quick Join matchmaking, so that message appears to be much ado about nothing.

Dead Island 2 running on a Steam Deck.

There are a couple of other peculiarities that seem to only be an issue on the Steam Deck, though neither will really spoil your fun. One is that the shader pre-caching takes place every time Dead Island 2 starts, a process that needs to happen just once on a Windows desktop. This only takes five seconds each time, mind – a world away from The Last of Us Part 1 and its epic 40-minute shader comps – so it hasn’t bothered me much.

The other is that sometimes, when a cutscene starts, a freeze frame from a previous cutscene very briefly flashes on screen. Like a subliminal message trying to convince you how witty and well-shot a past cinematic was. Again, I haven’t seen this at all when playing on desktop, so maybe it’s something that can be fixed with a future Proton update, like other games’ Steam Deck cutscene problems have been.

Otherwise, compatibility with the Steam Deck – even on a jerry-rigged Epic app – seems fine. The Deck’s controls are a good fit, with the right trackpad usable for aiming and the left as a D-pad alternative, and the display resolution is automatically set to the native 1280x800 without letterboxing. The sleep and resume feature works as well, just as it would on a Steam game. And battery life comes in at 1h 30m, with brightness and speaker volume both at 50% - a normal result for high-fidelity AAA fare.

Those aforementioned quirks mean Dead Island 2 doesn’t get an entirely clean bill of health on the Steam Deck, but with the right graphics options, it’s in good enough shape to play.

Dead Island 2 running on a Steam Deck.

Dead Island 2 Steam Deck performance and best settings guide

Outside of some pixelly hair, Dead Island 2 is a fine looking game even on its lower graphical settings. Which is just as well, as while it all runs tidily on desktop-grade hardware, the Steam Deck’s dinky APU struggles with most High and Ultra settings.

I was initially disappointed by the Low preset, too: this could reach up to 60fps on occasion, mainly inside LA’s many mansion interiors, but was equally prone to dropping below 30fps when whacking zeds. Then I applied the secret sauce, AMD FSR 2 on its Quality setting. This kept the Low preset averaging in the 40-50fps range, with no further drops into the twenties whatsoever and a pleasingly minimal impact on resolution sharpness.

I also tried the Medium preset, again with FSR 2, and got a playable 35-45fps – until Dead Island 2 crashed. A nasty surprise, given I’d also been playing on desktop without so much of a hint of stuttering, let alone the full black screen treatment.

I had a couple more crashes after persevering with Medium quality, usually when there were a lot of zombies and VFX onscreen, so I’m fairly certain that this is just the Steam Deck failing to cope with the demands of certain settings. After identifying the most FPS-hungry of the individual options and busting them down to Low, stability returned.

Dead Island 2 running on a Steam Deck.

Evidently, relying on presets alone is a risky business when running Dead Island 2 on humble hardware like the Steam Deck. At the same time, there are certain settings that can be left up, with no apparent effect on framerate or crashing tendency. And it’d be a shame to leave those cranked down as well.

Here, then, are my recommended Steam Deck settings. They’ve mostly been keeping me in the 40-50fps range, with occasional dips into the thirties but without any nasty sub-30fps lurches. Even 60fps is possible in tighter, quieter areas.

  • Motion Blur: 0
  • Anti-Aliasing: Temporal AA High
  • View Distance: High
  • Post Processing: High
  • Shadows: Low
  • Textures: Medium
  • Effects: Low
  • Foliage Detail: High
  • SSAO: Low
  • Indirect Shadows: High
  • Depth of Field: Low
  • Screen Space Reflections: Medium
  • Material Quality: High
  • Shading Quality: Low
  • AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution 2: Quality
  • AMD FidelityFX Variable Shading: On

Why not knock down FSR 2 a couple more pegs, to conjure up even more frames per second with the magic of upscaling? I did try this, swapping from Quality to Performance mode, and while it still looked sharp enough to be playable, it only appeared to add an extra 3-4fps on average. Try it if you like, though I prefer the crispness of Quality to these minor speed gains.

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