Escape Escape Dead Island.
Amidst a season of truly epic releases – Sackboy and Smash Bros, Assassins and the Inquisition, crazed dictators and crazy Lego villains, and Trevor’s butt in HD – Deep Silver and Fatshark drop a spin off title from the popular Dead Island series, designed to give us a tropical zombie fix to satisfy our desires until the next Dead Island game arrives next year. Escape Dead Island is very different, very last gen and very interesting, but is it very good?
Cliff Calo is the spoilt rich kid main character. He is the son of a media mogul and living in the shadow of his more competent sister. He is also pretty unlikeable from the get go, which doesn’t really work in the games favour. Still, the young and stupid Cliff decides that he and his friends will sneak onto the zombie infested island of Narapela and take some photos to begin his photo journalism career and prove himself. Surely that is an insane length to go to just to gain daddy’s approval?
Well, yes it is. Although the story of the island and Cliff photo journalism adventure is quite interesting, if difficult to care about due to Cliff’s unlikable nature, it is actually the insanity that really steals the show and finding out just how insane Cliff becomes is a strong reason for continued play.
The Dead Island games were already quite bright considering they are set during a zombie apocalypse, what with the tropical setting. But Escape Dead Island takes this one step further by adding a whole lot of colour. Escape Dead Island is set in the third person, rather than the first of the core games, and has a rather bold, cel-shaded, comic book visual style, making it very different to the other games. It is incredibly bright and colourful, and everything is outlined with thick black lines. In many ways, this makes the game look somewhat retro, with poor detail at distance and somewhat unimpressive cut scenes. However, the way that the game deals with Cliff’s impending insanity is really quite enjoyable.
As Cliff slides down that slippery slope into full-blown lunacy, graphical anomalies and visual effects will treat the player to a virtual acid trip. Skies turn red, everything goes black and white, things change shape and the surroundings alter. This visually depicted madness is certainly one of the highlights of the game.
Unfortunately, the visual style is not so kind to other aspects of the gameplay. Cliff is not the zombie-slaying hero you would expect, and his relative weakness would suggest that a strong stealth approach to the game would be the best bet. Indeed, sneaking up on a zombie and stabbing them in the head with a screwdriver warrants its own special animation. However, the low quality visuals at a distance mean it is near impossible to tell which direction a zombie is looking, and if they are looking towards the player, they have the vision of a hawk, making stealth very difficult.
Which leaves the more physical approach. As already mentioned, Cliff is no athlete, something which is obvious when the stamina gauge runs out so quickly, making dodging out of the way of zombie attacks a limited option. It doesn’t take many hits from a zombie for Cliff to crumple to the ground and become zombie nosh, which isn’t helped much by the fact that he moves and does everything so slowly. Still, there are guns and weapons available should you wish to take on Cliff’s role, just be ready for plenty of seemingly unfair deaths.
The missions in Escape Dead Island are unfortunately quite uninteresting, and will see the player backtracking through previous areas over and again. However, although the game is quite linear in its missions and story telling, there is at least some scope for exploration as there are plenty of collectibles and secrets to be found, and being a photo journalist means photo ops. Stopping and whipping out the camera to search for highlighted photo opportunities is another distraction for the more obsessive player to enjoy, furthering the games play time with the chance at multiple play throughs.
Escape dead Island is a budget title, released at the height of the AAA game season, and that may be for the best. For every positive point, such as the insanity and interesting story, there is a negative, with the gameplay being the primary example. On balance though, Escape Dead Island still manages to be an average game, despite its shortcomings, and offers something a little bit different to the Dead Island fans as they wait for dead Island 2.