A new addition to the Dead Island franchise has arrived for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC – Escape Dead Island.
The previous entries received mixed reviews, mainly due to the sheer amount of bugs and the generally unfinished feel to them, so how does the latest spin-off fare? A cheap cash-in or a worthy effort? Read on for the full Escape Dead Island Review.
Instead of being part of an awesome foursome you start off in the world alone and somewhat vulnerable with the first chapter literally throwing you to the zombies in an effort to lay out the premise early on as well as teaching you some of the fundamentals. It’s an interesting start and I was instantly hooked by the prospect of a deeper meaning to the zombie outbreak that plagued Bonoi, so a strong start indeed.
Fast forward 6 months later and we’re introduced to the main playable character Cliff Calo; an ambitious would-be reporter armed with his trusty camera. Sound familiar? If you played Dead Rising then you’re probably getting flashbacks of Frank West, but don’t worry; Calo isn’t a simple rip-off.
Instead he’s a little more complex than any of the characters that have encompassed the Dead Island franchise and it’s actually big part of the story.
As you progress through the somewhat linear narrative Cliff’s mental stability is called into the question every so often, skewing your perception of what’s real and what’s just in his head. It’s an interesting plot device that had me thinking “is this real?” whenever something slightly out of the ordinary occurred.
Despite the interesting start, Escape Dead Island quickly falls into a pattern of tried and tested clichés though they’re well implemented with your typical cast of rich-kids, an evil corporation that’s somehow behind the evil in the world, tender moments between the lead character and one of the ladies.
Characters are given just enough screen time that they’re interesting and don’t appear as just another body to tell you what to do, at the start at least. The playable character, Cliff, however is a little more tiresome to deal with. I’m normally all for character monologues as you wander through a game, but Cliff’s were some of the dullest and quite frankly, annoying that I’ve had to endure in some time. It’s a shame as his descent into insanity plays a big part in the story and with some higher-quality writing and voice-acting it could have been something great. Instead it’s just mediocre.
I suppose mediocre is the name of the game in regards to the narrative, though it has flashes of brilliance that seem to indicate more it eventually ends in a hum-drum that for me at least, left a little bit of disappointment lingering in the air. Still a better story than Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide though…
The saving grace could have been Escape Dead Island’s gameplay, but unfortunately mediocrity is spread throughout most parts of the game. Combat is introduced fairly early on, especially with the prologue chapter that introduces you to some of the fundamentals of the game. It’s another strong start with zombies being doled out for the purpose of you’re training and its initially quite fun to smash their heads in. The combat system is as simple as you’d expect with heavy attacks, normal attacks, shove and dodge all being represented.
The main problem with Escape Dead Island’s combat is that it just doesn’t feel 100% accurate or refined. Gunplay is fun but the aiming feels awkward as if you’re moving the cross-hairs on a grid, though this isn’t such a problem with the shotgun and it’s larger blast radius. Melee combat is still the go-to method of dispatching enemies, but with clunky controls and a sometimes erratic hit-detection system you’ll probably find yourself wishing for more shotgun ammo as I so often did.
Still, killing zombies is a gratifying experience especially when you’re forced to take a stealthy approach during the early hours of the campaign. You’re forced to go Sam Fisher on their undead behinds and take them out slowly and with a satisfying squelch as weapon means cranium. Unfortunately stealth isn’t a bigger part of the gameplay though it is encouraged if you want to gain a tactical advantage when there’s more than a few shamblers in an area but it’s still easier to go in swinging high and aiming for the head. Escape Dead Island seems to suffer from an identity crisis in this respect as it could have been a fantastic action game and possibly an even better stealth title, but neither styles of play excel past anything other than good.
Gone are the in-depth upgrades and deep skill system, but that’s not a bad thing. Instead of stopping every few minutes to manage your inventory the game flows at a good pace and keeps moving forward with purpose. There’s even collectibles to hunt down in the form of photo-opportunities and other collectibles that delve further into the back story. It’s a good thing too as the story can be completed within around 11-12 hours but with exploration and collectibles you could easily go for much longer.
Enemies are scattered around often with a fair bit of variety thrown in for good measure. The problem is that they’re all too easy to kill and it doesn’t take much effort to master the tactics required; swing and hit, back away, repeat, shove if necessary. That said, some of the more challenging enemy classes are a little more punishing and will force you to mix up your approach, so there’s always the opportunity for some tactical manoeuvering, it’s just not always obvious.
For the most part the gameplay is enjoyable particularly so when you take the silent approach, but with some dodgy combat and a feeling of something more could have been achieved with a little more refinement it makes do with just being OK. There’s some great replay value on offer with the collectibles and Achivements/Trophies to collect.