Escape Dead Island Review – Mediocrity in Madness (PS3)
Like an actual viral infection, the zombie craze has swept across the world and overtaken many forms of pop culture and media. Video games are no stranger to the undead and Escape Dead Island is just the latest in a long slew of flesh hungry titles that doesn’t look to be stopping soon. In the flood of so many zombie games releasing, how does Fatshark attempt to keep the genre interesting and fresh, and perhaps more importantly, do they succeed?
Escape Dead Island is a third-person adventure game in the Dead Island universe. Taking place six months after the events on Banoi in the first game, Escape finds three friends journeying to another island near Banoi to track down the story of the origins of the Banoi incident. The characters are fairly one-sided and seemingly uninteresting, but the intrigue grows mildly as the story progresses and you discover more about the mystery of the island, the zombies, and our main character, Cliff. I can’t say too much more without spoilers, but there is more than meets the eye with Escape Dead Island and the story isn’t just your basic tale of zombie survival. In fact, I would say that the zombified setting is simply a backdrop for Cliff’s own story as he — and you — question his sanity.
Art in Blood
The cel shaded, comic cook art style lends an interesting vibrancy and color to an otherwise dead genre, pun completely intended, because everyone knows the zombie genre is far from dead. In fact, Dead Island’s claim to fame could possibly be the bright world of a beach paradise that has become a dark, blood spattered utopia. Escape Dead Island follows this trend using cel shading to accentuate the already vibrant world. The mixture of these two features is quite fun when it comes to the mature act of slaying zombies, as bright red splatters cover the sun streaked environment.
The problem here is the oversimplified gameplay. As you go back and forth across the island of Narapela, you will find yourself fighting hoards of zombies using either a stealth mechanic, or by mashing the square button to attack with one of two melee weapons that feel no different from each other, with the occasional dodge and run away thrown in for good measure. There is also gunplay with an inaccurate feeling pistol and a slow shotgun, but I usually opted for stealth kills or all out button mashing zombie crushing mayhem. There are a few different types of zombies that require slightly different tactics to defeat, but the beginning of the game makes the encounters too easy, and the end finds itself sometimes unfairly difficult, given the simple battle system and no option for stealth in some cases. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun playing Escape Dead Island; The story managed to pull me through each zombie encounter, but the combat didn’t feel fleshed out enough (again, pun totally intended) to be a genre defining game.
There are a massive amount of collectibles to give more information to the story, but perhaps the most intriguing are the camera shots that can be taken around the island. These opportunities require a keen eye as picture opportunities don’t spin around like a standard collectible. I found myself constantly taking out my camera to scour the environment just in case something required a photo op. Once in the camera, the objects that can be photographed glow, so it isn’t too hard if you are taking out your camera everywhere — unless the photo op is a crazed zombie that is rapidly approaching you, in which case things might get a little more difficult. For an OCD gamer like me, I got wrapped up in exploring every corner for collectibles and photo ops, but after retreading the same ground in multiple areas as the game brought me back to them later, this task found itself very mundane.
Through it all, Cliff’s story is what kept dragging me along. Every time I found myself getting bored, the game would throw another twist of the knife my way that made some little part of me want to find out the next portion. By about halfway through my first playthrough, I thought that I had it all figured out (and still think I might), but the game does require a time through New Game + to fully unravel the madness and mystery. At about halfway through that follow-up playthrough, I began to look at the rest of my stack of games with envy. I realized that I was going through the motions, still scouring for collectibles and retreading the same ground again, all to maybe get that small bit of story that might answer all of my questions — and maybe a Platinum trophy. There were slight differences to my second playthrough, but not so much that I didn’t notice that I was playing the exact same linearly guided game that I did before. Again, it’s not that Escape Dead Island is a terrible game. It just doesn’t scream “great!”
I did have a few game crashes as I played, two that required a hard reset on my PS3, and three others that needed me to quit to the XMB and restart the game. Escape Dead Island has a fairly liberal checkpoint system though, so I never found myself with too much time lost, and certainly not as much time lost as some of the unbalanced later encounters in the game that were only beaten through enemies getting stuck, about 45 rounds of shotgun ammo fired wildly in no certain direction, and perhaps my wife doing some kind of voodoo magic so that I would stop cursing at the TV.
I can’t call Escape Dead Island a bad game, but I really can’t call it a good game either. It truly rides that line of mediocrity without falling into either camp too heavily. If you’re curious, I’d say go for it. It does enough right to make it worthwhile to play through for those that can enjoy themselves despite some missteps. If you are a skeptic or just plain nitpicky about your games, you’ll find enough to hate with Escape Dead Island that you are probably better off playing something else. It’s not going to win everyone’s hearts, but having initially approached this with low expectations, I found it to be a surprisingly okay title for a game releasing exclusively on last gen. Or maybe I’m just crazy.
Escape Dead Island review copy provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.