|System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC*|
|Pub: Deep Silver|
|Release: November 18, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
There was a time when the Dead Island franchise was so serious, that the advertisement alone almost got a movie deal. That time, however, is long past. Any pretense of Dead Island being a serious and tragic zombie survival game has floated off to sea. I first got the inkling that this was the case when the Dead Island 2 trailer at E3 this year featured a zombified jogger and a bunch of guys running him over in a van. But nothing solidified the transition from “zombies are awful and terrible” to “zombies are awesome and fun to kill” than the release of the latest stop-gap title in the Dead Island series, Escape Dead Island.
In fact, you’d be forgiven if you mistook Escape Dead Island for a game in, well, any other series. It has so very little to do with the original title, one has to wonder why they actually do share a franchise. The original Dead Island was a first person multiplayer co-op sandbox style survival game. This, is a single player only third person button mashing action game. The theme is different. The tone is different. Practically the only thing the two games share in common is the Island and even it is different. There’s just not a whole lot in common here.
So let’s try to look at Escape Dead Island as a totally unique game, rather than a game in the Dead Island series. Unfortunately, when we do that we quickly realize that Escape Dead Island needs its franchise name to survive.
The story puts you in control of Cliff Calo, a rich kid with daddy issues, something to prove, and the unfortunate bad luck to find himself stuck in a zombie infested resort island. For a while the game pretends that this is the same sort of “go to a dangerous place to achieve greatness” story that fueled movies like King Kong and Jurassic Park. However, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, as the game starts making you doubt the main character’s sanity. In a style very similar to Spec Ops: The Line, Escape Dead Island tries to make you question what is true about the game and its protagonist, and this quickly becomes the game’s central focus.
While I would normally applaud an artistic move like this, it’s done so heavy handed and ham-fisted. The game throws hallucinations at you randomly and overtly, almost as if it’s jumping up and down and screaming, “Ask me what it means! Ask me what it means!” This theme also clashes like crazy with the game’s “killing zombies is so much fun” atmosphere. It’s kind of hard to do a serious “I’m going insane” plot when the game practically begs you to revel in the gore you are splattering all around you.
The graphics also clash with the tone the story is trying to set up. Unlike the original Dead Island, Escape Dead Island is cell shaded, giving everyone, including the zombies, a very cartoony look. The resort island is big and colorful, with zombies spewing neon green puke and explosions blooming in huge gigantic fireballs. Heck, when you swing melee weapons at your opponents, you even see comic book style onomatopoeia. It’s hard to create a gripping and cerebral story when every time you hit a zombie over the head with your spiked club you see a stylized thwack or splat.
I can’t necessarily call the game environments bad looking. Actually, aside from a couple depressingly flat trees and blades of grass, the environments look quite good. They just don’t do the story justice… or perhaps the story doesn’t do them justice.
The characters, on the other hand, look awful. They look plastic and unreal, with totally expressionless faces plastered onto their heads. Their animations are stiff and unnatural, with their arms always held out slightly to the sides and their hands in a doll like neutral pose. The main character moves the smoothest but even his animations feel canned, and every supporting character moves like they are a generation (make that console generation) too old.
What doesn’t help this weird unnatural feel to the game is the bad voice acting that permeates the entire game. All of the lines are unenthusiastic, and the writing is honestly horrible. All too often, it comes off as the characters are trying too hard, shouting out buzz words that are trying to make you feel like they are “cool.” But instead it comes off as wooden and inauthentic, especially since these characters are supposed to be in horrible life threatening danger. The voice performances don’t sell either the personality of a crazed zombie murderer that is just having fun, or a desperate shipwrecked survivor looking for his own salvation. Instead, they just reinforce the character’s appearances as plastic and doll like.