A Dying Franchise
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.
The gameplay of i>Escape Dead Island is… odd. It features regenerating health, a lot like a modern FPS, but you can increase your max health with pickups. The game isn’t primarily a shooter though, it’s an action melee style game. There are guns in the game and they are powerful, but there’s never a sense of gunplay. Instead, these are just the crazy overpowered weapons you use when the chips are down. Otherwise it’s strictly melee.
But that’s actually a problem with the game overall, as melee animations are slow and sluggish. Add to this the fact that zombies can kill you quickly, especially when you are being mobbed, and melee encounters end up being un-fun. In fact, it felt like I triumphed most of the time by exploiting the game rather than playing it well. You can easily run out of a zombie’s “zone” by backtracking or hopping up onto or down off of objects, and then you end up at least relatively safe. There are also stealth kill options, or I should say stealth kill option, in the singular, as you can sneak up behind zombies and stab them in the neck. But the stealth kill animation takes so long that other zombies tend to see you and mob you before you are done, making these attacks mostly ineffective.
Speaking of backtracking, there is a lot of it in this game, but it never feels meaningful. Instead it feels more like padding. You’ll encounter yet more enemies as you go from one side of the island to the other, retracing your steps to get a little bit farther. But in the end these sections are just roadblocks and they feel meaningless. You frequently find yourself groaning and waiting to get to the next important story element, and that’s not even that great of a payoff.
I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t finished Escape Dead Island yet. I just can’t bring myself to. The game plods along at a snail’s pace and just never hooks you. It’s certainly not the worst game I have ever played, but it’s bland and generic and feels rushed and unfocused. It’s obvious that Deep Silver’s efforts are all going into Dead Island 2 right now, and that this game got only a portion of the attention. You might want to keep up with all the Dead Island games, and if so pick this one up I guess, but outside of being yet another title with the words “ Dead Island ” in the title, I can’t honestly recommend it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
The environments look great but the characters look awful. 2.5 Control
The melee controls are slow and clunky and are what you are grappling with most of the time. 1.5/div> Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound and voice is just terrible, probably one of the worst parts of the game. 2.0 Play Value
There’s just not enough to keep you playing here. It’s frustrating and clunky and doesn’t do the franchise justice. 2.0 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|