Developed by Fatshark. Published by Deep Silver. Released on November 18th, 2014. Available on PC, PS3 (Reviewed) and Xbox 360. Review copy provided by Deep Silver.
I don’t even need a good look at the zombie to tell he’s different from the usual lot. Normal zombies can be swift when they want to, but he’s not just fast; he’s aggressive. He comes barreling toward me like a lion that’s spotted a choice gazelle and when he comes near, he leaps into the air, slashing at me with knuckle claws better suited to Hugh Jackman than a member of the undead. I dodge out of the way and counter with a quick swipe of my firefighter’s axe. He blocks it and immediately lashes out with another claw strike that catches me in the midsection and leaves me on the brink of death.
Cursing, I sprint away to buy time so I can heal. It does me little good. In an instant he’s on top of me again, clawing away with merciless speed that requires every fiber of my attention to avoid. Barely hanging on as I am though, I start to notice brief pauses in his offense; chances to strike back. I start chipping away at him, cutting off bits and pieces of his health bar. It takes a little while, but he finally goes down and, for a moment, I’m left basking in the breathless excitement that comes with defeating a particularly difficult enemy.
The biggest problem with Escape Dead Island is that moments like these are few and far between. It’s unfortunate, because Escape possesses all of the building blocks necessary to make a decent game. Its visuals and sound are top notch, employing bright cel-shaded visuals and quality voice acting that rarely fails to deliver. It also boasts an interesting story premise and features controls just as smooth as some of the best action titles on the market. Rather than using these strong foundations to construct something memorable however, its developers produced a game that’s perhaps the very image of mediocrity.
It opens with a trio of friends in a boat on their way to the zombie-infested island of Banoi. The protagonist, Cliff, along with his companions Linda and Devin, hopes to investigate the rumors surrounding the island, and use it as a platform to launch Linda’s journalism career while impressing Cliff’s father, a prominent media mogul. Soon after arriving at the island however, one of the trio is injured by the resident undead, and Cliff embarks on a desperate mission to find help and a cure. Not all is as it seems, however. As the game progresses it becomes clear that what the player sees through Cliff’s eyes may not be entirely grounded in reality.
The issues with Escape‘s story are perhaps emblematic of the game’s problems as a whole. While it brings a lot of good ideas to the table, the plot is clumsily executed. This isn’t Spec Ops: The Line, skillfully drawing back a curtain of mental instability. Escape Dead Island makes it almost too clear early on that Cliff is something of a crumbling cookie and frequently steps across the border of silliness as it hammers this point home. This doesn’t keep the game from pulling off some standout moments, but it definitely stopped it from resonating as deeply with me as I think its writers were hoping.
Far more troublesome than the story problems, though, is the fact that it’s just kind of a slog to play. Excepting occasional bits of genuine challenge, most of the game is spent chasing objective markers while mindlessly hacking your way through hordes of cannon-fodder zombies. To be fair, there are spots where it employs these enemies well. You’ll find yourself overwhelmed by a large grouping, or come to a catwalk where you’ll suddenly find yourself flanked by a zombie that was hidden in plain sight. Most of your foes though are just set in your path to give you something to kill while you run from point A to point B. Many can be run past without even the slightest bit of consequence.
It doesn’t help the game provides virtually nothing to do outside of its dull combat. While Cliff makes his own weapons at points, he does it without any player input. There’s also barely an inventory screen, no leveling system and the arsenal of weapons is scant at best. You’ll find a variety of melee weapons over the course of the game, but they’re unbreakable and will automatically replace your older, weaker item. The guns are limited to a pistol and a shotgun, both of which were more of a pain than they were worth. The shotgun especially astounded me with its seeming inability to take down a standard zombie at point-blank range. There are some collectibles to pick up, as well as the occasional opportunity to approach things more stealthily, but they’re not the game’s focus and do little to make up for its lackluster core.
It’s a shame because it really feels like a little more effort is all that’s stopping Escape from being a solid experience. If the developers had maybe just invested in limiting your resources or giving you more control over weapon creation and management, I think they could have produced something entertaining and even memorable. As it stands though, Escape From Dead Island is about as bare bones as modern action titles get, dropping you into a linear adventure where the only real activity is to smash skulls for 10 hours. The end result is a game that feels ultimately kind of pointless. Escape Dead Island just isn’t fun enough to warrant your time or money, especially with some of the other recent and upcoming releases landing in store shelves.
Bottom Line: There isn’t much reason to play Escape Dead Island. The narrative has a few standout moments and you’ll occasionally meet an enemy that will throw you for a loop. Those moments are, unfortunately, needles in a haystack of monotonous gameplay that’s ultimately boring.
Recommendation: Play something else. Heck, go and play the original Dead Island. It was halfway decent and will cost you less than Escape‘s $39.99 price tag.[rating=2.5/5.0]