A vacation getaway to die for
Cliff Calo just wanted to impress his father.
As the son of a high-profile media mogul, Cliff?s spent his life living in the shadow of his sister, constantly told that she?not he?would be inheriting the empire. In order to prove his worth in the field of photojournalism, he takes his friends Linda and Devan sailing into tropical waters to find out what?s really happening on the island of Banoi.
Of course, traveling to a restricted area to uncover a zombie conspiracy is already a questionable plan in and of itself, but?as things are wont to do in these kinds of stories?our hero?s situation quickly goes south. Thus kicks off Escape Dead Island, a side story created to bridge the events of the original Dead Island and the upcoming Dead Island 2.
Even though Escape Dead Island connects to the other games of the series, that doesn?t mean that being a fan of the franchise is a requirement for playing. While you?ll miss out on some of the little references and cameos if you?ve never played the previous releases, you?ll still be able to enjoy what Escape Dead Island has to offer. Gameplay, as well, makes an attempt to stand on its own, eschewing the typical first-person survival-action style that?s a Dead Island trademark, instead moving the camera to a third-person perspective and centering more around exploration and adventure elements.
Really, side projects like this can often be more interesting than the major series they?re connected to, because more risks can be taken and more unexpected ideas integrated. That?s definitely what?s on display here, especially when it comes to that element: what?s on display. Escape Dead Island features comic-book-style visuals, where characters, enemies, and the environment have all be crafted with brighter colors, simpler textures, and solid black outlines. You might not normally think of going this route for the tale of an outbreak of the undead on a tropical island research base, but it absolutely works.
Even more attention-grabbing, however, is what happens when Cliff?s mental state starts breaking down into madness (one of many puzzling narrative elements that push players forward in order to find out the truth of what?s going on). In those moments, the game?s world is washed in a variety of visual effects. Contrast levels flux, environmental objects grow and shrink, or the sky turns blood red as everything else takes on the look of black-and-white sketches. Some of the graphical styles are so striking that you?ll wish you could play more of the game with them turned on?and all of this happens in a game engine that stays solid in framerate without slowdown or screen tearing.
If Escape Dead Island?s looks are pushing the hardware of the last generation of consoles, its gameplay is almost old-school in many ways. Even though your adventures will have you criss-crossing Narapela (a sister island to Banoi) constantly as you visit and revisit locations, the action and enemy styles bring to mind 8- and 16-bit side-scrollers. Cliff himself controls like one of those classic characters: clunky and stiff at first, but enjoyable in a slightly masochistic way once you?ve gotten the hang of him. Enemies, meanwhile, never have any hesitation in abusing Cliff?s shortcomings (such as his limited stamina gauge or ineffectiveness at running away), and some of the foes you?ll face will have you swearing over how ?cheap? they are. This is also a game that doesn?t just lead you by the hand through everything it has to offer, something many modern games are pretty terrible at. Sure, there?s an option for tracking where your next objective point is, but along the way you?ll notice numerous things about the island that are shrouded in mystery?and that remain so even after you?ve conquered Escape for the first time.
Having grown up with those earlier games, I was able to accept and almost appreciate those sides of Escape Dead Island?with the exception of its death penalties. Collectables or special photography moments are scattered across Narapela, but anything you?ve found or done since the last time the game autosaved is totally lost the moment you die. Most modern games typically track those kinds of finds even if you have to replay a segment again, so playing one that doesn?t do that is somewhat shocking. The same goes for unskippable cutscenes?in an action game where you can easily die multiple times in certain segments, having to wait through the same conversation over and over isn?t fun. (Also, seriously, developers: Don?t give us autosave systems where we can never confirm when our last save was or manually save upon quitting. Such an awful trend that?s been cropping up more and more.)
Talking about how old-school Escape Dead Island feels might come off as rather negative, but it isn?t meant to. Yes, some of its aspects feel peculiarly outdated, but there?s also something to be said for an adventure that?s smaller in scope and ambition, one that tries to keep everything that it does feeling interesting and fresh. In this era when it seems like so many games are either huge triple-A productions or tiny indie projects, seeing releases that are content to live in the constantly shrinking middle ground is rather refreshing.
One of the things I?ve learned most in my time reviewing videogames is that it?s often those releases you expect the least from that end up catching your attention the most. It?s very likely that Escape Dead Island may get lost among the sea of major releases that have flooded shelves this fall, but it?ll be a shame if that happens. Sure, it frustrated me at times and made me want to throw my controller at others, but from beginning to end, it also kept me entertained and engrossed in its own special ways.
I want more games like Escape Dead Island?games that don?t have to be perfect or gigantic blockbusters and can just be fun experiences that understand what their place in the world should be.
|Developer: Fatshark ? Publisher: Deep Silver ? ESRB: M – Mature ? Release Date: 11.18.2014|
An interesting side-story twist on Deep Silver?s first-person horror franchise, Escape Dead Island takes the franchise?s mythos in some unique new directions, resulting in an entertaining adventure that can be enjoyed by both fans and newcomers alike.
|The Good||An enjoyable adventure that?s mixed with interesting gameplay elements, fantastic visuals, and some really cool moments of world-building.|
|The Bad||The loss of progress upon death, and having to sit through unskippable cutscenes again as extra punishment.|
|The Ugly||Having to determine if the things I?m being told are coming from the voices in Cliff?s head or those in my own.|
|Escape Dead Island is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Deep Silver for the benefit of this review.|