Dead Island prides itself in its unapologetic B-Movie vibe. Cringeworthy dialogue, cliche characters and a lack of engaging storytelling don’t typically culminate into a decent game, let alone a good one. However, Dead Island’s mindless, arcade-style gameplay supersedes its trivial zombie outbreak premise. The addictive co-op action and exotic environments make up for the lack of originality and character development. It’s a little odd, then, that developer Fatshark, formerly known for their War of the Roses and War of the Vikings games, would tamper with the series’ mechanics.
Spin-off or not, shifting from first-person action to third-person stealth adventure seems drastic, even for publisher Deep Silver. The new approach can be periodically entertaining, but it does little for both the genre and Dead Island’s lore. Escape Dead Island is a stealth-based origin story that takes place after the first game. While there’s more emphasis on storytelling (“storytelling” being used very loosely), the action once again takes center stage. Imagine a bratty Sam Fisher stuck on a zombie infested island...you get the idea.
"The new approach can be periodically entertaining, but it does little for both the genre and Dead Island’s lore."
Most of the franchise’s key features are gone. The open world, complex weapon crafting and semi-realistic aesthetics have been replaced by linear storytelling and stylized comic book visuals. It’s a drastic departure, but for a spin-off budget release, Escape Dead Island delivers just enough thrills to warrant a playthrough. The story follows Cliff Calo, a pretentious jerk à la Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody, who sets sail with his friends to document the rumored events on Banoi. After arriving on the Narapela island, part of Banoi’s archipelago, things go awry and he starts questioning his sanity.
Despite being advertised as a mystery adventure, Escape Dead Island doesn’t exactly offer much mystery or adventure. The plot is predictable, the voice acting and writing are laughable and the linearity leaves no room for exploration. And yet, the stealth mechanics and third-person combat are fun, if not great, when everything works. Sneaking up on zombies and stabbing their necks with a screw driver is undeniably satisfying. The problem is that the poor AI and level designs conflict with the gameplay.
"Sneaking up on zombies and stabbing their necks with a screw driver is undeniably satisfying."
At times, zombies are positioned in such a way that only a frontal assault is possible. They also seem to have better senses than Cliff as they can easily spot him from afar. Only a few strikes result in death. Trying to clear an area with more than five zombies without being detected is frustrating, and feels like a cheap way of spiking difficulty. Once detected, Cliff can fight back with his secondary weapon or use a pistol if enough ammo is available. Swinging around with an axe or bat is a blast. Once downed, Zombies can be finished off with a brutal special finisher, although the finisher-animation leaves Cliff vulnerable to attacks. Firearms are most powerful against tougher creatures like mini-bosses, but ammo is scarce and switching between weapons is slow and sluggish.
Equipped with a camera, Cliff can take pictures of various objects in the environment. Some photos reveal further details about the island and its inhabitants, while others serve as mere collectibles. There are tape recordings and letters scattered all over the island too. They offer glimpses into what might have happened before the outbreak, but since the actual story is so weak, they’re not worth seeking out.
"Escape Dead Island isn’t a bad game, it’s just an extremely average one. The gameplay is safe, at worst, and emphasizing storytelling in Dead Island isn’t something fans ever asked for."
The comic book aesthetics are a nice touch, but the stiff animations nearly ruin the overall visuals. Characters move like ragdolls, and the lip-syncing is practically nonexistent. The still illustrations, which serve as the game’s cutscenes, are far more impressive. There’s more life depicted in these drawings than in the awkwardly rendered models. There’s little environmental variety too. Considering that half the game consists of annoying backtracking, the scope of the island feels incredibly small.
Escape Dead Island isn’t a bad game, it’s just an extremely average one. The gameplay is safe, at worst, and emphasizing storytelling in Dead Island isn’t something fans ever asked for. In fact, Escape Dead Island may be hugely disappointing for anyone who expects the same thrills from the original Dead Island. With a relatively low asking price and some occasionally fun combat, gamers can do a lot worse...as long as expectations are kept in check.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC