Review: Escape Dead Island (PlayStation 3)

Escape Dead Island: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation 3 2,364 views 1 like 8 comments
Reviewed by Tom White, posted Dec 3, 2014
Having enjoyed many a zombie game over the years, including gaining some enjoyment from Dead Island, I sat down to play the somewhat different to Dead Island game known as Escape Dead Island.
Dec 3, 2014
  • Release Date (NA): November 18, 2014
  • Release Date (EU): November 21, 2014
  • Publisher: Deep Silver
  • Developer: Fat Shark
  • Genres: Action/Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: Computer, Xbox 360
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Fat Shark were given a chance to tell a side story/origin story in the Dead Island series.
Tom White

attachFull12394

Escape Dead Island (PS3 version reviewed).

PS3 disc version reviewed.

GBAtemp was sent a copy of Escape Dead Island to review.

Game homepage

You can view our gallery of images we captured here. There are a handful more images there than are embedded in the review itself.

Trailer

 

Summary and introduction

Does Escape Dead Island walk like a zombie or did zombies eat its brains? Hopefully that is what you are here to find out.

For the most part if you get sequels to games then they tend to follow along in gameplay style. Escape Dead Island takes the notably open world and story light Dead Island games and instead asks “What if Dead Island was Metroid Prime?”. It wraps it all in nice looking graphics, a story that is a bit by the numbers but still good and a pretty solid gameplay engine.

Game length, with backtracking it was probably around the 11 hour mark. At a rush you could do it in quite a bit less, either way I would use a terms "a good length" and I found it reasonably well paced.

 

Story

Unlike most nominally open world games this does have a story and to spoil this one in any great depth would not really serve any great purpose, some of the images may spoil some events from earlier in the game though. You start the game as some kind of special forces ninja with a sword that is sneaking through some labs as a zombie infection rages. It is mainly there to get you used to the mechanics and controls, and it is actually a pretty effective introduction as far as such things go; if nothing else a taste of the toys you will get is a nice way to set about this sort of thing. For the rest of the game you play as “Cliff Calo”, son of journalist/media mogul and at first glance your typical unsympathetic wastrel/frat boy, with daddy issues to boot. It is at this point that I wish I had played Far Cry 3 single player as that would have probably made a nice thing to compare it to – both feature similar 20 somethings that most would not immediately sympathise with being thrust into survival situations on a tropical island. Said tropical island is not the Banoi of the other games but possibly the origin of the infection there, something that you are trying to investigate. At the same time it seems your character is slowly losing the plot and you occasionally find yourself thrust into “dream” sequences, not unlike something you might have seen in various Max Payne games. Said dream sequences do sometimes seem to serve as a kind of teleport as well which further spares you some of the annoyance associated with backtracking through a self contained world map. I do not know if I would call the story tight as a few things did seem to come out of left field, however it was far better than most games, much less zombie games, usually manage.

If I had to place the tone of the game then it would be slightly less serious than Dead Rising but stops far short of making it a parody.

Friend and foe are often introduced with the Guy Ritchie style text appearance, something you might have also seen in Borderlands.

I'm a man zombie

The story seems to be delivered in four main ways

  1. Your typical in game/engine events.
  2. Audio conversations with other characters during the game.
  3. Animated sequences
  4. World-building and minor inner monologues from you character via the photos you take and hidden items you find.

The animated sequences you last viewed, which should be the more recent ones unless you found some old ones to replay, will get you back to speed with what you should be doing now.

The combination of the lot is well done and would arguably allow those that want an action or stealthy game to get to that, where others that want a real story get what they want. For my money the photo mechanic is implemented in a far less annoying fashion than Metroid Prime's scanning one ever was.

 

Gameplay

 

"I am trapped on zombie island, it is not like it can get worse if I fluff stealth here."

"It got worse, It got worse."

 

There are several aspects to the game.

  • Photography, arguably optional for most of the game but something that was still a bit enjoyable.
  • Stealth, almost always a good option and fairly well implemented.
  • Hand to hand/weapons combat, not fighting game grade by any stretch of the imagination but still very effective.
  • Shooting, pistol and shotgun being the two choices here.

Combat wise there are also various environmental hazards that can trouble you, help you and generally add a bit of spice to proceedings.

 

Now I have a machine gun pistol

 

 

Knife to meet you?

 

Difficulty is an odd one to qualify. Even doing the backtracking/exploring for health increases it is usually quite possible to be overwhelmed in hand to hand combat, and guns are not magic bullets either. You get the impression ammo is supposed to be scarce but I never really ran out and ended the game with a large stockpile, not to mention if you die more than two times during a sequence then you tend to wake up with some more ammo nearby. Speaking of being overwhelmed, it should also be noted the zombies, especially special ones suited to the task, are often found patrolling at convenient choke points in maps, not to mention failing at doing something stealthily will often attract not only every other zombie within range but also generate a few more from the corpses they might have been worrying. Stealth and careful movement was definitely my chosen play style but unlike Deus Ex Human Revolution it never felt awkward to be swinging an axe or firing my shotgun. Equally if you expect to be mowing down hordes of zombies, a la Dead Rising or Left 4 Dead, then this is not what happens here.

Likewise your weapons get upgraded/replaced during the game, the silenced pistol upgrade adding a whole other aspect to stealth, and you eventually get a choice between a sword and an axe. The sword does less damage but drains your stamina far less, running out of stamina is also very dangerous to do in combat.

A quick tap of a button will point you where you need to go (or the enemy you need to kill next) so you are never quite lost.

Level design itself, a subject that will be revisited when discussing the backtracking, is pretty game like at times, especially during some of the later sequences. In fact the Max Payne comment from earlier will probably return as some sequences in the game felt an awful lot like that, and other games of that era too. This is not necessarily a bad thing and fairly well accepted in games, especially ones without the crazy budgets, however it will have to be noted as part of this.

 

Guess you're trapped in here with me... and you have something I want.

 

Graphics and audio.

 

Cel shading? Check. Appearance of a Saturday morning cartoon? Not even close. 

Escape Dead Island, as you will probably have seen from the screenshots around here, opts to be cel shaded. I have always liked cel shading but for those that would accuse such things of making it look like a cartoon then this would be a good counter. Equally the developers introduced a few extra effects beyond the typical cel shading, one of which makes things almost look like Mad World on the Wii and another being grain extract/heavy saturation and contrast, which are quite well used by the story people, and definitely a change from grey-brown so often seen in modern games. Said effects can also change the level setup at times – what was supposed to be a simple walk down the mountain instead turned into a dark level with only the cone of my torch to light the way, and a couple of hard to kill in the light enemies blocking my way.

Graphics wise it is not all good news though, there are a few clipping issues, at points you have to wonder why your player character, one previously demonstrated to be able to climb up a free hanging rope can not hop up/off a small ledge. Likewise the lighting engine has an odd tendency to cycle between light and dark sections when it should still clearly have been the other one. Many a graphics or gameplay oddity can be explained by your character having a questionable grip on sanity but that is not one of them, it kind of added to it but it did not appear to be intentional.

A nice touch was rather than pop in it would seem that plants have “grow in” as you approach them, the zombies falling from the sky could go either way though.

The graphics and the story do have a dark and possibly understated humour to them, a lot of it referencing other works but never quite in the way some other notable cel shaded games might throw them in your face. My favourites would have probably been catching “boomstick” written on your shotgun and “sense and sensibility, and zombies”. On the other hand some of the quips your character makes do begin to grate. Audio wise as this review is being typed up there is not much that I can remember of the music in the game, it was mostly quite suitable orchestral type music and better that than something that repeats to the point of tedium. The audio design/engine was done well though and the voice acting was not just "good for a game" but pretty good in general.

UI

It seems to be that zombie games have bad controls, or at least considerably weaker than the best ones from other games, Resident Evil even managing to have the term “Resident Evil tank controls”. When first booting it up my immediate impression was that this did not break from form here, most notably because of an inverted x axis, with it getting rubbed in my face by the camera mechanic not being inverted and a y-axis invert being a selectable option. By the end of the game I had got used to it, or at least had learned to work around it with the other camera fiddling options.

A few crashes were seen throughout the game, however with the autosave function not much was lost. Likewise there were a few loading pauses here and there, however it did not really get in the way of things.

The UI itself is actually pretty minimal – player health is regenerative (as is that of some enemies) and only represented by the increasing amounts of red jam that modern games insist on smearing in your eyes as you take damage. Enemies do have a health bar and an awareness bar when you are trying to be stealthy. Ammo is on screen when you select weapons or have one drawn but not at other times. There was a nice touch on the realism front as well with the shotguns, all being pump action, which do get loaded as you might actually load a shotgun; you load all the shells/have only the shells you loaded.

 

Such magnificent views, shame about the wildlife.

 

On Metroid Prime style backtracking.

You win, poison gas. I will come back later.

 

This one could be odd. Many a sequence will see you revisit an earlier location, I would have had to make a chart/map but where Metroid Prime will happily see you miss something here it seems anything missed would have been willingly. For my main play through though any new toys would see me immediately double back (assuming said toy did not trigger a boss fight or something similar) to the locations that I could not access before without it. Equally you would often find yourself pass a location in the level you were doing that you could go back and deal with after you got that level's toy, these you could miss if they did not tend to happen just before you got the item.

When in a dangerous land you should always check behind the bush.

Post game seems to amount to replaying the same story after the introduction sequence, albeit starting with a tiny bit of health and sword where you would not get such a weapon for hours during the first play through, not to mention some key cards for things that were locked first time around. This would then allow you to collect the things you might have missed the first time around, at the end of my first playthrough I had maybe missed 5 shapshots and a handful of each of the pickups. Not great replay value, especially not compared to the likes of Dead Rising or the earlier Zombie Island titles.

It seems your character has a bit of a fear of the dark. Thankfully you can get a light for the darkness.

A sneaky preview of part of the post game.

 

 

Conclusion.

My vacation to zombie island #42

 

Many a time a game is accused of being an advert for a game engine, a game technology or something similar. Here it could possibly be accused of being an advert for the Dead Island folks having storytelling ability, and frankly Dead Island 2 was already on my radar but if they can continue with this sort of thing then I am game. The game is reasonably short, especially if you are coming from the open world entries, but I have played shorter. I doubt it will be a mega popular game, and what little I have seen from others says it is a somewhat divisive game, but I can see it being a valued part of a game library, possibly in the same way that Deadly Premonition or Alpha Protocol found themselves a home. Oddly for a spinoff title I am not sure words like “for fans of Dead Island” are all that apt, no doubt there will be a serious overlap though. In the end I had a good time, possibly a better time than I have had playing various “action-adventure” games for several years now. Don't expect Telltale style Walking Dead, if nothing else you don't really have any choices to make during the game beyond "backtrack" and "explore".

There may be some DLC coming at some point (the credits mention something), I am not sure what that might be (most likely a side story/”while you were doing this”) but that will have to be discussed if and when it gets released.

The game seems to be something of a budget title as well, I might have had to pause for a second should it have been full price but for a more budget title it is top flight.

 

Verdict
Pros
+ A solid engine with nice graphics gets to tell a story worth listening to.
+ Get used to the camera and swinging an axe into a zombie is as much fun as it frequently is elsewhere.
+ Stealth actually works despite not being a focus of the game.
Cons
- Not much replay value, especially compared to other zombie games and earlier Dead Island titles.
- A few graphical glitches and some load time issues at points.
8 Presentation
A few glitches here and there but I thought the art direction was very well done. I would be hesitant to say a new way of thinking about cel shading but it definitely pushes the boat out a bit.
7 Gameplay
Once you get past the inverted x axis the game starts working well.
5 Lasting Appeal
It is a story you might want to revisit, however you are not going to be able to pop it in for a couple of hours of mindless zombie fun.
7.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I like "action-adventure" but at times the concepts used risk getting a bit stale, this manages to avoid that and gave me a good time. Not bad for a game that seems to be going cheap.
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