Escape Dead Island Review – Starting To Banoi Me

Dead Island‘s latest spin-off is, sadly, as unfulfilling as the last ones. At least it makes me yearn to play the original again.

Developer: Fat Shark
Publisher: Deep Silver
Format: PC (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
Released: November 18, 2014
Copy supplied by publisher

02

I must confess a fair amount of fondness for Dead Island, Techland’s admittedly messy foray into tropical zombie mayhem. While not a particularly polished game, it carried with it a certain charm, marrying cooperative role-playing mechanics to hack n’ slash undead slaughter. Unfortunately, attempts to capitalize on the original game’s apparent success have failed to gain much traction. Dead Island Riptide felt like a tepid placeholder that refused to address the original game’s many varied problems, and while I barely even noticed the release of Dead Island Epidemic, the popular opinion seems to be that I didn’t miss much. Sadly, the same is true for Deep Silver’s latest spin on the series, with Escape Dead Island coming across as little more than a rushed attempt to remind us the franchise exists while Dead Island 2  remains in production.

Unlike the main series entries, Escape Dead Island  eschews a first-person perspective, co-op features, crafting, and leveling systems, and instead gives us a third-person stealth/action game with a cel-shaded visual style. As wannabe cameraman Cliff Calo, players visit the tropical paradise of Narapela, ready to document the mysterious plague that annihilated Banoi in the original game. As one might expect, everything goes to buggery and the dead start shambling in hungry droves. Well, not exactly droves – more like awkward little clusters that don’t really seem to know what they’re doing.

Escape Dead Island is a bit of an empty game, found desperately wanting in heart, soul, and presentation. It doesn’t help that everything seems everso slightly unfinished. The sound effects are limp in their dampened half-heartedness, while animations are stuttery and glitchy. Enemies attack through walls, and the scenery overall is overtly artificial. While cel-shading can make anything look passably pretty enough, the graphics here are nonetheless rudimentary in nature, reminiscent of the kind of earlier cel-shaded visuals one might find in games several generations old. Cliff and his zombie opponents scarcely feel like they belong in the same world, since the inadequate audiovisual feedback during their interactions leads to an overwhelming sense of disconnect – Mr. Calo will swing at a zombie with a club or an axe, there’ll be excessive amounts of blood, but there’s no real impact there, no feeling like you’re actually tearing into the creatures as they fall to the ground in mute, unimpressive clumps.

03

The island of Narapela is small and constrained, as evidenced by the sheer amount of backtracking undertaken throughout the game. Expect to see the same environments, and traverse the same dull, empty caverns several times over as Cliff huffs it on foot from one destination to another and back again. Along the way, one will be expected to sneak past or dismember a variety of zombies, from the standard shamblers, to ranged spitters and ever-deadly butchers. Some stealth has been casually implemented, as Cliff can crouch to sneak up on creatures and put them down with a one-hit kill, though doing so can alert other zombies and the player will take damage while locked in the kill animation. Combat itself is as minimal and brainless as you can get. There’s a regular attack, a strong attack, a shove move, a sprint slash, and a woefully inadequate dodge. That’s about it. Every single melee encounter involves shoving a zombie to interrupt its own offense, then mindless pummeling it until it’s dead, with that same lifeless sense of disconnect I’ve already discussed. The butcher requires a little bit more finesse, since he’s got a range of abilities and constantly blocks, but even he goes down simply enough once you nail the repetitive patterns. During the course of the game, Cliff also acquires a handful of ranged weapons, for some simplistic over-the-shoulder gunfire. At least here, there’s a little satisfaction, as pulling off a headshot slows the game down briefly and allows one a good look at the cartoony skullsplosion.

If Escape had been given more time in the oven to properly bake, there’s probably something good that could have been done here. As with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, a comic-inspired spin-off with a greater emphasis on over-the-top action is a nice idea, but just like with Tecmo Koei’s little experiment, the resulting product is severely underdone. The game’s narrative especially could have been more impressive, if the script had been given a little more “oomph” – the usual “shady corporation” narrative is infused with bizarre hallucinations and seemingly supernatural events, in scenes that borrow a considerable amount of stylistic inspiration from television’s Lost. If only the combat had been deeper, or at least refined enough to feel satisfyingly dynamic in any way, shape or form. If only the stealth mechanics weren’t so utterly stale. If only the weak attempts at Metroidvania style progress wasn’t held back by  so much involuntary backtracking and no real incentive to ever want to explore fresh areas with any new tools one picks up. If only the stamina bar that governs attacking, sprinting, shoving, and dodging wasn’t such an annoying bloody thing.

04

Part of what makes Dead Island  appealing as an idea is that it isn’t just another shallow zombie hack n’ slash game. The mainstay entries pinch a lot from the Borderlands series to maintain a consistently interesting atmosphere, with tons of loot, plenty of unlockable skills, multiple characters, and a fun weapon crafting system. None of that’s in Escape, leaving us stuck with just another shallow zombie hack n’ slash – one that’s especially remarkable in its vapidity. As one trudges through the experience, medkits can be found to add “Plus One Health,” though there are no actual health bars on display – it’s all regenerative. Weapons are drip fed throughout the game, and all more or less behave the same way, not even providing noticeable damage upgrades. Every now and then, you’ll uncover a new progression item – like a grappling hook to reach high places, or a lever axe to jimmy open stuck doors – but the non-linear uses for such items are few and far between, and the rewards found beyond do little to inspire encouragement. As a photographer, Cliff can use his camera to snap shots of noteworthy objects and scenes throughout the story, and there’s no real reason for doing so other than going through an arbitrary “yay videogame content” checklist.

I’ve played far worse games than this. I encountered no egregious, game-breaking glitches, and for as exanimate as the combat and stealth mechanics are, at least they’re functional, as inoffensive as they are unimpressive. But it’s just so completely, exhaustingly boring. There’s nothing to it. It plods along, doing very little to ever annoy its audience, but doing precisely diddly-squat to ever entertain it, either. It’s just… there. From beginning to end, Escape Dead Island is a game that’s simply… there. An unambitious, consequently undistinguished little endeavor, something that indeed just appears to be playing for time while Dead Island 2 gears itself up for release. It’s the two-bit local band that’s been trotted out onstage to do a barely passable job of warming the crowd before the act they came to see comes on. What would a musical equivalent of the Dead Island series be? I don’t know. Ratt or something.

5/10
Mediocre

Joshua Steele
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Joshua Steele

I didn’t even know there were games past the first Dead Island, talk about great advertising.

Collette
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Collette

I like how the score is just some tiny little thing at the bottom like it’s just sorta there because its expected. Nice little contrast to the Escapist where you see the stars before you even read the article.

Pascal
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Pascal
I didn’t even know this game was a thing until just now. Somewhat disappointing that they don’t seem to get it, I believe Dead Island had a good base to build a better game with. Guess I’ll wait and see how Dead Island 2 turns out before I give up on seeing that hypothetical game come to fruition. I know that it is a sort of advertisement so you might not want to but most people that review PC version usually give a rough outline of the rig they’re on. Also you may wish to state for fans that don’t… Read more »
Mel
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Mel

Jim! Great review!

Also, how about some site color options? A dark theme would be easier on the eyes, imo.

I love dark themes.

Baikonur
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Baikonur

Mmm, dark themes…

John
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John

Ah, i knew this was going to be a crappy piece of mess as soon as it was announced, sorry to hear you had to deal with its shittyness, Jim. Here’s hoping other games you review are an improvement instead of being sucky xD

BeAngry
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BeAngry

I can’t say say I didn’t see this coming…. I still don’t understand why they’re treating dead island like it’s some sort of mega franchise capable of supporting multiple titles.

trackback

[…] Meanwhile, the Mighty Jim Sterling’s accurate review calls the game “boring” and “mediocre” […]

SIGMUS
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SIGMUS

Thanks jim, picking this up asap.

Adam
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Adam

Yay! Your reviews are now mobile friendly! Great stuff Jim.

Leslie
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Leslie

Thanks for the review Jim. I was a fan of the first 2 dead island games, good stupid fun. Wasn’t sure what to expect from this game but it came across just from the limited marketing even as a throwaway game they tossed together in hope of a simple cash grab.

Sadly from your view it doesn’t sound like it’ll even be worth the time when it drops 80% or so on a steam sale.

Rawbeard
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Rawbeard

Nice, Jim is starting out good. Thank GOD for him.

SilentPony
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SilentPony
Is it fair to say zombies are played through? Between Left 4 Dead(&2) giving us the gritty-ish, co-op FPS scary-ish game, Dead Rising giving us the cathartic pink tutu and battleaxe game, Lolipop Chainsaw giving us zombie wank material, Stubbs the Zombie giving us a 50s future with a great soundtrack game(terrible steam port BTW. Couldn’t even kill the first NPC the hit detection was so bad. Take a look Jim; Its really something!) and arguably The Walking Dead giving us the playable manga type story driven game, is it fair to say zombies are over? There is nothing left… Read more »
Alebelly
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Alebelly

There is the new Goat MMO Simulater.

Moving Unit
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Moving Unit

I hated the first Dead Island so will definitely not like this. Was hoping this had more promise as I like what they are going for with the dead island series, I just think they ain’t pulled it off yet.

DEADLIFE
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DEADLIFE

Good first review. I mean, disappointing that it was a bad game and I’m sorry you had to suffer through it, but a good read.

SugeBearX
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SugeBearX

Struck from the wishlist. Thanks Jim…nothing about a zombie apocalypse should ever be boring. 🙂 Grats on the move by the way. I always follow your stuff and I always will.

cirdanx
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cirdanx

i can only second that, in every way 😉

Bryan
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Bryan

Hey you may want to put a page up here, somewhere, with you review scoring policy. People who don’t know you may not get that 5 is not the end of the universe they may think it is.

Colorwind
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I didn’t know this game was coming out this week but when I first heard this announced, it intrigued me. I guess it was mostly the trailer since I’ve never played any of the Dead Island games, mostly due to me hearing about all the glitches and problems they have. It kind of sucks that the game is just mediocre in your opinion. However, if the combat is how you say it is and the stealth is barely in the game, then it’s not the game I thought it was going to be. I would like to ask more about… Read more »
Jason Guarnieri
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Jason Guarnieri

Brilliant wordplay in the title Jim.

Ryan Austin
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Ryan Austin

Nice review, Jim. Much more enjoyable to read on the new site, by the way. Didn’t even know this game was a thing.

Alebelly
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Alebelly

The Borderlands skill tree was brilliant, though GB really had no clue if it would be popularly accepted. Move forward, and Diablo 3 has redefined the base skill tree. I’m always worried that we’ll see more ape and not innovation on new consoles. This gen has a distinctly different feel to it than the last generational transition. Publishers have grown so big an unwieldy. Idk …

Alebelly
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Alebelly

I am a bit of a vocabulary whore, thanks again

Mister Bork
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Mister Bork

The Dead Island guys should stop making games and start making only teasers. They don’t even need to make the game they are teasing. Just make another fucking amazing teaser

HankIronically
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HankIronically

Exactly! Making a good trailer is hard work. And the Dead Island ones are just awesome.

Matt
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Matt

Worth noting – this game is NOT made by Techland (creators of Dead Island and DI: Riptide). Techland isn’t making DI 2 either. They are working on Dying Light now.

Krooner
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Krooner

They should get to work on a sequel to ‘Call of Juarez: Gunslinger’, instead of wasting everyones time.

Even Luck
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Even Luck
Once again, excellent job with the new direction. Sorry for the barrage of links to your Twitter and Facebook page yesterday and today, just wanted you to have a little laugh of what most likely transpired over at ImminentUprising (has that been resolved yet, by the way?) I’ve actually been playing the original Dead Island, and even though I still don’t like it that much, I find it relaxing. It has a huge open world to explore, the combat is clunky but satisfying in a dumb way, and the weapons are pretty nifty. It’s got some balance issues later in… Read more »
Alebelly
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Alebelly

Nice review, thanks. Glad you reviewed the PC copy. I’ll probably pick it up after the christmas holidays.

Cameron
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Great review, Mr. Sterling. I’ve never even heard of this game before reading this.

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