Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: November 18th, 2014
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PC. There may be differences between versions.
Insanity and growing as a person are neat subject that quite a few games have covered recently. Far Cry 3 showed how to do this really really well. So I’m glad that Escape Dead Island now exist to not only show everybody the absolute worse way to go about covering interesting subjects, but also how to make one of the worst games I’ve ever played.
Normal people don’t see shipping containers fall from the sky, or telephone poles grow from the ground. But then again, Cliff Calo is clearly no longer normal people. Cliff and his friends Linda and Devan arrive on the island of Narapela with the intention of discovering a government conspiracy, but things go horribly wrong after they discover a zombie outbreak. Cliff’s mental state quickly takes a dive for the worse as the stress of his normal life and his new situation begins to break him. Cliff is an interesting character with a lot of issues, and watching him try to work through everything is honestly the highlight of the game. Yet nearly every other side character isn’t nearly as interesting as Cliff. Dead Island protagonist Xian Mei has a pointless role to mostly just tie this game with the rest of the series, antagonist Aaron Welles may as well just not be in the game, and the game ends with some weird non-ending that just loops around to the beginning again because why not at this point.
Unlike the other Dead Island games, Escape Dead Island has no RPG elements to speak of, no co-op, and does not have a first person viewpoint. Instead it is a third person single player game with a larger focus on stealth. Cliff can sneak around and silently kill zombies from behind, which is a good thing as the game’s clunky combat system sure isn’t made for any kind of fighting. It also helps that the zombie’s AI is dumb as bricks. There were times that I went unnoticed despite having just delivered a shot to a zombie’s head at point blank. While it was looking right at me. There were other times I was able to preform “stealth kills” in the middle of combat, ending fights suddenly. So despite this game’s reliance on stealth, the stealth is already in a broken state.
Yet sometimes things just have to turn into an outright brawl, and this requires using the awful combat system. Cliff can use a basic light attack combo or a single heavy attack. Every swing uses a bit of his stamina, and waiting for it to recover between swings is important. Cliff can also dodge, and can push enemies into various environmental hazards for instant kills. Cliff gets four different weapons during his adventures and they range between “decent enough to work” and “why is this even in the game?” The shotgun in particular feels off: anytime I used it I could rarely get it to hit anything (even when the zombie was right in front of me) and the few times it did the damage was so little that it was basically insignificant. Cliff also gets both a fire ax and a katana, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what the differences between them were and half the time I used the katana something would glitch out and Cliff would suddenly have the fire ax again. Along the way Cliff has to fight various zombies with a few variations in between. The most annoying were butchers, who had a ton of health, did a ton of damage, and could block both attacks and bullets. Stealth killing those guys was practically mandatory. Otherwise there were some acid-spitting zombies, some zombies that leap long distances, and some zombies that could scream super loud to alert other zombies, but nothing really special among the ranks.
By far and away the most interesting part of the game involves Cliff’s psychotic breaks from reality. Some of them are small: telephone poles growing out of the ground, signs not quite saying the same thing every time Cliff looks at it, and even points where it appears the island is a living breathing thing. It’s when the game goes big with its insanity that leads to the few times Escape Dead Island can escape the clutches of dreadful and occasionally push into just plain old mediocrity. What could have been a dull backtracking segment is made far more interesting when the level redesigns itself after Cliff thinks it’s raining shipping contains, or believes he’s being chased by a train, or starts to see zombies that aren’t really there. A particularly awesome scene has a frozen lightening bolt creating a trap for enemy zombies. Yet the occasional entertainment from the insanity isn’t nearly enough to save this game.
So with these rare moments of Cliff’s insanity as the only highlight, Escape Dead Island has next to nothing to stand on. Everything about the game just feels extremely poorly done. The title Escape Dead Island feels accurate, as you should make all effort to escape from this game.