Dead Island is a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In the original games you could run around a tropical island with makeshift weapons to send zombies back to death. You could even invite friends along for the ride, to create some fond memories in paradise while cracking skulls. And now have Escape Dead Island, which allows you to do absolutely none of those things while telling the story of rich kid Cliff Calo, son of a media mogul who wants to get his father’s attention by by exposing what happened in Banoi and the surrounding areas.
In Escape Dead Island Cliff along with two of his friends, Linda and Devan, end up on the island of Narapela where they believe the original outbreak began. They’re there to expose GeoPharm and let the world know what really happened, though things go wrong for them right from the off. It’s all set up nicely for Escape to tell a story of three naive people who must survive on an island using their own wits against the undead.It’s too bad none of that potential is actually realised, instead giving a lifeless tale.
Before I go further I want to state the positives of Escape Dead Island, which can be done in one paragraph. I personally think the cel shaded look actually adds to the experience, and the areas when you’re outside, for example the beach, look really good. The hand drawn mini cutscenes are also well put together. The visual design is pretty much the only thing Escape truly has going for it. The rest leaves a lot to be desired.
The game’s trailer showed Cliff having breakdowns and seeing things that weren’t really there. Those moments do happen in the game but, apart from one experience in a tunnel, they add literally nothing to Escape’s atmosphere. In fact in some instances these insights into Cliff’s mind are annoying because of how boring they really are; they actually convey how you’ll feel while playing Escape: lost and confused as to why you bothered with it in the first place.
It wouldn’t be a zombie slaying game without the act of slaying, and the zombies themselves. There are a few different types of zombie in Narapela including the likes of the Spitter, which fires green poison at you, the Butcher, who looks like a knock off of Mortal Kombat’s Baraka, and also the standard zombie fodder. For an island that is apparently ground zero of the zombie outbreak it’s actually rather quite devoid of the undead.
You can go for a little while without seeing any zombies, then maybe finding a small group of them. You’d think facing a group of zombies would be pretty fun, but even here Escape seems to have taken any enjoyment from that particular activity. With melee weapons you have a quick attack or a heavy attack, and that’s it. If you’re sneaking then you can kill zombies with stealth attacks, of course.
Most of the time you can get away with just stealth killing an entire group of the undead, because of how slow their reactions are. You can crouch walk right next to a zombie, and it will take a little while to work out you’re even there. Also, there is no point in the heavy attack because by the time the attack animation has concluded Cliff’s probably ended up as zombie chow.
The guns you get don’t feel any stronger than a BB gun, and Escape ignores the old rule of a single shot to the head ending a zombie. At least two shots are required for that, and ammo is scarce enough anyway. If you get in danger you can find health packs that give you more health, but Escape never makes it clear how this works since you don’t have a health bar.
In terms of what the island has to offer outside of its looks, there’s really not much. You can wander around the limited areas and pick up collectibles that give insight of what happened in Narapela, but apart from that you’ll walk down linear paths shuffling towards your next objective. Sometimes you’ll walk along the same path a few times to get what you need. As the photographer of the group you can take pictures of areas of interest too, which also give a bit of a backstory. Other than that there are areas that are inaccessible until you get certain equipment, but unless you feel like you need to see everything there is no real conviction to go back.
In terms of character development there is none. Linda and Cliff are annoying, and Devan is tolerable because he doesn’t actually speak that much. Cliff states that making noise is a bad idea, but later decides to shout down a phone to Linda while standing in an echoing tunnel. Then there’s the almost offensive voice work given for cameo character, Xian Mei. I understand the character is Chinese but having someone put on a fake accent for the role is insulting, especially because of how badly it is done. To find out that same person also voices Faith in Mirror’s Edge makes it that little bit worse, because that was some good work there.
To put it simply Escape Dead Island is a cash grab using the Dead Island name, before the franchise completely moves to the new consoles with Dead Island 2. There’s nothing really satisfying about Escape Dead Island, even if you are a huge fan of zombies or Dead Island.
If you want a zombie game set on a tropical island then play the other games in the series, if you want a silly but fun zombie game then get any of the Dead Rising games, and if you want a zombie game that focuses heavily on story, and does it well, then Telltale’s The Walking Dead is for you. With all those options available there is no reason for Escape to exist, but it does. That isn’t enough of an excuse to buy it.
Version tested: PS3