This is not a straight-forward, hack and slash game like the others, but is instead an amalgamation of different genres. As such, you can expect to find mechanics from not only the third-person shooter genre, but also stealth titles and those with melee combat from a behind-the-back camera angle. Nestled in the middle of all of that is a half-hearted take on the Metroidvania design, wherein discovered upgrades must be used to unlock previously inaccessible locations. The result is something that I never expected from the Dead Island franchise, complete with more backtracking than I would’ve preferred.
Strewn throughout Narapela Island are various forms of helpful items and weapons, including a rope, a gas mask, an axe, a pistol and a shotgun. You’ll use these tools to get from point A to point B, then back again, as you attempt to find something that will save your pretty friend’s life.
Generally speaking, the gameplay consists of moving around the island and dispatching whatever stands in your way, either by being stealthy or engaging in all-out conflict, using bladed melee weaponry or hot lead. It’s a pretty simple design that knows what it is and doesn’t advertise itself as being anything else, and it succeeds in middling fashion. The combat is both okay and serviceable, but it doesn’t stand out, while the stealth mechanics leave something to be desired. Sometimes the zombies you’ll slowly crouch towards will be oblivious to your presence, even if you’re partially in their line of sight, but other occasions will present them as keen-eyed guard dogs. It’s really up to chance, and makes stringing together a ton of stealth takeouts challenging.
Of course, what would a zombie game be without guns and explosive barrels. Escape From Dead Island is full of the red canisters. They’re not as helpful as you’d expect, but they can be in a pinch, despite rather lengthy waits between the first shot and the resulting boom. Appreciably, the gunplay is a bit better than its complementary barrels, although far from perfect. Headshots are important, as are close-quarters shotgun blasts, but the hit detection isn’t always the best. There were times where I thought that I had a perfectly placed headshot lined up, and would go on to send a bullet whizzing to the side of the enemy’s head.
Speaking of enemies, Escape Dead Island borrows most of its designs from other games of its ilk. This means that you’ll encounter not only traditional shamblers, but also spitters and pouncers. That said, the biggest pain in the ass happens to be the Wolverine-esque zombies, who can use their claws to deflect incoming bullets and block melee attacks. You need to force them to get their guard down before landing anything, which can be annoying when you’re engaged in battle with several other foes. In fact, therein lays one of this game’s biggest faults: Its reliance on choke points to add both length and artificial difficulty during its latter half. I was enjoying myself for the first four hours, but then became annoyed as I turned the page and embarked on the final leg, as it turned into a series of fights against an almost unfair amount of enemies.
Combat isn’t the focus here, but it does play a major role. What the game revolves around, though, are exploratory fetch quests. You’ll go from one part of the island to another, in order to fetch things like key cards, just so that you can progress further. Then, you’ll return to those locations later on, with a new gadget in hand. Your focus is the story, not a high kill tally, but you may just end up with both if you play your cards right.
All of this is built around a plot that could easily be called an attempted mind fuck. It’s not long before Cliff begins to experience vivid hallucinations, which cause gravity to reverse and result in altered states of paranoia. Linda is said to be dead early on, but she continually calls the player over their radio, and toys with them. Not only that, but at the end of every hallucination (some of which result in altered colour palettes), Cliff wakes up inside of what first resembles a dorm room but quickly turns out to be the inside of a shipping container. It’s weird, to say the least.
Cliff’s delusions make you question who he is, and what exactly is going on. Are you an aspiring journalist who’s trying to prove something to his highly-decorated and money-flush father? Or, are you someone else? And just who is Linda? Furthermore, did she survive being bitten by the zombie, or is her voice a figment of your imagination? These are questions that will swim around in your mind as you venture throughout Narapela Island in search of clues and collectibles, of which there are many.
The end result is an odd game that starts off alright, but then becomes marred by poor design. It’s certainly not a high-budget affair, nor is it a forgettable one, the former of which is made evident by its cringeworthy dialogue, terrible voice acting, cheaply Cel-shaded visuals, visual stuttering and freeze bug. That said, I didn’t hate it, nor did I dislike it. Escape Dead Island is, to me, a strange interactive trip that adds insight into what went on in two other games that I enjoyed. Not a bad or awful experience, but not necessarily anything I’d call good, either.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Escape Dead Island complements the mainline series' plot well, but doesn't shine in the process. With poor writing, cringeworthy dialogue and mechanics that are merely stolen from other games, it's far from anything to write home about. Still, even with these issues, it manages to be relatively fun and somewhat interesting throughout its six to eight hours.