Escape Dead Island X360 [REVIEW] #deadislandretrospective

Since Dead Island 2 was just starting his first cycle of development and so there won’t be anything to show anytime soon, Deep Silver figured it was better to keep milking the franchise to keep it relevant in the public eye, so they launched a MOBA style spin-off with Dead Island Epidemic on Steam and a console & PC stealth oriented spin-off, Escape Dead Island.

Since Dead Island Epidemic never left open beta and by 2015 was discountined, i’m not that surprised that people even forgot it ever existed (i learn it was ever a thing only years later by doing some research), but you might have some recollection of Escape Dead Island, developed by Fatshark (Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, Hamilton’s Great Adventure, Warhammer: Vermintide 1 and Vermintide 2) and released for PS3, X-Box 360 and PC.

Playing the X-Box 360 in this case, though i understand the console versions are nigh identical.

Set as a sorta prequel-side story to the original game, Escape Dead Island wants to explain the origins of the first epidemic that kicked off into full zombie pandemic, and puts you in the shoes of Cliff Calo, a rich kid that wants to be noticed by daddy-o by going with two of his friends on the isle of Narapela and doing a report on the origin of the epidemic that spread from the island of Banoi, while also exposing the truth about the big pharma corpo Geopharm.

There is some potential to the premise, but after the intro where you play as a ninja keeping contact with Xiao Mei (one of the survivor protagonists from the first game) investigating to find out a mole in the organzation, the plot looks to be heading somewhere…. until the game starts to abuse of hallucinations and weird visuals, to the point they muddle any sense the story could make, and become tiresome in themselves.

It’s also grating how this overdose of weird shit happening for its own sake also has the game explain any possible implications at the player, god forbid we could piece something on our own, or NOT notice that someone played Far Cry 3 a lot and wanted to ape the “Vaas” flavor regardless of context, so the final result it’s a senseless, convoluted, absurd ass mess of a story, you’ll consider the idea that MAYBE, Cliff might simply have drunkenly dreamed the entire thing on his couch.

I mean, this is as stupid as a plot you can get for a Dead Island game, spin-off or not, but the finale really seals the deal, with a briefcase floating in the ocean for a while until the game literally loops itself. I don’t mean you start at the beginning part of the game but now you’re given extra contest for that final “cutscene”, i mean the game starts your New Game plus run automatically.

I tried to play on, expecting it to be a fake out before the real finale, but nope, you’re instantly booted in New Game plus, i guess to ensure there is no “escape (from) Dead Island”. …….Groan.

In terms of gameplay, Escape Dead Island forgoes the main series first person approach for a more typical third person affair, but it keeps the series’ penchant for flipping stuff from other games into its fold, so we have stealth elements, a hack n slash style melee combat, photography, backtracking in a faux-Metroidvania fashion, with pseudo-open world style exploration.

All crammed “in there” with even less grace than the main Dead Island games, and even more under-developed as well, which is quite the something given how slapdash the mainline games already where in ribbing features from other popular games of the time.

In terms of combat there the expected array of light and heavy attacks, but the heavy attack has such a long winding animation that makes it pointless, as enemies will already have hit you at least once, like in Risen 2. You can also push zombies in enviromental hazards like electrified wires, buzzsaws, but you rarely get the option to do so, and they’re often not as efficient as simply using the quick combo of attacks. Same goes for the ability to do a running kick or sprint, all regulated by the familiar stamina bar, you’ll forget that you even have these moves in your arsenal, they are just… kinda there as things you can do, but probably won’t ever need to.

Speaking of “just kinda there” is the aforementioned photography element.

Don’t expect it to be like in Beyong Good And Evil, it boils down to you whipping the camera (which the game refers to as a “photocamera”, despite cutscenes clearly showing it’s a videocamera) in some occasions, seeing if the object glows green, and taking a photo, which gets added to the collectables list, after an unrequested commentary or joke about it by our everquipping protagonist.

You can’t even do this to compile a zombi bestiary of sorts, it’d be asking too much, but then it would become even more obvious how the enemies are all recycled from the main series. It’s Dead Island, after all.

I would be critizing the option to do the usual cookie cutter contextual stealth kills being vestigial at best, but given the zombi IA, you can easily take out entire groups of zombies like these, as their alert meter fills up very slowly. Do not expect more in terms of stealth aside from turning on radios to attract the undead, you can’t even throw a brick to distract zombies or anything basic like that.

Wouldn’t be a Dead Island game if this was balanced by the lack on any real balance, so the zombies can go from being wiped out in a jiffy to become aware ever so quickly and bumrush your ass in groups that spawn behind your ass, stuff like that. Or having to traverse small rooms with a spitter zombie that’s a bit too good at poisoning you, this game LOVES to pulls off this shit to make you redo sections like those, often without even giving you enough ammo.

Speaking of which, there are guns, made to be scarce as expected, but it’s absurd how zombies can take more than 1 headshot… that is, until you get the shotgun, then you’ll understand how firearms are oddly necessary to deal with some cheap design traps, where after being taught all game to stealth kill your way through, you now have to either exploit the melee combat or use the guns to quickly deal with some annoying ass sections that would be otherwise too difficult.

Another issue lies in how it’s hard to exactly gauge your health to see if you can take one or two more hits before dying, since the game opts for a FPS style of regenerating health discernable from how much blood spatters are on the screen, but it’s kinda shit, sometimes you die instantly from some hits, other times you’ll randomly survive the same blows.

You can improve things with collectable medkits, but it’s hard to tell if they make any difference since the spotty health regen system and the aforementioned UI, so even when technically overpowered, you still feel kinda weak because of this health system.

Boss encounter are often as cheap and frustrating, as they become more and more annoying to deal with, as if you won’t go down after 2 hits from the boss draining all your health, the swarms of other zombies that spawn in will do the job, so you’ll want to end these fights as soon as possible, despite the melee weapon can’t even rely much on the dodge, as it’s a bit iffy and runs on stamina as well.

I briefly mentioned “pseudo open-world elements” before, because if you don’t have a certain tool or weapon, you can’t get past/break specific obstacles, but since there are no real subquests, there’s really no valid reason to wander off and not follow the next objective marker, and it’s all a pretense, since it’s all very linear, with some backtracking which will make you notice how actually small is the island itself and how the game is desperately trying to get the most out of it.

There are no real progressions system, skill trees or even crafting, the weapons and tools are upgraded and obtained when the story says so, or otherwise impossible to miss.

Not that this spin-off needed to copy the bootleg Borderlands skill trees or whatever, but it’s clear there is the case of not really wanting to copy from the main games to save time and/or money, which makes me miss a bit the ability to craft an electrical knife that also doubles as sticky bomb.

One aspect where this Fat Shark developed spin-off resembles the main series it’s bugs, even in the prologue i saw the game forget to load the interior of a room, making me wander in the dark to my death for unknownly getting out of the game’s code by accident, forcing me to reload the checkpoint and find the player character straight up not showing up in cutscenes. Happened twice. In a row.

Even outside of the prologue, the game can end up not loading all the textures and assets of an area, so you can again die by falling in the unprogrammed void, stop enterirely because it has to load for 10 seconds out of the blue. I also encountered a freeze in the final level (thankfully not at the final boss, but still), had a character ragdoll like it’s one of those shitty asset flips on Steam, or when i was respawned slightly inside a gate, making me unable to make the game show the prompt for opening it, while letting me hit the enemies throught the gate and not the way around.

At least there’s no major bug that completely fucks up progression, to my knowledge, but you can tell this was kind of a rush-job to remember people of this series existing while waiting for the original Dead Island 2 to arrive, from the notable, often rampant pop-in, not so great framerate (even in cutscenes that are just sliding artworks/vignettes), graphical glitches and general tendency to have character models slide into each other or get stuck in scenery.

I will say that the cel shading is nice enough, though it feels this graphical style was chosen simply because it was “all the rage” at the time of release (and had the bonus effect in helping masking the quality of some textures), since the story takes itself seriously, without any real comedic undertones or hints of it, actually quite often po-faced in presenting some ridiculous shit.

In terms of content, it’s a single player adventure that will require 6/7 hours to finish, still feeling a bit longer than necessary, with a New Game + and some collectables to get, alongside a free (at least it was at the time for the 360 version) DLC area.

Not much else to say in this regard, there’s not even a tacked on secondary mode that nobody would care about but at least would please reviewers and players obsessed with the “hour per buck” mentality.

Like the mainlines games, Escape Dead Island does try to incorporate a lot of gameplay styles and systems into its fold by ripping it from other games, but in this case developer Fatshark didn’t manage to make one of the features the main one, so the various action, hack n slash, exploration and stealth elements are functional, do not clash, but neither complement each other, as the various systems are basic enough to exist alongside each other, so by design its compromise after compromise, ergo not a solid gameplay core stands out on top after all.

It’s not bad either, but the shitty, po-faced and generic story don’t help, especially with the oddly serious tone and the random, sheepish choice to have cel-shaded graphics, because other games at the time had go for this art style. Alongside tenous callbacks to the characters from the mainline series and overabundance of Far Cry 3-esque dream/trippy scenes , and i can summarize the quality of writing and jokes by pointing out there’s an achievement displaying a ninja hooded “doge” dog.

It’s a wishy-washy, middle of the road game that – in keeping with the series’ nature – can provide some entertaiment despite not being good regardless of how you slice it, because it’s not bad either, and now that it can had for peanuts it’s relatively short lenght (it’s a 7 hours single player only affair with not much to collect in New Game plus), fans of the series might want to play this as well for completition’s sake, it can be enjoyed but keep in mind it’s pretty much what it felt at the time, as in something to keep the series relevant in the market and buying time for Dead Island 2.

Honestly i don’t think it was bad enough to be excluded from the Dead Island collection, this is not a franchise that can be proud of being picky with itself, at all.



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