Compared to the next generation offering of Dead Island 2, the current generation offering of Escape Dead Island is completely different.
Dead Island is now seen as a franchise and developers Fatshark have created a very enjoyable single player experience. The story is that you are Cliff. A son of a wealthy media mogul who’s a bit of a socialite douchebag and wanted to make his impact on the world having been in daddy’s shadow for too long. You hear of the first infection from Dead Island and make the gargantuan stupid move that only rich-searching for relevance-brats can make: You get a boat and go to the island with a few friends to make a difference.
Except it doesn’t go to plan, you crash on another island in the archipelago and so you begin your slow descent into the fictional world of zombie bashing insanity. Insanity is actually very key here as the game is incredibly surreal. The descent in to madness is both a physical journey and a mental one here in Escape Dead Island. Stretching the boundaries of what your character is perceiving and leaving you to question his sanity and the reality of the world around him.
The big aid in achieving this element is the comic book art styling of the game. You might know it as cel shaded or as Borderlands style (if you’re that young). But it creates a world of 60s comic book action campness with splat’s, kapow’s and bokko’s coming from every hit. Well everything except the bokko… That was from the Young Ones, but you get the picture. It blends it well with a more modern visual styling of the world and the characters. You may think The Walking Dead both in comic book and Telltale Games feeling but I would go a step further, given the insanity aspect of it and say that it reminded me of the Keanu Reeves movie of the Philip K. Dick book “A Scanner Darkly.”
The game itself plays third person as a big semi open world arena of stealth attack and world manipulation. In fact the whole effort to keep it simple aids the game environment a lot. There’s no HUD, no inventory and simple controls. The weapons you have change and upgrade as you find things throughout the world in the staggered narrative order you’re supposed to. Narrative, especially compared to Dead Island 2 is the key thing here. It is an adventure game, not an RPG. You do get to visit places in the world you’ve already explored so that you can get things that you need or collectables.
The world environment is a wonderful, almost semi cartoonish place. It blends the more realistic elements of some things like the big cargo ship containers and the beach huts of the island, with the more surreal action that unfurls around it. The idea of the franchise of ‘Paradise Meets Hell’ is in full effect both visually and in the narrative.
The decision to go with the previous generation may seem a bit stuck in the past but actually makes good sense as most Dead Island fans will still be on the previous generation of consoles or at least own them. This will be out towards the end of this year for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It may come to next gen in future but for right now it is sticking with the old. The game does have some replay value despite being very linear and single player with a new game plus mode but there are no difficulty settings.
The atmospheric approach to this game as a spin off of the main franchise storyline is interesting and it’s certainly worth a play, especially if that is your kind of thing. The focus on hyper-reality and narrative background in the canon of the Dead Island story will make itself clear in the full game. But it isn’t going to scare you. In fact this is much more of a survival thriller and more psychological than horror. With a hint of mystery thrown in to the mix. When the game arrives later this year, hopefully we’ll understand a lot more. Or will we?