Developed by Swedish game studio Fatshark, Escape Dead Island is a non-canonical spin-off of the Dead Island franchise and follows the story of Cliff Calo. Cliff is determined to figure out what happened on the island of Banoi, where the first game took place, so he decides to set sail with a group of his friends to find the truth and bring it to light. As it turns out, it’s a lot easier said then done. The ship crashes on an island in the Banoi archipelago and before long things start to get crazy as zombies emerge and start taking everybody out. Cliff doesn’t take this whole experience well as he starts to hallucinate different scenarios and see or remember things that may or may not have actually happened. As he gradually slips into madness over the whole situation, will Cliff be able to bring the truth to light? Will he even be able to get off the island? That’s what Escape Dead Island hopes to answer over the course of the 10 to 12 hour campaign.
The story is interesting, but fails to really deliver in a unique or original way. All of the characters and situations outside of Cliff’s mental breaks are cliches and tropes we’ve seen in a dozen other horror games. It’s by no means bad, as the voice acting is incredibly solid and Cliff is a likeable hero, but there were numerous times while I was playing where I felt like I’d done a mission before, except in a completely different game. It’s a shame too considering the fact that the breaks with reality are probably one of the most interesting aspects of the game and almost justify the purchase of the game itself, especially in the latter part of the campaign. The only issue is that these breaks come a little too sporadically early on in the game, leaving itself to rely solely on its plot, which isn’t nearly as interesting.
Unlike the series which it’s spinning out of, Escape Dead Island is a cell shaded third-person shooter. Like most zombie games, there are elements of survival horror scattered throughout, like a stealth mechanic, makeshift weapons and generally making the zombies stronger than you are, but realistically you’re probably going to spend most of your time whacking and shooting zombies, dodging when necessary and plowing through anything that gets in your way. Once you reach the last third of the game, it’s basically just shooting fish in a barrel. It’s not deep by any means, but it all works fine and can provide a nice cathartic experience if you feel like you’re in the mood for killing a bunch of zombies.
One really cool aspect of the gameplay though is all the collectables you can get and the ways you can retrieve them all. Between photo ops, postcards, audio logs and a number of different things, you could easily spend another 10 or so hours scouring the island looking for any and all collectables. What makes this even more interesting is that the longer you play and unlock certain gear and upgrades, you can then go back to previously explored areas to try and find everything you might have missed before. It’s very Metroidvania, but it’s done right due to the fact that almost everything you collect holds some sort of significance to the overall plot and can help fill in some gaps that would have otherwise been left open. It feels significant, not just something tacked on to artificially extend the life of the game.
While the main story fails to rise above it’s tropes, and the gameplay doesn’t do anything to add to the already crowded genre, Escape Dead Island is still an enjoyable game with a cool style, a great soundtrack and a unique look at the psychological strain that a zombie outbreak can leave on somebody. It doesn’t break the mold and it certainly won’t be remembered five years from now, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I had fun with it and for the right price, maybe you can too.