Escape Dead Island –  Review
Follow Genre: Stealth/Action
Developer: Fatshark
Publisher: Deep Silver
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Tested on: PC

Escape Dead Island – Review

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Good: Story, cell-shaded zombie slaying.
Bad: Character silhouettes, clumsy stealth & fight mechanics.
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Out of the recent overload of zombie games, one franchise has really stood out as a divisive force to be reckoned with. Using a phenomenal, deeply emotional trailer which seemed to fully capture the sense of apocalypse associated with the genre, the open world game Dead Island enticed many players with its promise of a true survival experience. While it did deliver on this promise, leaving us stranded on the infested island Banoi, its lack of a decent story and the plethora of bugs ultimately divided zombie enthusiasts into two groups. You either loved the game for its detailed environments and the endless ways you could slay walking corpses, or you despised it for its flaws. All of this was also true for its successor Riptide, and now Escape Dead Island… Well… Pretty much turns this paragraph into an ever repeating chorus.



Whether a player loves or hates Escape Dead Island largely depends on the story, as it takes every cliché in the book and throws them in a tropical cocktail mixer. It’s all there: the love story, stranded youngsters, an evil corporation, the friend who’s bitten and changing throughout the game and many more developments you’ll see coming from miles away.

And yet, developer Fatshark manages to keep it all interesting because of its main character, Cliff, a laughably unlikeable spoiled rich kid that slowly descends into madness as the story progresses. Every single moment in the game is spent wondering if it is all really happening while the game constantly feeds this doubt. Cliff often awakes after crucial events, for instance, which suggests that these events were just dreams. This would be a logical conclusion as the sudden lightning storms and cars falling from the skies did seem a bit weird. However, considering that that shotgun he found within this “dream” is still hanging from his shoulders after he has awoken, would make it seem otherwise…



Storywise, the game leaves its players with a lot of questions after completion of the game, which is perhaps not that bad since it is meant to bridge the gap between Dead Island and the upcoming Dead Island 2. A whole lot less interesting, though, is the way the visuals often confuse its players as well.

Instead of following the main franchise and using realistic environments, Fatshark has chosen to portray Cliff’s adventure using cell shaded graphics, clearly aiming for a comic bookish style. Whenever he shoots or swings a weapon, onomatopoeia such as “Boom” and “Whack” are shown, enhancing the comic book feel. One aspect of this style, however, should have never made it into the game. While in graphic novels, it is common not to fill in the visual details of unimportant or far away characters, this practice actually harms the gameplay here. Oftentimes, only a silhouette of zombies is shown, leaving the player to guess which way is facing.

Luckily, except for this caveat, the game does look stunning most of the time. The island is beautiful and exudes colourfulness, contrasting greatly against the bloody story.



Just like the graphics, the sound design is not without its faults. None of the handful of (living) characters in the game is even remotely likeable due to a combination of clichéd story writing and less than stellar voice acting. While the dialogues do have their moments, it’s just not enough for a retail game. Had this been a downloadable budget title, this would have never been a problem, but with great price comes great responsibility!


Up until now, Escape Dead Island does seem pretty good, doesn’t it? A psychological twist on horror clichés, decent graphics and a fairly standard sound design should be enough to support the core of any game, which is of course how it is played.


This is where things go south more quickly than an undead penguin. The game is advertised as a survival horror stealth game, but this is not true at all. Sure, you start out weak and unarmed, sneaking past a few biters and taking them out silently from up close. It doesn’t take that long, though, before you’re running around wielding an axe and pistol, slashing everything that comes close to you – if only because the stealth mechanics are so clumsy that there is no real fun in using them. It’s just sneak – press “Use” – kill. Rinse and repeat.Oh well, at least you get to slash some walkers! How could that go wrong?

Pretty easily, it seems. Fatshark has discovered a recipe for disaster here, making Cliff’s “fast” attack slower than those of some enemies and his heavy attack so slow and weak that it is damn near useless. Many creatures even run faster than him, which kind of upsets the whole man versus zombie theme. As long as Cliff is battling normal zombies, it’s fairly easy to handle, but the special types can be a real pain when combined with a few others.

When you eventually get through it all, Escape Dead Island rewards this effort with an extremely difficult and unfair boss battle, throwing all the undead types at you at the same time without ever having given you the opportunity to practice this. All stealth is also thrown out of the window at that time, leaving players no other choice than to keep on trying to get that one lucky strike they need to finish the game – and then probably, never ever play it again.



While Escape Dead Island does have its merits, they are not enough to keep it afloat in the sea of zombie games. Both as a stealth and as a slasher game, it fails miserably. Even worse, this review has only discussed the gameplay as it should work. The game breaking bugs and Cliff-killing glitches have not even been mentioned yet, but suffice it to say that frustration is common on this island. The story might save the experience for some, asking more questions than it answers and descending into psycho territory as it progresses. Combined with the mediocre sound design and visual issues, however, this should be a budget title at best.

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Tom Cornelis

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