Escape Dead Island is nothing if not ambitious. It takes the series away from it's comfortable zombie bashing roots and attempts to tell an engaging and provocative story of horror and challenge our perception of what is real and what's not. Sadly though, attempt is the key word and Escape Dead Island fails to deliver on nearly any of it's promises. Squandering it's potential nearly every time it arises, Deep Silver's zombie departure is a boring and even insulting answer to the question of what's next for the zombie genre.
"...an exercise of just how many campy troupes one game can parade out."
Right from the start of the game, it's clear that Deep Silver wanted Escape Dead Island to feel different from the main line of games; everything from it's cell-shaded style to it's third-person view let's you know right away that this Dead Island is different. The graphic novel inspired visuals do lend themselves to the style of game very well, so much so that I couldn't help but wonder if the whole Escape Dead Island experience would work better as a graphic novel than a game. Beyond these differences, Escape Dead Island feels like an exercise of just how many campy troupes one game can parade out. Stupid kids crash land on a tropical island? Check. Zombie virus infecting them one by one? Check and check. It often feels like Escape Dead Island isn't sure if it wants to take these troupes seriously or parody themselves and the result is a misguided tale that doesn't want to commit to either.
Where Escape flirts with greatness is with the mental decline of it's main character Cliff. Throughs the Dead Island experience, Cliff begins to hallucinate and the game smartly plays with your perception of what's real and what's not. There are several really great moments where Cliff's mind begins to go but they're few and far between, leaving the space in between these moments to seem like even more of slog through the game's core gameplay. Cliff's mind completely goes towards the end of the game and though it's a cool looking experience, it doesn't transfer over to the gameplay and you're left fighting the same zombies as you were before, just in a more psychedelic state.
"...feels like a jack of all trades but master of none type of game."
That wouldn't be a problem if Escape Dead Island would commit to what kind of game it wants to be. It's too slow to be an action game and too mindless to be a survival game and a result, Escape feels like a jack of all trades but master of none type of game. Take for instance how Cliff starts the game unable to directly confront the zombies and as a result must use stealth to get around, but then midway through the game you're able to use the weapons you find throughout the island to take on your attackers head-on. The issue is that the game fails to give players a choice as to which style they want to play in the game and are forced to play how the game wants you to. It also doesn't help that enemies aren't even threatening unless they're in a group, meaning that for most of the time, there's little danger to the entire game. To Escape's credit though, none of these play styles feel bad, they just don't feel all that great either, like regardless of what you do, something feels off about both.
Escape Dead Island is also full of collectibles to find and challenges to complete but they too don't feel as fully fleshed out as they could be. The game spends too much time making you go back and re-explore areas you've been through multiple times for there to feel like there's any real sort of sense of progression. I'm no where near a completionist, but I get deterred from completing some of the game's side quests because of all of the backtracking the game asked me to do.
Deep Silver's latest Dead Island game feels like another case of just too many hands trying to stir the pot and as a result, Escape Dead Island often feels like an incomplete mess. While it does get some things right, like the cool graphic novel visual style, they're far outweighed by questionable design choices and an inability to commit to even it's own ideas. Huge fans of the Dead Island series may find something to like here, but they'd be better off waiting next year for Dead Island 2.