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Escape Dead Island Has More Than the Undead to Contend With

Sneaking to answer the questions of Dead Island

Escape Dead Island (2)

When I head of the premise behind Escape Dead Island it did seem vaguely promising in idea. A third-person, narrative-driven, survival horror experience set in the Dead Island universe – what’s not to love? However, after having gone hands on with it at this year’s Gamescom it’s most certainly not the beast I expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, after all it’s something different, but it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s going to be delivering the scares you might expect – although there’s tension aplenty.

Playing as a “rich and entitled douchebag” known as Cliff Calo, you set off to the tropical island of Banoi to film a documentary about what happened there – as this is set six months after Dead Island. Of course, things don’t go to plan and you end up washed up on the smaller island of Narapela nearby, which is conveniently where the virus originated from. It’s here that our hands-on demo time starts, and we’re off in search of clues for what’s occurring on the island, and that means a trip down to the beach.

So, a rather perfect frame for our adventure to begin as we work through the stealth sections of gameplay. The point here is that Escape Dead Island isn’t about a super-strong immune hero “we wanted to tell the story of a single individual and not the immune superhero of the original Dead Island,” explains the Deep Silver representative guiding our session. “Just someone who’s the every-day, average person.” This means that sneaking is definitely a viable option to get past practically everything you can. This isn’t the only option, as our guide stresses, “I wouldn’t necessarily say you have to rely on stealth, but stealth can definitely help you… Cliff is a normal guy so going up against a giant wave of zombies may not be the best idea. So picking them off one-by-one and going into battle afterwards might be the best way to approach it.”

But for this part of the preview, stealth really was the only option as Cliff was flat out of anything else of use and there were zombies shuffling about the place to boot. It wasn’t too tasking to avoid them though, thanks in part to an Assassin’s Creed-like awareness indication system. And, later on, Cliff was able to dispatch them with a sneak attack and a knife stab – making things a little easier to handle. That said, even with the comic-book art style making things seem a little less intimidating, sneaking and combat situations can really get quite tense. Yet, from footage we saw of later gameplay, the action does seem as typically brutal as ever for a Dead Island game.

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One section, which saw us creeping around an abandoned office, certainly upped the tensions with ringing phones drawing the attention of the shuffling zombies – yet when answered only cryptic answer phone messages can be heard. And this brings us onto another aspect of Escape Dead Island that oozes intrigue, Cliff is seemingly slowly going insane. He has deja vu moments, he hears voices from his mother, father, and friends, he’s slowly slipping away from reality as he explores this crazed island. It’s only something that we barely got to see in our preview, but – from a narrative point of view – it certainly looks to hold a lot of promise here.

It’s also one of the reasons why Fat Shark opted for a comic-book style approach to visuals. They certainly help mask the fact it’s releasing on ageing hardware, but they also add character to what could be a rather bland world. It looks, and feels, very much like XIII did. There are sound effects written out in chunky text , I can imagine cutaways coming in to show you action elsewhere, and the colour palette of a tropical nightmare suits this art style very well. But surely there’s a fear that fans will react badly to this new look? “I think there might have been concerns here and there but I think overall, once you see it all come together – with the cel-shading, with the comic text during combat, I think the way that it meshes it just works,” says the Deep Silver rep. “Once you start seeing how it affects the world when it comes to insanity, I don’t really have too much fear about how fans will react.”

And that’s quite true of all of Escape Dead Island. It’s certainly in need of some tidying up here and there – with textures clipping into each other, or animations happening nowhere near the object they’re intended to interact with – but that can be forgiven. What’s important is that this is a game that Dead Island fans can pick up ahead of Dead Island 2 and enjoy. It may not give them quite the visceral joy of maiming zombies that previous entries have, but it fills in all those narrative gaps that were left up in the air. As I said, it wasn’t what I was expecting, but I certainly left the session feeling pleasantly surprised.

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