When it comes to killing zombies in video games, Deep Silver seems to have the formula nailed down pat. Over the last few years, the company has unleashed two popular entries in the Dead Island series, and, most recently, it announced the forthcoming Dead Island 2 for 2015. In the meantime, however, it's added a startling new entry to the series, Escape Dead Island, that'll be lurching its way to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this fall.
Instead of taking place in the usual first-person stance, like other entries in the series, Escape Dead Island takes place from a third-person perspective, with an interesting story of its own. The game follows Cliff Calo, a spoiled brat who sets out to prove his father wrong after an argument drives them apart. He calls upon his friends to head out in a yacht to film a documentary, but, as you might guess, things go horribly wrong. The next thing Cliff knows, he awakens on an island with a mother of a headache, having to deal with a horde of zombies along the way.
Part of the appeal of Escape Dead Island is how it stands apart from other entries in the series, while still somewhat tying in. You won't find characters from other games here, but you will find that survival mentality that worked so well. For instance, when Cliff begins exploring the island, he's left without any weapons, meaning he has to use stealth mentality in order to avoid becoming zombie lunch. During our demo, we saw how this was utilized, as you use secondary objects to distract them, such as turning on a radio (the island gets surprisingly good reception, we might add) or turning on a car engine.
Distracting zombies is vital at first, as Cliff has to reach certain objects in order to progress on the island. This includes climbing around structures to get to a rope, and securing weapons, such as the screwdriver.
Even when Cliff brandishes a weapon of choice, that doesn't automatically turn Escape Dead Island into a hack-and-slash game. Instead, he still has to use stealth to his advantage, sneaking behind zombies and stabbing them repeatedly to bring them done. (The 60's Batman style visual effects, "THOCK! THOCK!", added a nice touch to each of the kills.) He can also sneak around and, when the situation calls for it, run away from zombie hordes, which will do good for his survival.
Although this is a change of pace from Dead Island's aggressively violent approach, it works, mainly because of the design implemented by the Swedish development team at Fatshark. Not only has it engaged in an art style that stands apart from other games in the series with a comic book motif, but the gameplay feels quite natural, whether you're securing new items to keep Cliff alive, or violently taking down a zombie from behind. Additional weaponry will also give this unlikely hero the means to bring down larger enemies in the game, who appear sooner rather than later.
Escape Dead Island also benefits from having an exploratory theme. Sometimes you'll really need to look for items that will help Cliff through his quest, while other times, the answer could be right in front of you. Even then, Fatshark's story takes you for a loop, with jarring events that you'll need to be prepared for, lest you become a blood splatter on the sand.
The cover system in Escape Dead Island works reasonably well, as you can sneak around enemies using cover points, while barely getting noticed. If you make too much noise or stay in the open too long, however, an icon will appear over the zombie's head, and you'll have to make a run for it before you lose them – or, if you're feeling homicidal, you can attempt to kill them before they put the chomp on you. (It's recommended you run first until you get a stronger weapon, just saying.)
Finally, the story in Escape Dead Island takes a few twists and turns as well, just to keep things interesting. Written by Anne Toole, Cliff's tale has plenty of moments where you'll wonder what happens next. For example, during our demonstration, large shipping crates came falling out of the sky, and it appeared that one of them managed to squash our hero flat. Yet moments later, he emerges with barely a scratch, catching up with his friends and wondering what's going to happen next. This sort of story could go a long way in keeping players addicted until it eventually plays out.
While Escape Dead Island isn't your usual gore-fest, its quirky style and stealth-based gameplay should have no trouble finding an audience. We'll provide tips on surviving the game when it arrives later this year for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. In the meantime…watch out for crates!