Es­cape Dead Is­land

360, PC, PS3

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Deep Sil­ver De­vel­oper Fatshark For­mat 360 (ver­sion tested), PC, PS3 Re­lease Out now

Like the bod­ies of its re­an­i­mated in­hab­i­tants, Es­cape Dead Is­land is a dis­con­cert­ing mess. Fatshark’s third­per­son, cel-shaded en­try in the Dead Is­land se­ries never set­tles on what type of game it wants to be, let alone man­ages to de­liver a con­sis­tent stan­dard of qual­ity. And de­spite its name and some en­tirely throw­away back­story, it’s dif­fi­cult to see how Es­cape fits into the se­ries, or even who it’s aimed at.

What’s clear from the start is that some­thing has gone hor­ri­bly wrong. The game be­gins with you in con­trol of flam­boy­ant Rus­sian sa­mu­rai Kilo Two, who’s in the process of in­fil­trat­ing the Geopharm fa­cil­ity on the is­land of Nara­pela, lo­cated just a few miles from the set­ting of the orig­i­nal, Banoi. Any en­thu­si­asm you might share with the con­fi­dent agent is soon eroded as the pa­tro­n­is­ing tu­to­rial slowly un­veils Es­cape’s slug­gish con­trols and in­dis­tinct com­bat. De­spite sup­pos­edly be­ing a highly trained mar­tial artist, Kilo Two moves with such lethargy that it’s like he’s al­ready reached the con­clu­sion the game’s not worth both­er­ing with. He might be on to some­thing.

The knee-high ob­struc­tions that de­fine your painfully lin­ear route through the labs prove too much for him as well; all he can muster is a re­signed crouch so as to fit through some con­ve­niently placed gaps at an even slower pace. That crouch also dou­bles up as a stealth move, en­abling you to sneak up on a docile or din­ing zom­bie be­fore vi­o­lently rup­tur­ing its carotid artery. Like many of Es­cape’s other com­po­nents, the con­cept be­hind this me­chanic is ini­tially promis­ing, but flat­footed im­ple­men­ta­tion sees it come up short. Ev­ery stealth kill plays out in ex­actly the same way, forc­ing you to watch the over­long an­i­ma­tion each time, and almost ev­ery op­por­tu­nity is pre­sented in the form of a static zom­bie with their back to you.

Com­bat is at least slightly more in­volved. Strong and weak at­tacks are com­ple­mented by a vague dodge move that may or may not get you out of dan­ger, and you can also shove zom­bies or jog to­wards them at half pelt and barge them to the ground, giv­ing you the op­tion to ini­ti­ate another lin­ger­ing an­i­ma­tion as you ex­e­cute them in ex­actly the same way, re­gard­less of which weapon you’re wield­ing at the time. There are no com­bos to be un­earthed from this sparse setup, the only real skill re­quired be­ing your abil­ity to pri­ori­tise threats or time your slower strong at­tack to coin­cide with the small win­dow in which an en­emy is stag­gered.

All of this dis­ap­point­ment comes in the open­ing few min­utes, but there’s much worse to come. Kilo Two is just a bit part, it tran­spires, and for the majority of the game you will in­stead be lum­bered with the even less ca­pa­ble, and ut­terly charm­less, Cliff Calo. Faced with a dis­ap­prov­ing me­dia mogul fa­ther, the as­pir­ing jour­nal­ist and self-con­fessed ‘douche’ does what any­one seek­ing to gain pro­fes­sional re­spect would do: steals his fa­ther’s

De­spite the name and some back­story, it’s dif­fi­cult to see how Es­cape fits into the se­ries, or even who it’s aimed at

lux­ury yacht with the help of two friends in an at­tempt to get the scoop on the events that hap­pened at Banoi. Upon ar­riv­ing, the boat mys­te­ri­ously ex­plodes and your hunt for ev­i­dence be­gins. The game, hav­ing failed at third­per­son brawl­ing and sneak­ing, now aims its fum­blings in the di­rec­tion of open worlds. Other than a few in­vis­i­ble walls and locked doors, Nara­pela is open in the sense that you can move about it at your leisure, but you shouldn’t ex­pect to find any­thing of in­ter­est away from the crit­i­cal path. The hand­hold­ing that sti­fles the pro­logue re­mains in force, with Fatshark mis­tak­ing con­stant back­track­ing be­tween rigidly de­fined ob­jec­tives for open-world play. There’s lit­tle to see on the way, ei­ther, the is­land’s hand­ful of small ar­eas linked by te­dious cave net­works or ser­vice tun­nels that are made all the more ex­cru­ci­at­ing by the sheer amount of duck­ing and crawl­ing that’s re­quired to get through them.

You won’t en­counter any en­e­mies in th­ese tran­si­tional spa­ces, but there aren’t many more to be found in the open ar­eas, ei­ther. En­coun­ters mostly num­ber three or four un­dead, many of which can sim­ply be dashed past. Fatshark ramps up the en­emy count slightly dur­ing set­pieces, but also tends to throw in an awk­ward dif­fi­culty spike for good mea­sure. You’ll be in­tro­duced to The Butcher – a hardy, fast-mov­ing creature that can block at­tacks with his dev­as­tat­ing claws and also re­gen­er­ates health with dis­heart­en­ing ra­pid­ity – with lit­tle warn­ing after hav­ing flailed your way through pre­dom­i­nantly in­ef­fec­tual foes up un­til that point. Mat­ters aren’t helped by your own vague health sys­tem, which sim­ply red­dens the screen as you take dam­age but never gives a con­sis­tent im­pres­sion of how close to death you are. And when you do start fall­ing to the un­dead, the game’s miserly check­point­ing is re­vealed, of­ten dump­ing you in the mid­dle of one of those hate­ful crawl spa­ces from a while back.

Fatshark at­tempts to in­tro­duce another el­e­ment to Es­cape in the form of what we pre­sume were meant to be un­set­tling hal­lu­ci­na­tions. You might see freight con­tain­ers fall­ing from the sky, for ex­am­ple, or un­dergo the in­cred­i­bly ir­ri­tat­ing in­ver­sion of both your view and con­trols when you en­ter a room. The idea of ques­tion­ing the lead character’s han­dle on re­al­ity is a good one, but one that Es­cape, al­ready trem­bling un­der the weight of its short­com­ings, sim­ply can­not support.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, a sce­nario or lo­ca­tion prom­ises to be some­thing more, of­fer­ing a glimpse of a game that might have been worth your time. With­out fail, how­ever, that fleet­ing sen­sa­tion is quickly un­rav­elled by ill-judged de­sign de­ci­sions and the stodgy con­trols. Es­cape’s one re­sound­ing achieve­ment, it seems, is that it has some­how man­aged to be an even poorer game than Dead Is­land: Rip­tide.

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