The lights are on
Announced in the beginning of July, Escape Dead Island is a brand new game that fits into the Dead Island narrative, but has a different art style and mechanics from what we've come to understand makes a Dead Island game. Upon announcement, it was unclear exactly what Escape Dead Island was meant to be, but after playing the game at San Diego Comic Con, we have a better idea of what the game is attempting to accomplish.
I played the game with creative director Robin Flodin and creative producer Jon Smallwood on hand to answer my questions. According to them, the game is meant to be a missing link amongst the Dead Island games, and will serve an important role in fleshing out the rapidly expanding franchise. The game stars Cliff Calo, a young man from a rich a family who decides to take his friends out on a boat to shoot a documentary after his father disowns him. They end up crash landing on an island where the zombie outbreak has occurred and things get strange very quickly, even beyond the fact that the dead have come back to life.
Unlike the protagonists of previous Dead Island games, Cliff is not immune to the zombie disease. Rather than build up his weapons and strength to summon what basically amounts to zombie-fighting super powers, Cliff must employ stealth. In my playthrough, I came across a screwdriver and used it to sneak by behind zombies and kill them quietly. On one occasion I alerted a zombie to my location. As the zombie got closer, an exclamation point over the zombies head slowly filled with red as the danger heightened. I went into hiding, and eventually the zombie gave up. Flodin pointed out that while it is typical in stealth games for your enemy to give up and move on, it rarely makes sense, but it's likely that a mindless zombie would truly give up after a few seconds.
Before finding the screwdriver, Cliff found a piece of rope, which he used to rappel from high heights. Items found in Escape Dead Island are permanent inventory items that do not break. They each have their own uses in environment exploration or combat. Flodin wants the items to function more like those of a Zelda game. Later in the demo I found a club, which I recognized I could use to break down flimsy walls from the previous area if I was interested in backtracking.
Flodin and Smallwood say the main sources of inspiration for the game come from video games like Eternal Darkness, TV shows like Lost, or movies like Memento. It's meant to be a strange, mysterious, cerebral experience as opposed to a horror one. This is one of the reasons a cel-shaded art style was pursued as it would let the team push the limits of what is accepted in reality, while also setting itself apart from the other Dead Island games.
Right before the end of my demo, as Cliff was rounding a beach, a gigantic shipping container fell from the sky. Cliff looked up, and saw a whole storm of shipping containers dropping from above, but there appeared to be no source. One of the containers fell on Cliff, knocking him out, and when he awoke, presumably hours later, only one shipping container was present, as opposed to the hundreds we saw earlier.
With inspiration from shows like Lost and the game Eternal Darkness, I am curious to see where the mystery goes and how the game is able to play with player perception. Upon announcement, I thought Escape might just be an unspectacular spinoff for Dead Island, but after playing he game for a few minutes I am interested to see where it is going and how it plans on getting there.
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