The Dead Island games have never been particularly impressive or engaging in the past, but Escape Dead Island is impressive alright. Impressively bad. This game wants to be a few different things, but it doesn’t pull any of them off. The worst part is that Escape Dead Island shows small glimpses of brilliance every now and again,showing how close it was to being good. Escape Dead Island feels like the rough draft of a good game, but one that’s bogged down by bugs, clunky and awkward controls, and downright boring backtracking. Not even the admittedly interesting narrative, told with equally appealing motion comic cutscenes, can pull this game up from its state of mediocrity.

It’s the a shame that Escape Dead Island continuously steps on its own toes and neither the gameplay nor story ever reach more than a stumble. The game itself also struggles with framerate issues, screen tearing and random crashes throughout, sometimes during the story cutscenes. Even the shift in focus later in the game to the main character’s insanity doesn’t help overcome the shortcomings. The surreal and abstract portions of the game are actually interesting and give the story some sort of depth, but the gameplay weighs it all down when you realize you actually have to play more to get more story.

Deep Silver

Escape Dead Island isn’t like the other games in the series, however. It’s a third-person action-adventure game with visuals comparable to Mad World or Borderlands. The cel-shaded graphics feel like a cheap way to mask the low polygon models and environments though, and the game ends up looking like a PlayStation 2 title because of it. Not only that, but the environments themselves are bland and devoid of any sort of creative level design. Backtracking is absolutely tedious and an obvious way to add length to and otherwise four or five hour game. The backtracking is made infinitely worse by the clumsy and repetitive combat, which is just mashing the attack button near the enemy zombies and hoping that they die before you do. You’ll quickly learn to avoid the undead like the plague if only to save yourself a few minutes of mindless button-mashing.

There are a few times where combat is unavoidable however, such as boss battles and the majority of the sections in the second half of the game, where the game really starts to show its faults. In these sections, enemies will gang up on you, and no matter how good you are at mashing that attack button, they’ll usually get the best of you. The game gives you a gun to deal with these mobs but conveniently forgot to include competent gun controls, which means you’ll be awkwardly aiming at enemies. By the time you line up a shot, the enemies will be within range to kill you. This means you’ll be repeating boss battles and combat scenarios multiple times, especially later on in the game, where the game becomes unfairly difficult.

Every mission is just a fetch quest for random items strewn across the island, forcing you to revisit the same locations over and over. What’s worse is that movement is slow and cumbersome in this game, even when sprinting. Along the way are lots and lots of health packs which all give you “Health +1,” but it’s never made clear how much health you have to start with, how much damage the enemies do, or when you have the maximum amount of health. Since your health regenerates over time, this makes collecting them almost pointless. There are also some enemies that can kill you in a finite amount of hits regardless of how many health packs you have, and later in the game these are the only enemies that appear. That’s just another example of the game undercutting its own design when it wants to ramp up difficulty or artificially extend the play time. This is made painfully obvious during the final stages of the game, where the main character’s insanity takes over and the game becomes, dare I say, engaging. What should feel like an exploration of an unlikable (but increasingly relatable) character ends up feeling like a cheap way to add level variety and recycle enemy types.

Deep Silver

The final battle is a large open area full of high level enemies and a large boss, all of which can kill you in just a few hits. Conversely, it takes multiple hits to kill these enemies which means you’ll either have to resort to the clumsy gunplay or exploit the stage design to get the enemies stuck in some areas while you chip away their health. Trying to beat this battle normally is not fun, and damn near impossible. The game relies on its weakest mechanic here, the combat, and it really shows its faults.

There are lots of times when Escape Dead Island shows potential, whether its story or some of the level design towards the conclusion, but it feels as though not enough thought and time was put into making sure there was an enjoyable, or even fully-functioning game holding it all up. Escape Dead Island was almost a good experience, there was just six hours of terrible gameplay holding it back.

This review is based on a purchased retail copy of Escape Dead Island for the PlayStation 3.

4.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating