Better Late Than DEAD is a survival game created by Odin Game Studio and is being published by Merge Games and Excalibur. The game was originally released on Early Access on Steam on July 23rd 2015.
Survival games seem to be more popular than ever and it seems like Steam is becoming saturated with many titles trying to master the genre. I have always wanted to have a go at trying out some survival games like The Forest, DayZ and H1Z1, of which I have played a bit of but not enough compared to other genres. I have played plenty of Minecraft and can appreciate the appeal of gathering resources, build and crafting in order to survive. In Better Late Than DEAD you are basically exploring a large open sandbox environment.
The main story is starts out with you being washed onto shore on a tropical island. You have nothing apart from minimal clothing, a rucksack and a picture of a baby. You have no memories of the past and what lies ahead. I loved how the game instantly throws you straight into the world and its vital that you begin by gathering resources. The area you start in on the beach has items and resources that have washed ashore, like bottles, oil and other very useful things. It’s important that you take your time to gather anything and everything, as having plenty of resources is vital if you wish to survive. Like many games in this genre the story is there but it’s not forced upon you. It’s about exploring the environments and discovering locations that could provide clues and insight to what is happening. The game does a good job of using environmental storytelling, like scattered notes and huts to explore, which provide more back story.
As I began to investigate it soon became clear that danger might lie ahead. I have to say that I loved the mystery and suspense that builds as you slowly explore every nook and cranny of the world. You appear to be alone, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched, which is truly unsettling. The game uses a permadeath system and when you die you start again, and not always from the same place. This means you need to always be aware of your surroundings and the resources you have.
The key to surviving is to collect as much materials and resources as you can, and also be prepared to defend yourself from things like wild animals. You have a crafting menu where you can manage your inventory and sort your collected resources. You also add items to your quick select keys (1-4) for instant access. As you wander the tropical island and search for items you can use an ability called perception, which uses stamina, but allows you to see highlighted objects scattered throughout the environments.
The gameplay is fairly standard but it certainly takes some getting used to the controls and gameplay mechanics. The first time I died it was because I slowly bled to death, so I had to make sure I was prepared the next time around. A mechanic I really think works well is how you click and hold the right mouse button to zoom in on items and then use the left mouse button to interact. The hunting is pretty clumsy and can get very frustrating at times. Attacking animals can feel slow, awkward and often sees the camera moving out of position making it difficult to see what is going on.
As far as the survival aspects of the game go it’s certainly one of the games stronger points. Straight from the get-go you have to make sure you are exploring and collecting as much as possible. Things like food and water are critical to you surviving and then having a source of light is very important. When it turns to-night and the island plummets into darkness it can feel scary and very unsettling. If you gather enough resources, you can learn how to craft various things like torches and bandages that help you greatly.
I do have a few issues with the game and quite simply the game simply doesn’t run very well. As I made my way through environments, that actually look pretty impressive and well designed, I noticed some real drops in framerate and lag. I never really focus too much on framerate or resolution in games, as I believe that gameplay is key, but it did actually make the game awkward to play and at times completely took me out of the experience. Next controlling your character simply feels horrendous at times, with dodgy camera control and movement. With most games you can run forward whilst using keys to strafe side to side, but here you have to stop and turn in the direction you want. This can feel frustrating and can leave you vulnerable to attack from wild animals. The dodgy movement combined with the awkward camera can leave you feeling exposed. These are things that could be improved and worked on through patches.
The presentation looks good enough, with a gorgeous island to explore, it’s just a shame that the framerate and stuttering takes you out of the experience. Areas and different locations are well designed and interesting to explore. It can feel a bit tricky to navigate your character through certain areas and parts of the world have some pretty muddy looking textures and detail. The sound design is good enough, with the waves against the shore, birds in the sky and the sound of unknown creatures in the distance. This helped to create a believable atmosphere and helped keep me absorbed in the game.
Overall Better Late Than Dead has some nice ideas, with a clever crafting system, interesting setting and plenty to discover and explore. I really enjoyed the use of environmental storytelling, which helps to give more insight and back story if you wish to find out more. The game does have its fair share of technical issues, like awkward camera angles, stuttering framerate and controlling your character can be frustrating, but as I said these are things that can be worked on and improved if the game receives some much-needed patches. I enjoyed playing this game and I can certainly see its potential. I now want to go back and play through other survival games to see what else the game could improve on.
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