“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
I had to take a good, long look at my life before writing this review. Rather, I had to take a short look at my life and a long look at the kind of games I get assigned to review. While I can usually appreciate tearing down one bad apple in an otherwise solid bunch of decent games, two piles of stinking garbage in a row have left me reeling. Better Late Than Dead, an ironically titled open world survival game by Odin Game Studio, offers an experience akin to drinking a bathtub of thrice-used water. In the case of this trainwreck, death would have been preferable to simply showing up tardy.
Set on a deserted tropical island (with suspiciously autumnal trees that would never be caught dead in the tropics), Better Late Than Dead flops players down unceremoniously onto a beach with little more explanation than a handful of still images detailing some horribly botched burial-at-sea. Little notes found around the island set the scene for your typical government-experiment-gone-wrong scenario, and it soon becomes clear that anything close to an original thought has fled the game completely.
As with the truckload of other, more successful survival games, Better Late Than Dead forces players to obsessively manage health, hunger, thirst, energy, pain, and bleed-out meters on a constant basis. You’re instructed to drink when you’re thirsty, eat when you’re hungry, and bleed less when you’re gushing from open wounds. Resources to replenish food, water, and health can be found almost blindly by stumbling around, and the starting inventory capacity was laughably large enough to carry half the island. Apart from keeping yourself sated, the game mildly suggests you figure out what you’re doing there, but otherwise couldn’t seem to care that you were even playing at all.
The game’s crafting system allows players to create both supplies and shelter, though the options are all unlocked immediately and seem rather limited. The animations for cutting down trees, attacking enemies, or filling up a water bottle were either laughably slow or absent altogether, and picking up items using the right mouse button to aim around the screen was a bit disconcerting. The game’s actions were universally flawed, and I found that falling from more than three feet often meant I broke a bone, while chopping trees only yielded results I could physically pick up around half the time. The game’s combat system, if you could bring yourself to call it that, was little different than the act of chopping down a tree, and the ridiculously small number of aggressors made the game feel emptier than it meant to be.
While the game’s Steam page boasted several pretty screenshots, I can assure you these were doctored to draw in the window shoppers, as the game carries no aesthetic boon to help it struggle onward. The sheer repetition of foliage, buildings, and set pieces is staggering, and the only enemies you encounter (some local wolves, bears, and deer, because again, this is a tropical island) are inexplicably small compared to your character. To top it off, the HUD meters and inventory screens all look oddly hand drawn and out of place when compared to the attempted “realism” for the in-game graphics.
The game presumably has a multiplayer survival mode, but I only ever got as far as the “Connection Failed” screen, and seeing that more than nine times left me cold to the idea of sharing a terrible experience with a complete stranger. With not but one game mode, Better Late Than Dead continued to underwhelm.
You may have reached this point thinking that I’m being overly harsh or far more critical than necessary, and I feel obliged to point out why. Had this game been in Early Access, I would completely understood the limitations mentioned above. I still would have made the same observations because it’s part of my job, but it would come with the understanding that the developers were still hard at work. Better Late Than Dead is not in Early Access, it dares to call itself a full-fledged title while the developers seemed to have jumped ship with everyone’s money, leaving half a game behind in their wake.