Dead in Bermuda: Microsoft Windows [Reviewed]
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Release Date: 27 August 2015
Price: €14.99 [Disclosure: Game copy supplied by Developer/Publisher]
You’ve probably seen Lost, Castaway or Lord of the Flies and have a pretty good idea in regards to what you’d do if you were ever stranded on a deserted island. Dead in Bermuda is here to crush your hopes and dreams and tell you you’re wrong. The setup is very similar to (prepare to delve into some obscure references) Gods Will Be Watching, or rather the titular chapter in Deconstructeam’s retro psychological space thriller. Dead in Bermuda is brought to us by CCCP, a French studio not to be confused with the Icelandic CCP that brings us spreadsheets in space. It takes the same basic idea of physical and mental survival with limited resources and time as Gods but adds whole layers of complexity to it.
Avoiding being Dead in Bermuda
The setup of the game is decidedly simple: A plane crashes somewhere in the eponymous (does it count if it’s just part of the title?) Bermuda Triangle. There are only eight survivors. Alejandro seems to act as de facto group leader. He is a former resort manager off to his first actual vacation in ten years. He’s well-adjusted and tries to mediate conflicts where possible. The Pelletiers, Alice and Bob, are a middle-aged married couple.
Bob is friendly and laid back, but often regarded as useless, while Alice loves to gossip, hike and nag Bob. Another family are the russians Yuri – a large man that speaks mostly in metaphors, his current wife Julia – a vixen with a strange affinity for fighting and sneaking around and Yuri’s daughter Illyana – a clever young girl with a positive outlook. To neatly close off the circle of misfits we have Dr. Winters, an outspoken medic displaying an occasional problem with male authority and Jacob who is an elderly war veteran, borderline bigoted, suspicious and ruthless, but competent in survival.
Once the characters get their bearings the player is given just enough resources to build a campfire and some water reserves, which are the two most important elements in the game. If at any point you run out of water, it’s game over. If your fire dies out, you do get a chance to build another, IF you have sufficient crafting skills and resources. Otherwise, again, game over. Over the first day, the game walks you through the basics. You get several limited uses of scavenging the crashed airplane for food and resources. This raises both your fatigue and depression (from scavenging around the dead bodies). It grants you a bit of leeway during the first few days, as you won’t want for food or water, but researching tools to become self-sufficient while this lasts is critical. Tools and camp facilities need to be researched first, then crafted once you have the necessary resources. In addition to this, you can explore the island (divided into a grid) one square at a time and uncover more resources, events and eventually clues to help you escape.
The day is divided in two turns: morning and afternoon. Each character can perform one action per turn, be it scavenging or gathering for materials, foraging for fruit (which double as a food and water source), fishing, hunting, exploring, researching, crafting, cooking or even resting. Each action comes with its own costs which need to be carefully weighed against one another and balanced with periods of rest. Most activities drain your fatigue which can be restored by sleeping (but for some reason not during the night), but other activities may increase other conditions, such as injury, which is increased by hunting or depression which is increased by fishing. The various conditions (hunger, fatigue, depression, sickness, injury) are your main enemy in Dead in Bermuda and should any of them reach 100% your character will be dead come morning.
There are a myriad other stats, however, that make you more efficient. You have your standard physical and mental traits, such as Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Constitution which have a passive effect on actions, their effectiveness and cost. In addition to these, you also have skills: Hunting, Fishing, Stealth, Gathering, Scavenging, Exploration to name just a few. In Elder Scrolls fashion, your skills increase from frequent use and also at your discretion upon a character gaining an experience level via skill points. Activities can be executed by a single character, but most of them allow for two (some even allowing three) people at once, raising the output and productivity of the activity in question. Characters also bond or argue while doing something together, increasing or decreasing their relationship level.
This all comes back during each evening. After a brief discussion, sufficiently randomly generated from a large pool of dialogue lines as not to get repetitive, you will be granted various effects. These are very random and can either help you a great deal (if Alice notices someone is depressed and offers to talk to them, or Bob offers a particularly hungry character some of his secret stash) or even end the game immediately if you’ve been doing especially poorly during the playthrough, such as when all of my characters were on the verge of starvation and Julia decided to make dinner, botched it raising everyone’s hunger level by a set amount, sent everyone over 100% and killed them off. Other possible dialogues allow the player to delve deeper into the characters’ personalities: Alejandro is sought-after by several ladies, Jacob is suspicious that the plane crash was not an accident and depending on his relationship to the other characters may or may not take drastic measures to punish whom he thinks is guilty.
After the evening talk, you are given the opportunity to distribute food among your survivors. Food is divided into three categories: non-perishable, which consists of fruit and dried meat, perishable cooked food which has a higher degree of satiation but will degrade over time becoming less effective and raw or rotten food which helps a little, but will increase the character’s sickness stat slightly. This is especially dangerous, since if it goes unchecked, it will increase more and more over time regardless of your actions.
Exploration reveals more of the island and uncovers more of the story. I won’t go into detail as far as the story is concerned, since it’s very strange and not the main focus of the game. Instead I’ll tell you a bit about the random events on the map. In most places outside of your camp taking an action to interact with something you’ve discovered will not consume an action, but will force you to make a stealth skill check. Upon failure (determined by a dice roll based on your stat), you will be attacked by a weird monster like a boar or a bat skeleton, gain a few injury points, but then be allowed to proceed with the action, which may involve its own skill checks. Your goal is to explore the island, uncover its mysteries and escape, while keeping your strength and wits about you. And it’s not always easy.
In which we talk about my many failures
Dead in Bermuda starts off deceptively easy. The characters are ambivalent to one another, the crashed plane still holds a few meals and resources and you relatively quickly uncover the first part of the island’s mystery. However, small mistakes early on have a tendency to snowball and be difficult to keep in check as they grow. Undoubtedly, you’ll run out of cooked food long before you have the ability to actually make your own, but slightly after you craft a fishing rod. “Sure, ” you’ll tell yourself “I can eat a bit of raw fish. What harm can it do?”. You swallow your pride and your ghetto sushi and commit to having a few points of sickness. However, based on your characters’ constitution scores, sickness actually increases over time. This is going to shift your focus away from researching cooking food and toward harvesting medicinal plants and trying to get an infirmary up and running.
You do occasionally come across special items that reduce your various conditions, such as painkillers for injury, chocolate for depression et cetera. Naturally, we’ve all saved the hardest hitting weapon for the final boss before and there is a similar compulsion here to save these items until the situation is at its direst. This will actively make your experience more difficult. It’s best to keep your conditions as low as possible at all times, as they heavily impact your characters’ efficiency. A sick, hungry, depressed person will acquire far fewer resources than a healthy, full, chipper camper. The game thus becomes about careful calculations and optimizations. You’ll eventually fall into a comfortable safe routine that allows you to keep the cast well while slowly progressing toward exploring the entire island.
Unfortunately, playing safe is apt to get very repetitive very soon and playing risky is more prone to fatal mistakes. I ultimately settled to having everyone assigned to a task for one half of the day and rest and talk among themselves during the evenings to reduce fatigue and depression. The random number generator in Dead in Bermuda, however, can be quite ruthless and even with perfect conditions, two characters interacting can gradually become bitter enemies and sooner or later one of them is going to do something drastic about it. And by drastic I do mean murder. I tried save scumming to retrieve my deceased character, but the RNG can overpower even that in extreme cases. This adds a bit to the replayability of the game, as your relationships might progress differently during subsequent playthroughs.
Overall the characters are quirky but not one-dimensional and have engaging interactions. It’s a pity that regardless of what they discuss or do there are no cutscenes and the dialogue looks the same: two faces juxtaposed with more or less the same expressions on their face. The graphics overall are wonderfully drawn, opting for a cartoon/comic book aesthetic with a bit of a parallax effect in the background to give the illusion of depth. However, the character models have only two poses: standing and sitting/doing something and their stance does not change otherwise. It would have added to the atmosphere to have various versions of the characters based on what they were assigned to or their various conditions but I understand that that would have meant a higher production budget as well.
I extend the same criticism to the game’s music and sound effects. The sounds are simple clips that are there to add more of a feel to an action, but the music should be doing most of the atmosphere building and to some extent it does. For the most part. The tracks range from melancholic to mellow to upbeat, but they rarely change or seem to be influenced by game events. Watching a dialogue at the conclusion of which one of my characters is killed should have some impact. This is going to change the way I approach the game for the remainder of the playthrough. However, morning comes and with it the same relaxing music that I’m used to. And the impact is almost completely lost, replaced by familiarity.
Dead in Bermuda is, all things considered, a noble effort and a successful survival simulator. It displays an almost insane degree of granularity and focus on fine details, which micromanaging players will probably enjoy. Its failings lie within its own ambitions: to be more emotional and personal rather methodical and mechanical and even in that I would not say it completely fails rather than falls a bit short.