Sometimes you’re on your last legs in a game. Your health is blinking at 2%, or in the case of the modern FPS, the screen is so covered in jam that you’d think the enemy has confused you for a scone. You duck behind cover–your character gasping for air–as you consider your options carefully. Do you use your last grenade? Do you hide in cover hoping the wave of foes lighten up? Do you maybe even make a mad dash towards a better position with a health kit?
Now, wouldn’t it be annoying if the game suddenly decided to subtract 2% of your health instead of the usual 1% upon being hit at that critical moment? You’re now Dead In Bermuda. Enjoy having your mummified corpse gnawed on.
Dead In Bermuda by CCCP, is a turn-based narrative-driven survival game. You must manage a group of eight who crash on a desert island; you scrounge for food, try to keep water supplies up, stop your party from being sick, and convince them that life spent stranded on an unknown island without possible rescue is worth living. Meanwhile, you must venture deeper into the jungle and explore the mystery within.
On each day, you get two turns of what tasks to assign to characters. These options slowly increase over time as you research and craft tools that give you better access to ways to make sure your characters see the sun rise the following day. “So, it’s a game where you prioritize actions?” Nope! Did I forget to mention that every character has different levels in different skills as well as different perks that may help in leveling said different skills? “Ooohhh! So it is a game where you send the best people on the job while prioritizing actions?”
Not even close! As they perform actions, they increase their depression metre or fatigue metre, so every so often they need a sit-down to share their best Aristocrat joke with the others so they can get back to working. However, life waits for no one, and while the gatherers/fishers are making up tall tales about Peter Molyneux to relieve the stress of not being dead, the supply is quickly running out and everyone is starving/dehydrating. So, if you want an elevator pitch description of Dead In Bermuda, it falls into the game design philosophy camp theorists call a “EVERYONE IS DYING, I AM THE WORST JUGULAR OF PEOPLE, PLEASE SEND HELP, THE BLOOD WILL NOT WASH FROM MY HANDS” simulator.
And here comes the Achilles heel of the entire game–a vital misstep that threatens to careen the entire experience off a bridge and into an icy lake with the doors all locked. Each of these actions function based not only on a character’s skill but also a heavy dose of luck. This luck is so severe, varied, and so central to the game that a character living or dying rests on this balancing bar of luck. If you didn’t get enough food because the fisher got 0 fish both times (with a variation of 0- 9), there is a chance that either there are deaths or there is a vital crippling blow to your strategy which you have to now hopefully recover from.
Every death didn’t feel like the result of a bad idea of mine–rather, just poor luck. In a game with a small limited pool of characters to do your bidding with, feeling out of control felt frustrating to me. This was made worse as key information was left off the table. This included a precise figure of how much hunger increases every night and how much sickness people have during the night phase (so I can work out who I can risk feeding sickness-causing food and who I can’t). I wanted to be able to make mistakes, and then fix the mistakes in subsequent playthroughs.
Instead, with the fate of my schemes always resting in luck’s hand (as well as the lack of a difficulty option), I laid in the thick swampy waters of fatalism as I was powerless to determine victory or defeat. This is a shame. There is no denying how core and crippling this wound is. It especially makes me feel let down because the narrative aspects of Dead In Bermuda are wonderful.
The level of characterisation is something not only unexpected to the genre, but also one that breaths a lot of life into the game. It goes beyond the typical “each character has their skills and an appearance hinting at said skills” approach, and digs into actual inter-character dialogue which reveals their personality (that isn’t copy and paste stereotypes, and instead contains real depth) bit by bit. This, in turn, can have a real effect on others (i.e. someone making a dig at Bob being lazy can increase his depression). This is topped with a wonderful aesthetic that gives a lovely light-spin to the game despite the somewhat grim themes. Dead In Bermuda plays out less like a typical survival game with tabula rasa characters and more like an interactive TV show that makes you invested in more than just survival as a mechanical conundrum, and instead survival of actual characters.
This is laid on top of a mystery on the island, as very quickly you realise it isn’t just a question of “harvest nature until we can get out.” I was disappointed I couldn’t dig too much in (because I have inherent bad luck and die quickly), but the nudging at Major Arcana Tarot cards as well as coming across peculiar blue natives (who AREN’T just rip offs of Dances With Wolves) definitely made me intrigued.
These two came together to offer a surprisingly rich narrative-driven drama where characters interacted with the island and vice-versa, while also functioning on their own splendidly. The only major drawback of this approach is the island lacks any randomisation of the land, instead staying precisely the same. This often leads to some expected “oh, this again” sensations, as the examination is still too random (drawing on skill and a random number generator to work out how much you loot) to be able to create any real form of tactics.
It was when I was writing this review I realized what had gone so awry and created the problems it did (well, the lack of a difficulty button is just something else). It feels as though the game is fighting with itself. You can feel the game creak and moan as it wants to be a survivalism game you play over and over, death being something you’re going to have to face, while also carving out a narrative-focused experience in the form of wondrous 3D characterization and an intriguingly bizarre mystery on the island. I really wish the game could pick which side they wanted, as it would have helped either the frustrating random-chance mechanics or the repetition of island exploration not feel out of place, but instead part of the game.
Still, it;s a game worth playing if you are in the mood for some turn-based survivalism and want to manage a group of people’s desperate struggle to leave an island that contains a strange secret. In an odd way, it may be one of the best tributes to the spirit of Lost you’re going to see around. I just hope for some post-release maintenance to improve this nifty little title; personally I hope to see the developers cut out the random-number generator and allow the player to make informed choices rather than simply taking risks all the time.
A steam code for Dead In Bermuda was provided by CCCP for the purpose of this review