There are many words you could use to describe a zombie apocalypse, but boring wouldn’t usually be one of them. The tension of surviving in a world without easy access to food and water; the horror of losing loved ones: these things are awful, but they’re certainly not boring. Dead Man’s Diary apparently didn’t get the memo about the apocalypse, as it’s one of the most tedious games I’ve ever had to play.
Dead Man’s Diary does have an interesting premise for the zombie game though. A self obsessed villain decided that when he died the Earth should no longer function, and set up a chain of nukes that pretty much destroyed everything. When this happened people started to hide in underground bunkers, but space was limited and supplies started to run low pretty quickly. After drawing the short straw our protagonist is kicked out of the bunker so others can live longer, so prepare for a whole lot of walking around in a desolate world.
Walking about is pretty much all you’ll be doing for most of the game, gathering supplies to make yourself shelter and to generally be healthy. There are four things you have to worry about in terms of staying alive in Dead Man’s Diary. Food and water are obvious, but there’s also radiation level (which you lower by taking Iodine Pills), and fever (which you lower by wrapping fabric soaked in vinegar and water around your legs). It’s standard topping-up-meter gameplay, but finding the items to do so is a chore.
The main reason for this is that there’s a chance that all the food and water you find is unsafe due to the radiation. This means scanning every single tin of beans and water bottle with your Geiger counter. And sadly, it takes ages to scan them. Most of the supplies you find end up being contaminated anyway, so it’s usually all for nothing. The worst aspect of this gameplay loop though, is that when you switch back to your torch afterwards you aren’t able to move until you release the controls entirely for a moment. I don’t think I really need to explain why that’s frustrating.
Dead Man’s Diary is split into distinct areas, and in most of these you’ll need to find the materials to build a fire and shelter before you progress. The grind of walking around environments where all the houses and alleys look the same is miserable, and you need so much wood, straw and metal posts to complete this tedious objective. After a few minutes of gathering, a handy white dot will start just pointing to the exact place you need to go, as if the developers knew how much of a drag this endeavour would be. You can turn this off if you want the true immersive apocalypse experience, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Once you’ve done enough collecting, it’s time for things to start kicking off. A loud noise will alert you to some sort of incoming threat (or sometimes will just happen for no reason at all) and you’ll need to find a safe space to avoid death. Whether it’s an angry bear or an atomic bomb, there’s only ever one place the game expects you to magically know where to go and if you don’t make it there as fast as possible then you’ll die. This will happen to you, and when it does you better not be expecting a handy autosave to ensure you don’t lose too much progress, because Dead Man’s Diary doesn’t like providing those.
It’s these little things that really ruin Dead Man’s Diary. Things like the sheer amount of invisible walls that’ll stop you from exploring and occasionally even trap you forever. Or your helpful white dot suddenly taking you to materials you don’t even need. In a game that’s already laborious, anything that makes it feel even worse to spend time playing is just not acceptable.
I also can’t talk about Dead Man’s Diary without mentioning the story and voice acting, which is cringe inducing. Cheesy and occasionally nonsensical lines are constantly spouted by the protagonist, and it’ll either be the worst or best part of the game for you based on how funny you find it.
As much as I didn’t enjoy playing Dead Man’s Diary, I can’t deny it has a few impressive elements. The visuals are way better than they have any right to be, and if you enjoy Skyrim style lockpicking you’re in for a treat. I’ll admit this doesn’t really feel like much of a selling point, but I like to give praise where it’s due.
Dead Man’s Diary is tedious, full of invisible walls, and often downright unfair. Whether you’re repeatedly scanning food to check for radiation or looking for the same old materials to build yet another shelter, I can almost guarantee you’ll be bored doing it. When there are so many better games with an apocalyptic setting, there’s sadly really no reason to play Dead Man’s Diary.
The poor voice acting can be funny
Absolutely tedious gameplay loop
Is full of invisible walls
Has hugely unfair sections with instant death
Constantly forces you to make shelters
Has a lot of broken elements