Better Late Than Dead is a game, as of this writing, still in Early Access.
Among the myriad of multiplayer survival crafting whatchamahaveyou video games that have flooded the market in recent years, one of the latest is Better Late Than Dead by Odin Game Studio. It was a bit of a hard sell for me, because I don’t regularly go for the survival crafting multiplayer experience or early access games, but two of the games on which I’ve spent an embarrassingly large amount of time over the last few years have been Minecraft (since Alpha) and the DayZ mod for Arma 2. Now, I haven’t played any of the other ones, of which there are an estimated number of billions, so I can say I went into Better Late Than Dead with fresh eyes and no burnout to speak of.
Better Late Than Dead
You start off Better Late Than Dead as Joel from The Last of Us (scruffy black hair, unkempt beard) having just emerged from a coffin washed ashore. Next to you are one or several body bags, some food and water, and a note containing a crafting recipe. Good luck. Survive. The islands are filled with notes giving you hints about the backstory, where to go and what to do. They mention experiments, a mysterious logo on most containers and animals that have no business in this environment. No points for noticing the Lost influences. Apart from these notes, the game gives you precious few hints, so I just made my way to the radio antenna on the highest point of the island, saw some shacks down on the beach, looted them, then had to do something else for a bit and paused the game. When I returned to my PC, I had died from either starvation or dehydration, because in Better Late Than Dead pressing Escape doesn’t pause the game, even if you’re in Single Player mode.
I started another playthrough, but this time I spawned on a larger island in the archipelago, and as I would soon find out, more dangerous. I quickly filled up my ridiculously small inventory with fruit and leaves (rather than punching trees for wood in this game you shake them until something falls off, which is a nice change), was unable to craft anything (because knives are essential to crafting, but you need to find one first) and then ran into a wolf. I ran away from the wolf as fast as I could, and ran into a crocodile, which bit me. With no means to defend myself, I ran away, took shelter in a nearby shack where I slowly bled to death because I didn’t have any bandages or rags.
My third playthrough I spawned during a storm and before I could find shelter, I froze to death. In addition to this, the textures were a blurry mess, the controls were abysmal (you can’t turn while standing still in the water and you can’t run diagonally by presing both W and A or D. I quit the game in a fit of rage and stormed to the Steam Community Hub to give whomever may listen a thing or two and something most peculiar happened.
On the Better Late Than Dead page the devs were gleefully announcing a patch. A patch that was already queued for download in Steam, but that I hadn’t noticed. A patch that based on community feedback fixed most of my grievances with the game. Given the mostly foul reputation of Early Access developers, this was most pleasantly surprising. The developers had fixed the character movement, lowered freezing effects from the rain, enlarged the inventory and reduced the blur effect on the textures. I was unable to ignore the warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart and felt compelled to try the game again. Needless to say, I had a much better experience this time around.
The increased inventory size helped a lot with my crafting experiments, as did the fact that I happened upon a knife. The game provides you with an inspection action which at the cost of a bit of stamina highlights all the items you can pick up in your vicinity. To pick something up you need to press the right click button which zooms the camera a bit and you can struggle with the mouse acceleration to pick the item up. Seems like a needlessly complicated system, with too many clicks, which is by far the game’s biggest problem. To add something to the crafting tray or equip it you need to click the item, click add or equip, if equipping assign a digit from 1 to 4. Adding insult to injury, food and water need to be equipped prior to consumption, taking up the precious few quickslots. However, the developers have already announced that they will add a simplified inventory management system. What is still missing is some sort of journal where you can collect all of the notes containing crafting recipes.
Anyway, having found a knife I experimented with crafting and combat a bit. I relatively easily, but slowly and tediously killed a crocodile, because unlike running or walking slowly, swinging my weapon didn’t seem to drain my stamina, and the enemy AI seems to have trouble biting at your hitbox accurately. It dropped several pieces of meat which I dropped into the fire I had crafted previously and lit using a lighter I found, and I spent the several minute-long night by the campfire, munching on crocodile steak and muttering to myself as to what the next step should be.
The notes I mentioned earlier do give you a bit of a nudge in the right direction but it’s clear at this point that a lot of content still needs to be added. For example, one note mentioned that the author would wait at noon each day on the highest point of the island and that I should meet him there. So there I am, standing around like an idiot, completely aware that I wasn’t going to meet an NPC or anything fancy like that but waiting for at least something to happen. Another note mentioned a laboratory somewhere on the larger island, but by this point I felt that I had already experienced everything that the game had to offer at this point and wasn’t really invested enough to try and find out why Desmond was down the hatch.
Better Later Than Right Now
Graphically speaking, even after the texture blur was reduced (which improved the quality a lot) Better Late Than Dead looks OK, but not great. The assets have a rough look to them, with some of the trees displaying distracting artifacts on the edge of the meshes. The sound, as well, is far from atmospheric. Some more ambient sounds and music would go a long way toward improving the overall experience but that is not to say that the current sounds, where present, are of poor quality. As for the multiplayer aspect, there is no server list feature, so the only way to play it online is to create a server or find one on the message boards and join it and I don’t expect that had I done that I would have had a far better experience.
However, all of my criticisms aside, the overall attitude of the developers, their focus on player feedback and their diligence in patching and updating the game certainly won them some points from me. The game shows potential, but is regrettably marred by its Early Access status. I’d wager that there’s something here for fans of the genre to at least follow closely. I know I’ll definitely revisit Better Late Than Dead once it’s made a bit more progress.
Disclosure: game copy was provided by developer/publisher