GAME REVIEW: Die Young (PC Early Access)

After a montage opening scene that gives you a taste of your character’s personality: think plucky adrenaline seeker, you find yourself at the bottom of a hole in the ground. As game openings go, it certainly grabs the attention. I’ve been playing IndieGala’s PC game Die Young, a horror-survival game set on an idyllic Mediterranean island. Well, idyllic if you can look past all of the carnage. It’s within these first few moments that the game also introduces one of its core mechanics as it invites you to climb up out of the hole, to find the lie of the land. Die Young often wants you to climb up things, over things and along things using its parkour-style climbing system, and that seems only fair, unless you’re going to spend the entire game sitting in the dark awaiting a rescue that will probably never come.

Once out of the hole, you can see some of the island around you: sun-baked fields, buzzing insects and azure skies all seeming so tranquil and restful. Restful that is, until you have your first brush with the local wildlife. My first encounter was with a wild dog which promptly chased me up onto some rocks. I had nothing to fight back with and, as with many other games, the character has a stamina meter so she couldn’t run indefinitely. I managed to hide and break the dog’s view of me for just long enough for it to lose interest and walk away. It wasn’t long after this that I then encountered a snake which then suddenly decided that I was the most interesting thing around. Running away was much easier this time, the snake not really having the legs for a prolonged chase. My character became dehydrated after all of that running in the heat, a mechanic that you have to address or risk physical issues like blurred vision. I found a couple of houses with a handy water pump outside. After a refreshing drink, I discovered my first campfire, the game’s player-triggered saving system, which allowed me to save the game.

Die Young offers a number of quests to pursue. The main one is to escape the island, but there are others: like finding out what has happened to your friends, or visiting the island’s important landmarks. I recommend going for the landmarks as I seemed to find something important in each one. Of particular note was a crowbar that allowed me to fight back against the wildlife. Equipment does have a durability rating though, and once it breaks, unless you are lucky enough to find another one, you’ll need to hunt around for raw material to use in the game’s crafting system. Items which can be crafted fall into two categories: the consumable kind of stuff like bandages made from cloth or concocting herbal things to restore health, and the creation of tools which includes knives, crowbars and wrenches.

While you are exploring, you will also come across items of apparel like sneakers, knee-pads and storage belts. These can augment your character’s abilities, for example the knee-pads reduce damage from falling. You will also come across a variety of resources that you can pick up for your crafting, from herbs to scrap metal and rope. There is also an abundance of diaries and note-papers to find, giving you glimpses into the lives of the island’s inhabitants. It makes me feel like I should be keeping a diary too, so that if we do have an apocalypse of some kind, the survivors picking through my remains (ever the optimist I know) will be able to discover that I suffer with anxiety, and also that I think daytime television is about as dull as things can get.

The views can get quite vertigo-inducing at times.

As mentioned, Die Young features a lot of climbing. Fortunately, the game’s climbing mechanic is very satisfying. Climbing surfaces are indicated by white smudges or moss growing down from the edge of grabable ledges. The game does suffer somewhat as to not all likely looking edges are actually climbable however. On occasion this can lead to a heavy fall for your character and mild swearing from the player. This is something I’ve come across in every climbing game I’ve played though, so sadly it’s something I’ve come to expect. It doesn’t detract from enjoying the game though, a long sprint up a dry river valley jumping and climbing ridges whilst being chased by a pack of dogs was a particularly engrossing experience, and even the odd ungrippable surface didn’t hamper me too much.

“Check out my cellar!”

I have yet to mention the story. The setup is that your character has been kidnapped and finds herself on a mysterious island. She must use her pluckiness to overcome the odds and find her way to safety. As you explore the island, you will encounter other people, both living and dead. The dead are often found laying in gruesome ways, the results of violence or falls: not a pretty sight. The living can be talked to, such as the old man pictured above who wanted me to check his cellar. Thinking about it now, it does sound a bit like a trap. I did check it though, and my reward was some fruit! I was hoping for tools or some such. The early part of the game also sees you having to avoid a big bare-chested guy roaming the island with an axe. He only seems to stick to small areas though and I rarely found him to be a problem. It also didn’t enter my mind to try to attack him. Rats take three or so hits to kill, dogs almost ten. I think my character would die ten times over trying to take that giant down. Less a case of dying young but dying of stupidity.

Hiding from the axe-wielding maniac is always a good idea.

Die Young is in Steam’s Early Access section which means that it is still undergoing heavy development. It is actually still in alpha, so expect to get frequent patches and updates if you do decide to purchase it. There have been a number of updates during the time I spent with the game, the last one tweaking the amount of health rats have and adding more settings that can be adjusted, among other things. The developer says that the game will stay in Early Access until the main story is finished, and at the moment, the island is just under half the size that it will end up being when it is all completed. The game currently features about 25 quests, which will be increasing to around 70 at launch. Other things will be added or fleshed out as development continues, such as adding more enemies and bosses, and introducing new game systems such as booby traps, drug induced hallucinations and more climbing mechanics. Even though it is in an alpha state, I experienced no real issues on the stability front. I ran the game at 1080p with the graphical settings turned to Epic and it ran well on my i5 4th generation GTX 970 system. The only issue I had once was after one update when I found myself at the bottom of a cliff rather than next to the bonfire I had saved at. This was nothing major.

The dry riverbed where I had my canine-motivated climbing run.

I enjoyed the time that I spent in Die Young’s world. At the moment, it seems that you can only progress to the Apricot Valley area (where I met the old cellar fella). There are fences that block off paths that look like they will take you to other areas. Even so, by the time I got to this stage I had sunk around five hours into the game, and I still have a few quests that I can go back to that I didn’t complete (I always take a “main quest plus a few sides” approach to gaming, rather than a “gotta find absolutely everything” attitude). I now find myself working through said quests.

Do I think Die Young is good value for your money at this moment in time? The developer makes it clear on the Steam Store page that you should only buy it if you are really enthused about supporting the game and giving feedback that they can use to shape it into something special. It is currently available on PC for £10.99 on Steam and $13.49 on IndieGala as part of a deluxe pack featuring another parkour-style game: Downward. Die Young gives you a landscape to explore that has a sense of place and threat, and the climbing-running-fighting mechanics are all satisfying enough. It probably will come down to how hyped you are to dip your toe in early rather than waiting awhile. I liked it, and the friends I have spoken to about it still seemed very interested even with all of the above in mind. I think it’s a game that certainly has legs, and I am interested to find out how the story will eventually end.

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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