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December 2022

Dying: Reborn

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action
Developer: Oasis Games
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Dying: Reborn'

by Brian Dumlao on May 25, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Dying: Reborn is a dark, horror-themed puzzle game that creates a unique first-person room escape experience.

If done correctly, escape rooms are inherently fun experiences. Being confined in small areas while solving puzzles to escape has become addicting enough that what had once been relegated to cheap Flash games has blossomed into real-life experiences. Again, the key to all of that has to be quality, since a poorly done set of puzzles can ruin the experience. Dying: Reborn tries to mimic the escape room experience on modern consoles and adds a horror narrative for good measure. Unfortunately, the experience is so poor that it's difficult to see anything good about it.

The story vibe is similar to the "Saw" movies. You play the role of Mathew, a man visiting the once-bustling town of Harbour City. You were sent here based on a letter you received from your sister Shirley, but after you're captured and wake up in a dingy room, your main concern is to find your sister and leave the hellhole. Each room you encounter is a puzzle, so escape is easier said than done.

What seems like a setup to a genuinely creepy escape room experience quickly falls apart due to several different factors in the story. To start, the characters are more annoying than compelling. The protagonist whines constantly about his predicament and how he's gullible enough to fall for traps. Based on his speech, he's also pretty dim since he not only keeps falling into the same traps but also fails to remember how he got there mere minutes after performing an action that got him into the predicament in the first place. The woman on the TV also has paper-thin characterization, and the antagonist, a man wearing a grotesque fish mask, fails to do more than wax philosophically about the failings of man. If the game were trying to sell the idea of fear based on the characters involved, it failed miserably.

The other story-related failing comes from the plot. What began as a journey to find your sister Shirley devolves into something else entirely. The tale is predictable enough that you can figure out the ending before the halfway point. What kills the story is that it has so many plot holes, and there's little to no explanation for most of the events. Without spoiling anything, the link between characters is abrupt, and there's no motivation for why Mathew is kidnapped in the first place. Things are said in one of the endings that make no sense, while the secret ending spouts nonsensical ambiguity instead of explaining anything. The result is a tale so unsatisfying that players would feel that they wasted their time on the endeavor.

For those unfamiliar with how an escape room would work in video game form, think of it like a point-and-click adventure game that's been made more compartmentalized. Placed in a first-person viewpoint, you'll pan over your environment, waiting for your aiming dot to turn red to see if an item can be picked up or interacted with. Items that you find can either be used on something as-is or combined with something else to create a new item that can be used to solve a puzzle. Everything you need to solve the puzzles are in that room, so you won't have to go very far to get everything you need. The only exception are a few items that you'll need to carry from one stage to another to access the secret ending. No matter what, though, the escape rooms are designed so that you have no chance of dying, and unlike other escape room experiences, there's no timer to pressure you into solving things quickly.

With no urgency involved and a terrible story, the quality of the puzzles is what really carries the game. A number of the puzzles are quite easy to solve. Some of this stuff you've seen before, like playing the correct melody on a piano to reveal an item. Others are more clever, like using one item to get a frequency to a radio station that gives you the code to open up something else. There's more obtuse stuff, like key codes that are better solved by trial-and-error instead of trying to decipher the nonsensical clues. Those puzzles are enough to make you relive the dark days of adventure gaming, where solutions were odd for the sake of being odd. There's enough inconsistency here to make the game a chore to play.

Aside from that, Dying: Reborn commits the sin of repeating puzzle mechanics quite often. Having to find a broken switch is a common theme, as is finding documents by turning on a ceiling fan that blows papers in every direction. Pattern locks and key mechanisms litter the game, and plenty of the solutions are written cryptically on walls. The lack of creativity is apparent, and boredom sets in much faster.

It should also be noted that the game suffers from pretty bad saving errors. The game doesn't save anything unless you manually tell it to do so, so that's a shock to people who are used to automatic saving. If you choose to backtrack to a previous chapter to get something for the secret ending, you'll need to replay all of the chapters from that point on, since they were automatically relocked. Considering that you'll still be carrying items from later chapters, having to replay those in-between chapters is a really terrible design decision.

From top to bottom, the sound is poor. While the music and sound effects are fine, the balancing is terrible; they try to be louder than everything else, so dialogue is drowned out and subtitles are a necessity. Then again, when you hear how bad the dialogue is, that might be a blessing in disguise. Except for the fish-masked man, everyone's delivery is terrible, whether they're overacting, sound bored or simply aren't hitting the desired delivery. The minute Mathew speaks, you begin to hate him, and it doesn't improve as things go on. It gets so bad that you can't tell if a joke is being told, since the delivery wavers at exactly the wrong times.

Graphically, the game is barely competent. At first glance, it looks like a less-detailed scene in Resident Evil VII. The lighting isn't crisp, but the dirty atmosphere is enough to make people feel uneasy. Look a bit deeper, and you'll see odd things like silverware floating on tables, roaches being animated textures, and shadows being terribly pixelated. Having all of the items float into action is terrible for creating immersion, especially since you're playing as an actual character instead of a blank avatar. What most people will notice, though, is the frame rate stutters and chugs at odd parts, like when looking at the wall scrawlings or moving from one spot to another. A game like this doesn't need the highest frame rate, but seeing an otherwise simple game like this chug with long load times makes it seem like the title still hasn't been optimized.

Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about Dying: Reborn is that you can easily get a Platinum trophy from it, provided you only backtrack after finishing the game. It's faster if you use a guide for the more obtuse puzzles, but the whole endeavor takes only a few hours to accomplish. If you aren't into Trophy hunting, however, there's nothing of value in this title. Poor puzzles that repeat often, dodgy presentation with worse audio, and a story with too many plot holes are all wrapped up in a price tag that's too expensive for what you're getting. On a system that already has plenty of good horror games, there should be no reason for anyone to pick up Dying: Reborn.

Score: 2.5/10

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