“I have heard the languages of apocalypse, and now I shall embrace the silence.” – Neil Gaiman
Dead Man’s Diary is a loosely narrative-focused survival game set fifteen years after a nuclear disaster. Players must explore the new post-apocalyptic world, find uncontaminated food and drink, create shelter, craft and solve puzzles in order to stay alive!
Developer: TML Studios
Released: 30th March 2022
Available on: Steam
Engine: Unreal Engine 4
As the genre would suggest, the main objective in Dead Man’s Diary is to survive. Players will primarily need food and water, then things such as batteries for a flashlight and resources for crafting things such as a campfire and a shelter. There is plenty of food and drink around but they cannot be picked up or used until they have been tested for radioactive contamination, which requires a Geiger counter. Clearly an instrumental item in the game, one might expect some sort of guidance or hint to help players find it, but there is none. I managed to die of thirst twice before finding the required Geiger counter. Fortunately dying simply returns the player to the last save point, autosaves are infrequent but manual saving is possible at any time. Players can also monitor their stats at any time as well as check inventory and review the quest log and journal.
Even after finding the Geiger counter, there was still the problem of finding batteries and materials to set up camp. The quest log provides minimal guidance and there are no further clues to help find required items. Additionally, it is hard to distinguish between scenery and items that can be collected unless the player is very close to the item. The exploration becomes a grind and any elements of fun are soon lost. The resulting gameplay featured me shuffling around in the dark trying to find objects that are hard to find even when the flashlight is working. After over three hours in Dead Man’s Diary, I still hadn’t managed to complete the opening quests and had no desire to keep trying.
The game also boasts horror elements but this seems limited to strange noises such as twigs breaking that makes the protagonist turn to look very suddenly. In the midst of a laborious 2-hour search for camp materials, this doesn’t evoke fear, it’s merely a nuisance, especially as there seems to be no tangible threat associated with these failed jump scares.
Dead Man’s Diary begins with a stilted exposition that informs the player that a mad scientist who thought everyone should die at the same time as them built enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world. A few select people made it into bunkers and after fifteen years of living underground, they decide to draw lots to determine who will venture outside for reconnaissance and resources. Obviously, it is the protagonist that loses and is sent out into the night with zero supplies and blindfolded to ensure he cannot return. Riddled with holes, this lacklustre introduction does little to engage or encourage the player and in fact, makes what should be a serious concept into something rather comical.
Further narrative tidbits are delivered through the protagonist’s inclination to talk to himself, diary entries and via notes that are scattered throughout the environment. While this breaks the tedium of trying to collect the right resources it often doesn’t add all that much in terms of the story.
Dead Man’s Diary has a stunning, realistic, 3D art style with highly atmospheric lighting and richly detailed environments. A quick glance at the game’s store page will provide evidence of a range of varied environments and an interesting world to explore. However, the relentless hunt and grind for resources and materials mean that progress is slow, difficult and unenjoyable meaning many players (myself included) will probably not see most of what the game has to offer visually.
Unfortunately, despite how pretty the visuals may be, it seems that it is mostly compiled from unoriginal assets and some environments are almost identical to those in other games. This can be seen in the following two screenshots provided by a member of the Indie Hive community, one from Dead Man’s Diary and the other from a game called Potentia:
Along with the game’s aesthetic, the soundtrack is a highlight of the game. The music ranges from melancholy to more fast-paced, maintaining a level of familiarity amongst its variety. However, it seems to be implemented in a loop, or another unsophisticated manner which means it is not always utilised to its full effect in terms of creating atmosphere and building tension. The realistic ambient sound effects are used well to help immerse the player, unlike those used for the cheap and ineffective jump scares.
Whilst Dead Man’s Diary looks to be a promising game with an interesting concept, the reality doesn’t quite match up. The experience is first and foremost a grind and a frustrating one at that. Given the difficulty in obtaining certain resources and items and the sheer amount of time and effort it takes to progress even slightly, it is unsurprising that the game feels unfinished and unsatisfying. I was excited to play this game and really wanted to like it but unfortunately, I cannot recommend it in its current state.