Die Young

Die Young

Written by Dave Gamble on 12/27/2017 for PC  
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It all started at the bottom of a well.

I wish I had stayed there.

Die Young, which really ought to be named Die Early & Often, is a survival game/adventure that tells the story of a self-admitted adrenaline junkie that joins a group of her friends as they head off for an adventurous vacation. Playing the character of the female narrator, those were the last cohesive thoughts before she/I woke up at the bottom of a well. I was awakened by someone removing the concrete cover over the well, allowing the sunlight to provide me with sufficient light to determine little else other than I had either paid far too little for my lodging on Priceline.com, or I was in a dire situation indeed.

That’s when I noticed a hand-drawn map sitting on the floor of the well with me. It looked almost like a treasure map, but discerning the value or purpose of the map would have to wait. I had more pressing needs than that, the most important of which, and I apologize in advance for the irony, was to find drinkable water. To do that, I would first need to find my way up and out of my subterranean prison. It was a well, but not much of one. At least I hadn't drowned in it.

Getting out of it proved to be easy. I am one hell of a climber, you know. Passionate about it, in fact. Once I got the hang of climbing sheer, vertical surfaces without the help of carabiners and rope, it was a relatively simple matter to escape to the surface. It pains me to say it, but that was the last easy thing I ever did on this hideous island.

As I got my bearings, I saw a couple of houses not too far off. A closer inspection showed that they had seen far better days; they were entirely abandoned. There was a pump sitting atop yet another well just outside one of the creepy old husks, though, so at least my search for water was resolved. For the moment, anyway. I used the pump to draw forth some water, which it did, but true to my luck it broke immediately after. Typical.

A quick search of the houses didn’t turn up much, but I did find the makings for a campfire. I immediately lit it up. Ah, that’s how you save your progress in the game. Clever, but how hard was it going to be to find more of them when I eventually started canvassing the island for explanations as to how and why I ended up in the well, or alternatively, when I started to hunt for a way to get off of this creepy island? Just to be safe I grabbed some small branches that I could use whenever I wanted to light a progress-saving fire. I also found a long stick that would serve as a weapon of sorts should I run into anything hostile. I had no idea at the time that a stick wasn’t going to be nearly enough of a weapon in this place. Not by a long shot. I laugh at my naivety now, but not because it was funny. The consequences of having such a weak defensive capability were anything but.

Having settled the question of a water source for at least the short term, I took a closer look at the map I had found in the well. It had red lines drawn on it that indicated that I should try to find the “coastal tower.” Cool, a plan! Not much of a plan, of course, in that I had absolutely no idea what the purpose of the trip would be, but what difference did that make? I might as well be doing something, and I was going to have to find food at some point too.

The map indicated a number of structures as being between the house I was currently sheltered in and the tower that the map showed as my goal. Temple ruins, towers, a big farm—I would either visit or pass by all of them on my trip up the coast. There was no point in waiting. It was only about 9:00 a.m., so I had a full day with which to find a place to safely stay overnight. The closest structure was a tower that I could just about see from where I was standing, so that’s where I went.

I wish I hadn’t. I have many regrets from my time on that island, but what I found in that tower haunts my dreams to this day. I didn’t encounter any problems on the short walk to the tower, but I did find something of extraordinary value. I found nourishment growing on a shrub. I had never seen anything like it, and still haven’t. Surely it has some exotic-sounding Latin name, but based on appearance alone I named them Strawbapples because they look like big strawberries, but have the intoxicating sound of a fresh, crunchy apple when you bite into one. I can’t say much for the taste, but they had the salient trait of providing both sustenance to help me recover my strength and moisture to slake my increasingly strong thirst. I would be subsisting on these things for my entire stay on the island and knew I would get sick of the taste at some point, but I sure was happy to find them, and even happier to find that they were common enough to usually be able to find a few when I really needed them.

I also found a number of other potent plants. I collected all of them that looked usable, even though I had no idea how to use them or what value they would provide. There was one, though, that I recognized early on as being the primary ingredient in a health-restoring poultice. Just as with the water, I was to make heavy use of this concoction.

Sorry, I have strayed off topic. None of this jabbering explains the horrid thing that I found in that tower. It wasn’t easy to get into that tower; I spent a lot of time climbing around on it until I found a way in. I’ll note here that having to find tricky paths into and out of structures to be pretty much the hallmark of this island. I’m an excellent climber, as I’ve said, but tricky is tricky no matter how good you are, and these buildings were tricky! That said, others had gone before me and I was often able to just follow the scratches and markings left on the walls and beams from their efforts. Using those guides, I was able to climb up the tower and drop down inside. As I reached the bottom and paused to congratulate myself, I heard it: the unmistakable and equally unwelcome sound of someone moaning. I traced the sound to a locked trapdoor at the bottom of the tower. There was a man in there. His moans and his pleading for help tore at my heart, but there simply was nothing I could do for him. Climbing back out of that tower and leaving him behind was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I had no choice, but still.... hard to live with.

Once outside the tower, I set course for some ruins I could see off in the distance.

I didn’t make it.

About halfway there, I saw a dog. I love dogs! I thought maybe this one could help me as I trekked the island, so I walked over to make friends. His warning growl was not only the last thing I wanted to hear, it was pretty much the last thing I would hear. He came after me. I turned to run, but it was too late. He tackled me from behind and started pulling me backwards. I could see the blood trail I was leaving as he tugged me apart. The last thing I saw before everything went black was the damage clawing at the ground trying to pull myself away was doing to my fingernails. This was, by far, the most disturbing thing I have ever experienced in a video game. I don’t say that as if it’s a good thing. It was not. I actually resent that this game caused me to Google “how to kill dogs by throwing rocks.”

Thus ends the telling of the first of many times I was to die early and often in Die Young. Sometimes I never even made it to the tower. Sometimes I got a lot further. But one thing I never, ever managed to do was escape that awful island. Dogs killed me over and over until I developed enough patience to skulk around them on hands and knees, crawling through fields of sunflowers. Falls from climbing and jumping came in a close second. Then a huge guy carrying a scythe decapitated me. I learned to avoid him too. Thinking I had finally come to grips with tactics that would keep me alive, I was shocked when I dodged the executioner, only to run into a masked guy with what I think was a bow or crossbow. Either way, he killed me dead.

That’s when I quit.

The message here is this: Die Young is hard! And that’s when playing in Adventure mode. There is no way in the world that I am going to go back and try Survival mode. Nope. Not me.

The game is still in Alpha, which means a zillion and a half things can change before full release, but there is only one thing that I really care about and would be happy to see: a "no dogs" checkbox in the settings. I hate, hate, hate games that have dogs as my enemy. I can’t stand to kill them, but I haven’t the patience to sneak around crouching down and skulking around at a snail’s pace. It was the dogs, in fact, and the dozens of times they killed me, that drove me to learn that I didn’t need to find the widely scattered campfires required to save the game—in Adventure mode, you just need to find twigs (easier, but still not easy) to start a fire anywhere you want. Piece of advice: save early and often. Make it a priority. There is a whole lot of walking until you find fast travel points and it is very easy to die after a long walk or a complicated climb, so it can become a bit burdensome if your most recent save is fairly well aged.

Even in alpha, it is easy to see that this is a quality game and that the development team knows what they want to build and how to do it. Even the little things like the sounds of insects in the fields feeds into the immersion and believability. Those strawbapples? The sound of the crisp crunchy first bite is enough to send me out to the fridge to see what we have in hand by way of fresh fruit. There is, however, a sound that I wish would be changed or turned off. Every time your girl makes a jump from one handhold to another, she emits a little squeak/grunt that sounds like Serena Williams hammering a shot at Wimbledon.

Speaking of the climbing, it’s a pretty good modeling of parkour-style climbing, although it can be more difficult than Assassin’s Creed and the like. The process of getting in and out of things is a puzzle, which is fine, but the problem is that after an hour of trial and error figuring out the process, it can take another hour or two to do it successfully. I lost count of how many times I would be just about out of whatever I was trying to escape from when I would slightly mistime a jump and fall to my death. The other minor irritation came from trying to make easy-looking climbs or jumps only to find that she couldn’t/wouldn’t. I got used to that eventually by convincing myself that it was for the best in that it dissuaded me from spending a lot of time following dead ends.

If it wasn’t for the dogs, I would wholeheartedly suggest picking up this game, even in alpha. It was as stable as a rock, challenging, rewarding, and even when I was dying over and over, I still kept coming back for more. Ah, what the heck: grab a copy of Die Young with or without those daggone dogs. If you don’t want to roll the dice on an Early Access, at least keep an eye on it—this is going to be a good one.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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