Dead Too Soon? Dead Man’s Diary Review

A post-apocalyptic world left with your thoughts and the joys of balancing hunger, thirst and radiation. Here are my thoughts on Dead Man's Diary on Steam.

What does Dead Man’s Diary have to do with buses? Well, it’s developers TML Studios first foray into survival territory when perhaps they’re best known for bus simulators such as Fernbus and a busload of other titles. That doesn’t mean anything, but that’s our intro dealt with.

Set in a post-apocalyptic environment – a fictitious one – the visuals are very real. Graphics can be a subjective one. Some like pixel art; others like to be able to look up girls’ skirts by staring into puddles. Me? I’m easily pleased. Though the setting can be somewhat depressing, the nature elements are lover-ly.

You play a bloke whose name is omitted, or I’ve forgotten it. I didn’t care much for him. He’ll narrate the story with excessive monologues and diary entries without any characters to confide in. Each to their own and all that jazz, but I didn’t feel the dialogue was suited and sometimes less is more.

Dead Man's Diary Review - Bunking off
Bunking off. Source: Steam

That ‘less is more’ factor is mirrored in Dead Man’s Diary gameplay: there’s a lot of wandering around aimlessly, with little to see or do. Primarily, you’ll look for scraps to build a camp, supported by an inventory the size of a thimble. Post-apocalyptic living ain’t that cool. Besides hunger and dehydration, there are issues with the temperature, battery life for your gear, a piano that chases you accompanied by a trail of cans (‘jump scares’), and radiation.

You’ll find food and drink in abundance, but before you can collect them, you’ll have to scan it for radiation. Oh – you don’t have a Geiger meter? Good luck finding one. That’s your first hour of gameplay. When you do find the Geiger meter, eight in ten supplies are contaminated, meaning you can’t do anything with them. On top of that, you have to find components that are incredibly limited. 

There aren’t any maps, no radars, hotspots – anything for that matter. When starting Dead Man’s Diary, the game said to press the A button. I mean, I didn’t have to follow these instructions, but I played with a controller, and it was… so-so. Despite being impressed by the opening forest scene and getting lost a couple of times, it wasn’t long until the 90s invisible walls appeared. The protagonist barking, “Dude! Where am I?” didn’t help.

Dead Man’s Diary gameplay is initially in the dark, and boy is it dark. Ideally, you want to have the torch in your hand. However… you need to switch to the Geiger meter frequently. On a controller, there’s no binding to switch appropriately. Likewise, with the mouse and keyboard you have to press the mouse wheel then A or D to select. The torch? Press F. The Geiger meter? Nothing. This setup was atrocious. I looked at the settings a couple of times and eventually gave up and stopped searching for food.

Unfortunately, the game will keep chipping away at your health, so you HAVE to find supplies to stay alive. Wandering around in the dark, desperately looking for one piece of fabric had me running out of batteries. Playing in the dark was practically impossible, so I did the next best thing: I turned up the brightness on my monitor for a milky experience. Up until this point, I was not enjoying the game at all. Sure, it looked the part, but gameplay consisted of searching for items for a character I could care less about.

When I eventually found my gear, I set up camp, saved the game then headed out. Yay – daytime! The visuals once again softened the mood but walking deeper into the woods, I’m told I have to leave some inventory behind to proceed. I do this, then find out I have to do the same thing again and set up camp, having disposed of the gear. At least I unlocked the photo mode, but the settings were all in German, and as lovely as it would be to dust off my non-existent skills… Nah. I think we’ve hit the wall on this one.

I’ve given some thought about being overly nice and agreeable and persevering, but Dead Man’s Diary crashed on me a couple of times when getting stuck between assets. The switching between tools was irritating, I had zero interest in my character, but perhaps most damning of all, the gameplay was monotonous and felt like a waste of my time. My character was hungry yet again, the inventory was showing as full, and I had radiation poison? No thanks. Just die already. Sorry, I can’t recommend it.

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