Die Young, developed by IndieGala, is one of those rare titles that manages to hit all the right notes, creating an exciting symphony of survival, adventure, and mystery. You take on the role of an affluent and adventurous young woman who sets out with her friends for what she thinks will be a new thrill and a good time on an island in the Mediterranean sea. She then awakens at the bottom of a well, bruised and bloodied, with no memory of how she arrived there, and with no clues aside from a map lying on the floor in front of her. You emerge from the well onto a picturesque island and it is then up to you to discover what happened to your friends and why you were seemingly left for dead.
I was able to try the alpha build of the game, and I knew as soon as I opened the start menu that Die Young was going to be something different than your average survival title. I was greeted by the sounds of a steel guitar contrasted against an image of what appeared to be a quaint landscape, complete with country roads hedged with old wooden fences. After I escaped from the well using the game’s climbing mechanic (more on that in a bit), I was struck with just how gorgeous the game is, particularly when crossing the countryside. I was surrounded by rolling hills covered in flowers, green grasses, and fields of golden wheat that waved gracefully in the wind. Stunning beams of bright sunlight will stream through breaks in the trees or rocks, or through windows and cracks in the buildings and ruins you will explore. Even the dilapidated structures you discover have a silent magnificence.
Many of the plants littering the island have medicinal properties and can be gathered for crafting into various healing balms and medicines. The crafting system is simple to learn, and expands during the game as you locate more materials (such as wood, cloth, and metal) and other recipes. The menu is simple to maneuver with a list of crafting materials on the right, and a grid full of possible recipes or items you can create in the center. You can easily switch between crafting menus by type, select the item you would like to craft, see if you have the necessary components, and then simply hold down “E” (if you are playing with a keyboard) to create the item (which will include medicines, wound care items, weapons, and so forth). This makes it simple to not only create what you need, but to plan out which components you must gather.
The finely tuned crafting system is not only a fun component of the game, but a welcomed one because you will need all the help you can get to make it off the island alive. The tranquility of the blue sky and surrounding water is enough to lull you into a false sense of serenity, but a little exploration will shatter any sense of comfort fairly quickly. Enemies are always stalking around the island, some more easily avoidable than others. As I was going about the pleasant business of gathering herbs (I needed to create a salve), I heard a disgruntled growl and a bark and turned to see a feral hound travelling my way at a great speed. I had no weapons and so all I could do was run, hoping the beast would relent. Thankfully, I was able to avoid death by outrunning him, but only just.
You have a stamina meter that appears on the lower left corner of the screen that lowers with exertion such as running or climbing. If the meter runs out, you will slow down to a walk or, if you are holding on to a handhold, you will lose your grip (an event that lead to my death more than once). I soon found out that if I squatted, I could avoid being detected by these hounds if I was in tall grass or weeds. In fact, one area I explored on the farm/villa required me to maneuver from one grouping of plants to another, like a ninja, in order to avoid the ravenous vengeance of these rather angry canines.
Other enemies that were a bit more difficult to avoid were rats and snakes. Often, I was forced to risk certain injury in order to make it through a room full of the hateful rodents, but thankfully their bites didn’t do major damage. This did mean I needed to make certain I stay stocked up on medicinal components, if I was planning on entering a structure that I might not easily be able to leave if I ran out of healing items. It is important to listen carefully because sometimes enemies will approach quietly. I once noticed a faint rustling sound only to realize I was being chased by a snake moving though the grass like an Olympic swimmer. It is possible to be poisoned in the game (and to craft items that will help counteract it), but thankfully I noticed the sinister serpent in time to run away poison-free.
Of course, antagonistic animals aren’t your only concern. You will notice while exploring that something has gone terribly wrong on the island, and something or someone far more sinister is still stalking about, (as if awakening at the bottom of a well with a map wasn’t enough to clue you in). In fact, at one point I heard footsteps behind me. I ran until I was no longer being chased, only to turn around and see in the distance a distinctly human enemy, who I immediately realized I didn’t want to run into again if I could help it. Strange goat-like images can be found draped across structures. Notes from former habitants or visitors are scattered throughout the buildings and ruins, describing how things went south. Gruesome discoveries serve as a warning and evidence that some sort of violent event occurred on the Island, disrupting what appears to at one time have been a peaceful experiment.
What exactly happened, though, must be pieced together bit-by-bit. The game does give you tasks to accomplish such as locating water or exploring certain structures around the island, but the game is non-linear which gives you the freedom to take on tasks as you see fit and put together the story at your own pace. This adds an intriguing element to your exploration that makes you want to dig deeper, especially the further down the rabbit hole you go (and you have no choice but to follow it through because, after all, your life depends on it).
Exploration is a blast, not only because you clearly have an ever-broadening mystery to solve, but because maneuvering through the various locations requires platforming puzzles that are just as well designed as the crafting system. Jumping and climbing are as simple as aiming in the right direction and hitting the jump button. However, you have limited stamina, so climbing takes not only skill, but planning. The only issue I had with jumping wasn’t mechanical, but rather that I often felt the distance between ledges seemed rather far for any human (even a virtual one) to make. However, once I got used to the fact I was Wonder Woman (or, rather, I had a seemingly superhuman jumping ability) it became one of my favorite parts of the game, as well as one of the most challenging.
Die Young is only in it’s beginning stages with just a portion of the Island currently available and it is already a well-oiled machine. Lovers of survival, adventure, and intriguing thrillers will all find something to keep them interested. The welcoming and simple to learn crafting system, the refined jumping and climbing elements, and the picturesque beauty of the environment will pull you in and beckon you back for more. The developers have promised extra enemies, more missions, death machines (seriously) and other additions. After playing the alpha, however, I would simply be happy just to spend more time on the island delving into it’s mysteries. The death machines do sound interesting, though, and I can’t wait to see what terror and intrigue the full game will entail.
The alpha build of Die Young, developed and published by IndieGala, is currently available on Steam Early Access.