Dead Man's Diary


In Dead Man's Diary you are dumped in a forest on your own in a post-apocalyptic world full of danger... Can you survive? Will you even want to?


Dead Man's Diary is a first-person survival horror game, made by German developer TML Games–best known for their bus simulators. Dead Man's Diary doesn't have any driving and is extremely heavy on the exploration aspect. The game is set in an alternate reality in which a nuclear holocaust occurred in the year 2000, triggered by a madman (sounds kind of prescient doesn't it?) 15 years later what remains of the world's population realise the boffins miscalculated and the world's nuclear shelters are running out of food before it's safe to return to the great outdoors. The decision is made that some survivors must leave, and guess what? You're one of the unlucky ones!

Possibly the game's finest moment, a distant mushroom cloud.

Dropped into a forest from a helicopter you have no clue what to do or where to go, apart from a fairly obvious trail and arrows pointing to your destination. You can go off the beaten path at this point, but there's little purpose. Later on you'll need to search every nook and cranny of every room, corridor, tunnel or building. You obviously need to find shelter, food and water as soon as possible, and also some way of knowing if the supplies you discover are irradiated or not.

You find your way out of the forest into what appears to be some sort of deserted and desolate Industrial installation, which had been used as a camp by the military at some point. I cleverly deduced this because the entire place is scattered with army trucks and military supply boxes, some of which are locked and require a lockpick to open them. This introduces a lockpicking mechanic similar to that which has been used in many games. Here you begin to find useful supplies such as bottled water, canned food, iodine pills and most importantly, a geiger counter with which you can test anything useful you find.

You'll soon realise that 99.9% of the supplies found in anything but sealed containers are contaminated, and testing any consumable supplies found in open air (even inside buildings) becomes a pointless chore, and the lockpicking mechanic is overused to the point of abuse. The clunky controls and the fact that the protagonist seemingly only has one hand (because you constantly have to switch between the geiger counter and your flashlight), are also remarkably annoying.

Undoubtedly the game's most exciting sequence is being chased by a bear!

If you really want to up the difficulty you may wish to turn off "Dynamic Help”, as if you dither too much it leads you by the nose straight to every required object. But to be honest, with some of the puzzles, without it, you'd just be scouring every single inch of the map, which would soon get super-tedious, and it really helps when you need to find or gather specific items.

Once you've scraped together the materials to build a campfire and a bed you can cook some food and sleep. I found simply recognising what was what difficult because the icons are so badly designed, and there's little help in the form of a tutorial, just some hints of what to do in your diary.

Player status (health etc) isn't displayed by default, but rather than constantly check my status screen I turned it 'on' in the options menu, because to put it simply: without the HUD you will just suddenly drop dead (of starvation, thirst or radiation poisoning) without warning!

Dead Man's Diary certainly looks pretty good, especially when considering it's a port of a 2 year-old PC game, although claims of "lavishly designed photorealistic locations" might be pushing it a bit, but Unreal Engine 5 does a decent job.

My first campfire of many.

Exploration is a big part of the game, but the constant search for supplies gets to be a chore. The game contains a few tricky and obscure puzzles to solve, but in the main it's just plodding around constantly searching for food, water and somewhere to sleep. The game throws occasional, totally non-scary “jump scares” at you as you’re stalked by someone or something. You'd have thought finding or fashioning a weapon would have been a high priority, and the protagonist even mentions finding a weapon, but you don't until you're over half-way through the game.

Searching EvErYtHiNg soon becomes a necessary habit.

I'm not sure if some things were lost in translation but the American protagonist's light-hearted internal dialogue gets rather surreal and/or nonsensical, as comedic quips often do when auto-translated. I presume the voice is an AI one, as on several occasions what were supposed to be funny quips fell flatter than Nish Kumar's standup, and some of the incidental text also makes little sense. A few lazy transitions from one area to another (“2 hours later…”) don't exactly help keep you immersed–in what is a really nice-looking game world–either.

Basic crafting really feels like an afterthought, and the inventory system is basic and non-intuitive to use, but all equipment can be upgraded if you find related books–once you find a workbench that is. The developer claims a large game world and a comprehensive story that ensures 50 hours of gaming "fun", but while it could probably take you 50 hours to plod through the game this search-a-thon really isn't anything approaching fun. If you thought that the Borderlands, Far Cry or The Division games had a lot of searching/looting, then you ain't seen nothing yet!

Parts of Dead Man's Diary were reasonably good, but the constant trudging around trying not to die because of the toxic environment and the ridiculously small inventory reminded me of Metro, only less fun and next to no gunplay to liven things up. This doesn't really matter as the most common enemy (some sort of low-detail mannequin-like zombie) are about as scary as your old Nan. I did find a pistol well into the game, about 13 or 14 hours in, but you hardly use it, and there's a shotgun to be found later too, but I seriously doubt many will stick with the game long enough to find either and many enemies can simply be ignored or bypassed altogether. The problem being that the enemies are so sparse and the shooting action so lightweight that it's all too late to save the game from being this search-a-thon slog, or give you any incentive to continue. I'm sure there are plenty of gamers out there that will enjoy the masochistic, plodding, lengthy struggle that Dead Man's Diary supplies (for the reasonable price of £24.99), but I'm not one of them.

The game is beautiful at times, but the gameplay never matches the visuals.

As there is no respite from the dangers, you could call Dead Man's Diary a hardcore survival game, but unlike most others (I'm thinking of all kinds of survival games, like Subnautica, Ark: Survival Evolved, Dying Light, State of Decay, The Long Dark, Rust, Valheim, Dead Island, Callisto Protocol, Day Z or even Grounded) there really is no time to enjoy the game's decent graphics, or break up the constant grovelling around in the dark by shooting/stabbing/bludgeoning some enemies to death. The constant scanning and searching will give you a virtual crick in the neck, and was probably more bearable on PC with the immediacy of mouse control. The obscure puzzles also mean that there's little fun to be had on that score.

To compound all Dead Man's Diary's other faults it will also autosave you "up a blind alley" into a new area with no chance of survival (because of thirst/radiation level/low health/hunger etc) and you cannot backtrack. This is what I'd call a FATAL flaw, I have no idea how it got through the beta stage and it's likely to make players want to rage quit. Nobody sets out to make a bad game, and maybe if played on PC it's not so bad, but as a console game? Sorry, but it just doesn't hack it. Without dropping any spoilers Dead Man's Diary also has one of the lamest game endings I've ever slogged away at for 20+ hours to see, and I found it hugely disappointing. It's like they completely ran out of time and/or ideas and just whipped something up quickly one Friday afternoon. I’m delighted to say that this is my Final Diary Entry.

Thanks to TML Studios and PressEngine for the review code.