I was supposed to get Zero Escape Dilemma, the third and final title of the Zero Escape series, on the day of its release. Instead, I had to wait two weeks for Amazon to send me the game due to some problems with a pre-order bonus. I voiced my displeasure on Twitter to both companies and was constantly pushing Amazon to give me a solid answer as to why I didn’t have the game I had ordered nearly a year in advance despite promises from the publishers that I’d be getting my game on time. It was a massive pain in the ass, and you know what?
It was all worth it for the game that I’d ultimately be receiving.
Zero Time Dilemma begins almost immediately after the end of Virtue’s Last Reward. With the consciousness of Sigma and Phi being shot back into the past, they find themselves in the Nevada bunker where the virus that wipes out mankind was spread. They know that this is their only chance to prevent the death of over six billion people. Stakes are high and they don’t begin in the best of conditions. They are captured along with seven other people and forced into another dangerous game that will likely lead to their deaths.
In a change for the series, the narrative splits off in three different directions: C Team, D Team and Q Team. Each section of the game is played as a ‘fragment,’ where you play out a segment of the story before being put to sleep and injected with a drug that wipes the memory of the previous 90 minutes. This makes the narrative a bit confusing and frustrating at first, but as you go through additional fragments, you’ll get a better picture of where and when you are in the overall story. Like the previous games, there are several paths that events will occur based of your early choices. You’ll be going back and altering your choices often, which will lead to some rather interesting changes in the story.
Zero Time Dilemma also features some of the more mind and time-bending uses of time and history control to date. There will be several stories that branch off after what seems like a game over, so don’t assume that a path is closed off when a set of characters die. Hell, sometimes that’s when some of the most important story segments begin. That is occasionally frustrating, as there aren’t any large indicators pointing you in which direction to go. Be sure to keep checking completed Fragments and the overall story tree or you’ll end up lost.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredibly poor visual direction. Instead of static images or limited animation over text, Zero Time Dilemma goes fully cinematic. Everything is now panning and all the characters move around their environments during the cutscenes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good. Stiff character models and poor lip sync will stick out immediately and it doesn’t get better at any point in the game. Normally I’d harp more about it, but for some of the narrative tricks to work here, the game requires a more mobile camera and actually pays off. It’s just frustrating that things look as rough as they do.
It’s also pretty rough because this is by far the most violent game in the series. The character deaths are brutal, including acid baths, chainsaws, shotguns, evisceration, flames and more. While the camera doesn’t linger on the carnage, the sound effects and (ridiculous amounts of) squirting blood are pretty graphic. With the switch over to active camera and mobile character models, it added an extra sense of foreboding for me. While running across a pair of dead characters handcuffed to a wall was startling in Virtue’s Last Reward, it doesn’t get close to the reaction you get when you see a character’s head and limbs chopped apart in a freezer. Those who fear grand amounts of claret should definitely keep in mind what they’re getting in to.
And what about the story? Well, it’s exactly what I wanted. It takes a lot of risks, both with how it treats their characters currently and where they come from. Highlights include There’s one side story that acts as a potential origin for several characters that doesn’t really fit in the end of the series. While it does add a great deal of tragedy for two characters, it attempts to use that same story as an origin for another one and that’s where it falls apart. There is a lengthy epilogue for one game over scenario that surprised me with its poignancy and with its paradoxical implications. There’s one major reveal in one of the later Fragments that makes you rethink an entire team’s interactions that is both incredibly cool and kind of dumb. While there are a multitude of hints, laid out by several threads online, it still feels like it comes out of nowhere. There’s also little to no resolution when it comes to the origin of the virus that wrecks humanity. It’s used as a story beat here, but it’s only important in one story path.
Despite the flaws that Zero Time Dilemma definitely has, I was pleased with the final results. It managed to answer nearly all of the pressing questions from the previous entries and manages to have enough of its own story to stand on its own merits. The reduced amount of philosophical lectures and the doubling down on paradoxes and the like pleased the sci-fi nerd in me and it even includes a new way to look at time travel. Let’s just say that you might look at Back to the Future differently after one sequence. For those that have stuck with the Zero Escape series, this is the finale you’ve been waiting for. For those that haven’t started, go and get started. You’re missing out on one of the most interesting series of games out there.