Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Game 23: Isle of the Dead

You can sum up this game by quitting
Name:Isle of the Dead
Publisher:Merit Software
Developer:Rainmaker Software
Time:8 hours (including added time with CD version)

Isle of the Dead throws out a lot of ideas, most of which don't work at all. There's the adventure game aspect, which you could beat in 30 minutes if I'm being generous. There's the shooting aspect, which consists of shooting the same 5 guys for most of the game, followed by brief additions of two other guys at different points. Oh, and the shooting part is very slow until the very end.
I'm pretty sure I've seen this screen twenty times
The worst fault of the game is the constantly respawning enemies. While the game only has ten or so enemies in each area, these add up. In a practical, non-cheating sense, you will kill enough enemies to match something like Wolfenstein or Doom. Except because its the exact same enemies, it feels so much worse. In order to get past this part, you need to get an item that you might only get accidentally. One of the village chiefs says the oracle needs a sacrifice. You have a flower, which seems obvious. Smokes, lighter, gem, valuable, some games have gods like valuable things. Jacket, compass, possibly unique. A wolf corpse? Something that doesn't actually make sense and isn't a normal thing for a player to take? From my understanding, you're supposed to wait until they're on the altar before killing them. Mind, this doesn't get into actually reaching the oracle in the first place...

A good adventure game would have more than one line of text too
As to the adventure game aspect, well, its a joke. Its like a Cryo game in that only the important things are interactable. Like a Cryo game there's so much interesting looking stuff that you can't interact with that it sucks. Unlike a Cryo game, however, the things you do need to do are not completely shrouded in shadow. That doesn't suddenly make this good, as I can't even look at the bodies of my dead travelling companions in the plane, nor the guards, nor anything really. Even things you can look at tell you nothing. Actions too, are not easy to do. If you miss using an item, you have to go back to the inventory and start again. Don't even get me started on using items on other items in an adventure scene.

In some ways, the game is ahead of its time
Another aspect that didn't occur to me minutes before I hit the publish button, is that this game has a minor GUI problem. The adventure scenes have a decent UI, but that disappears when the shooting sections start. I suspect this might be because the Uzi was added later, they realized they could have just two types of ammo on the GUI when there are three. Or something about not being able to find anything on the ground. Now, this is actually the GUI that any ZDoom-derived engine uses, and I use that all the time, but the option is nice.

There are good elements. The graphics, when not in the shooting aspect, are appealing in their pulpy goodness. The endgame syringe puzzle, when not forcing me to backtrack across the island, was a fun experience. The uh...well I guess that's about it.

There are a lot of seeming glitches:
  • Turning makes the enemies alert if they're in that sweet spot. They always are.
  • Enemies appear in the walls.
  • The machete sometimes has unlimited reach
  • Doors, full stop.
  • Doors that should link somewhere but don't.
  • Cycling weapons is too fast. As you get more weapons, it gets worse.

The first three weapons are crap in the same way, they feel like the same weapon. Yes, the machete feels like the rifle. They do different damage, but it doesn't really matter. The "uzi", which is really a pistol someone modified, feels powerful. That's because it's only used in the last 10% of the game. 1/10

The zombies and other enemies each take a unique amount of ammo to kill, have their own lines, and really feel like they have their own personalities. None of that matters after killing the same enemies 1000 times. 1/10

There aren't any as such, so I'm going to give this nothing here. 0/10

If we take away the endless enemies, the game is pretty close to being smartly designed. It doesn't quite fit into what the beach would suggest, but every level can be smushed into each other with a little effort. Make the game about dodging enemies instead of burning through thousands of rounds and this would be really clever. As it stands, they're the right levels for a different game, but this game has respawning enemies. 1/10

Player Agency:
Firstly, let me point out that the movement, while its nice to have the option of various speeds, never hits a sweet spot. Its always too fast or too slow. This made picking up items a bitch, since I have to stop and press G to do so. This also applies to the weapon selection, hitting W cycles through them too fast. Using the inventory is an incredibly slow solution. The keys for running, shooting and strafing are all messed up in comparison to normal shooters. I also would have liked the ability to open a door, instead of standing in front of it. 2/10

Before I get to the adventure game parts, I'd like to point out that the shooting parts have the odd bits of cleverness here. Sometimes you can actually do things you wouldn't expect to be able to do at the time.
The adventure game parts on the other hand, are very cumbersome and generic. There are almost no hotspots and the unusual hotspots there are...well, they're out of place. The actual adventure interface is understandable, but obtuse and annoying. It was a pain to interact with things and overall it was too slow. 2/10
This was clever the first time it happened
I feel like they had a good cheesy b-movie thing going on before they had every character break the fourth wall. Which would be the second you talk to a guard. 3/10

Most of the wall graphics are all right. Yes, the doors with the jungle is visually confusing. However, the comic book style graphics suffer from considerable flaws. The artist, while mostly competent, doesn't understand how long arms should be. Whoever scanned the enemies should be shot, because they're all the same height. They're very cluttered seeming. I also dislike the green background for the inventory, which is just someone using the noise tool. I guess it isn't visually busy at least. 3/10

You are Jake Dunbar, a pilot, I guess. You have to get off the island. You meet a chief, literally make the plot more interesting by rescuing his daughter, and defeat an evil scientist. Despite all the dialog going on, there's no point to much of it. 1/10

The musician here tried to go for a John Carpenter-style soundtrack, but unfortunately, the end result is very boring. Except for the medical lab, that's actually good. The sounds on the other hand, are all taken from a microphone with a very noticeable pop. Its very distracting. The guns lack punch and feel bland too. The CD version fixes these issues and has a new soundtrack, but I am rating the floppy. 2/10

Which brings the total up to 16. Despite a lot of elements that could be improved upon, this game's execution is tedious and unfun. Any entertainment I got out of it was solely do to finally beating it. Keep in might I am the person being positive about this game. Computer Gaming World called it one of the worst games of all time. The two internet video reviewers who have touched upon the game, Brutalmoose and LazyGameReviews, didn't have much higher opinions. You can certainly tell they didn't finish it. Honestly, I can't blame them.

The former president of Rainmaker, Sean Glaspell, apparently took the time out of his day to complain about people calling it a Doom clone on an abandonware site. To paraphrase, the game came out before Spear of Destiny came out, and had better performance when rendering enemies up-close than Wolfenstein. Now, unless there's something screwy going on with dates, that's not true. For the later? Judging by LGR's review of the game, that matters very little.
There's also something interesting in Myk Friedman. At first, it seems like he was just some guy who didn't do anything before or since. If I didn't read Sean's statements wouldn't take a second guess at things. Turns out Mr. Friedman actually is a comic artist, and one who very well may have read Dylan Dog or Deadworld. Now, I can't actually find that many comics he was the artist for, but he did do art for humorous back sections of Rock 'n' Roll Comics, which is a very interesting look back. I didn't check every issue, but he at least did a thing in no. 22. For the next 15 years, I can't find anything, but in 2008 he started making web animation as Toonsmyth Studios. Well, it might not be him. I haven't exactly exhaustively checked, but on the other hand, how many people share a similar weird nickname and an artstyle? Unfortunately, if my connection is correct, Mr. Friedman is dead. And now, with that bit of chipper knowledge, I leave you, until next time.

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