Thursday, February 13, 2020

Isle of the Dead: Should Have Taken a Boat

Exploitation films, these are low-budget films designed to cash in quickly on a trend, star or exploitive content. Chances are today, you probably know them from a mockbuster or the films of Quentin Tarantino. No group of people have ever gone out and said "This right here is an exploitation video game". While asset flips could be considered exploitation, it doesn't feel like quite that much the same. People don't just buy a bunch of stock footage and sell it as a movie, even Ed Wood. While the best ones are indeed worth the premium price that companies like Arrow and Shout! Factory put on them, some are crap made by crap filmmakers. Isle of the Dead falls into the latter. Because it is terrible.
Of course, its hard to call this exploitation when it clearly had more effort put into it than nearly every other Wolf-clone made this year. Its got features like adventure game elements, videos, a plot and comic-y graphics. While Isle of the Dead has the feel of pulp comics, it shares more with films like Dawn of the Dead than any comic released at this point in time*.
I had a demo of this on a shareware disc that I never played. I looked at the video files folder and then chickened out. That's right, one look at the video file names in the demo and I said no. One look at the video files in the full version here, and I can tell you I made the right choice. Of course, I already knew that, because I've played this in-between then and now.
The story, from our perspective, our plane is shot down over an isle, and we are the only survivor.

The title screen and intro music do a good job of giving that spooky low-budget feel. Like anything could happen. Like someone trying to copy John Carpenter's fondness of three note melodies and didn't understand why those were good. Or it could be I already know about the horrors within. So we're on the same page, I am picking the easiest difficulty, because I fear no evil except turning.
I start on a beach. Near a plane. I fumble around pointlessly trying to get the medikit you see in the screenshot for a minute. Oh, well, I better check out the burning plane here. Its on fire. A good sign. Not a sign you should flee or anything.
Note that the knife is just casually there, above my cursor
Isle of the Dead follows adventure game logic in that you should meticiously search the area for anything of value. In this plane you should find the following, a machete, a book, a flare gun, wirecutters, and a compass. The bloody remains of those who flew with you on this flight are a grim reminded that the squeamish should return this to the store they bought this from. You know, if this was 1993. Despite approaching its 30th anniversary I don't think this game is any less morbid.
Its also worth looking through items in your inventory. Sometimes its useful, such as searching through this jacket containing a package of copyright infringing cigarettes. Was it that hard to draw? Make sure to read the help section, its useful so you know which button to press for vital tasks such as getting items on the ground. The key for shooting is spacebar, and the key for side-stepping is Ctrl. Guys, I think you lost your attempt at not getting sued by iD by plastering the box with quotes relating to how much like Wolfenstein it is.
Is it night or day is the least of my questions
If I were smart, I'd wait to be rescued, because as anyone who's heard about downed planes knows, they search for those. Tell the coast guard about the undead, and then wait for the US government to send the Navy SEALs in or just napalm the place. I guess if the game was smart enough to know about that, it'd be smart enough to send the zombies to the beach. There should be a game about the former. That'd be awesome. Although it might just end up like this one...
Before I go jungle-hopping, I'm going to circle the beach. Why? Because we've only got a machete against a horde of undead. As anybody who's ever seen a zombie film knows, that is going to be as useful as trying to punch them. Along the way there's some useful coconuts and at the other end of the downed plane? A shotgun. This was apparently told in a comic that came with the game. That comic is now lost as is any trace of the story of this game.
I enter the jungle. You do this by cutting up an area that looks indistinguishable from the other walls. Yes, someone charged money for this, and chances are someone would do the same today. Inside I am greeted by the hordes of the undead. The badly, badly added undead. The undead that don't really make sense given the subject matter. You will see why soon enough. They aren't much of a problem on this screen, seeing as there's no way for them to sneak up on me, and soon enough they're all dead.
Let me talk about three issues at this point. One, the movement is really fast. Too fast. That's something I thought I'd never say, but its true. You walk faster than Doomguy runs and run like a supercar. Turning is either too slow or too fast, the options are pointless. Two, the soundtrack that was okay at the start, it is now annoying. There was an interm track on the beach, but in the jungle its the main theme. Now, I wouldn't mind this if it only played when enemies arrived, but trying to find out where three, the path through this game is, is very annoying. So I assume that this area has nothing for me as of yet, and I'll get past the fence later.
You can see over the walls, which is a flaw of this game's outdoor engine
Another area, this time full of even more undead. There's not much to say here, but jungle entrance of the eastern side of the east half of the crashed plane leads to the village. In such a way that you will surely get harmed on the way out. It hasn't cropped up yet, but enemies respawn. Every time you leave a screen the enemies you killed come back like you were never there. Items remain gone, so you can screw yourself if you aren't careful.
Shown here after having already convinced them I'm...okay?
The village is full of what appear to be Maori tribesmen. In order to get into the village you need the translation book, upon which a "clever" dialog will happen one line at a time. I'd like to take this time to mock the arms of the guy on the right. Heroic build, not strange proportions like the guy on the left. A lot of the anatomy here seems suspect, but competent enough that you might not notice it.
You are free to rob them blind, spy on a man taking a crap, and then talking to the tribe chief. Oh, and the dialog is voiced. I hear a lot of clicking and the sound of breath against the mic. I'm going to blame the developers. Because I can. The voice acting is bland.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
The chief tells us that a strange white man came to the island many moons ago, built a fortress, and then the island was plagued by "not-alives". He further goes on to tell us that the not-alives took everything from the village. That solves the problem of how they didn't get attacked, but also keeps the question of how they're still alive. Daughter taken, find brother, and BEWARE OF NIGHT DEMONS. We can't take his pliers though, because that would be stealing.
Which brings me to my final point for this section. Most of the undead clearly aren't the natives to this island, because they're vaguely some lost Maori tribe. Did someone just not notice some guy stealing a crapton of corpses? Including the corpses of children?

Well, I think that's enough IotD for one day, better quit and play some Master of Orion, and-
Imagine seeing this twenty times over the course of completing the game
That's right folks, if you quit this game normally, as opposed to quitting out of DOSBox like I imagine most people do, you will get a video of the PC killing himself. I'm sure you're thinking that's pretty low class. You'd be right. While I think there are situations where the developer can mock the player and even be right for it, I feel like there has to be an issue the player sucks at rather than the developers being incompetent. This is not the player being an idiot, refusing to read the manual and dying. Nor is it the player being so horribly incompetent they shouldn't even be playing this game to begin with. This is the developer sucking, mocking someone who may even like the game. I guess it is fair that it exists given the game's exploitative nature, but that doesn't mean its good.

Next time, my understanding of the game falls flat and then absolute chaos will befall me as I flail around trying to beat this thing

*Okay, that's not completely true, there's the obscure series Deadworld, and the Italian comic Dylan Dog but I doubt that the developers read either of these.

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