The Survival genre has gone from strength to strength. Developers have gone to town on allowing every type of theme to be explored, surviving can happen anywhere now; Space, against dinosaurs, as primitive apes, and so on, and so forth. My favourite take on this genre is the basic approach, you are one person trying to survive on a random island. It’s you against the elements. I believe that the popularity has increased as everyone likes to believe that they can survive an apocalyptic event, that they possess the skills to live off the land, and fight feral beasts. Of course we can all do that from the safety of our armchair, I’m not so sure we could all Bear Gryll it up, and survive for days on end in the wilderness. Isle of Spirits developed and published by Silver Bullet Games is a procedurally generated island survival game. You must fight against the elements and the spirits of the land to survive, and thrive. The world will provide everything that is required to progress, but can you put together the pieces and build a new life for yourself on this isolated floating rock?
This Survival game goes back to the very basic principles of the genre. You must search for food, gather resources, and build a house and gardens in order to stay alive. There are an unlimited number of island combinations to explore, so no game will ever be the same. The developers have upped the ante by making this a permadeath title. There is nothing more worrying than working hard, creating a new home, and then losing it all to a silly mistake. As you start the game you appear on the shoreline of your new world, there is no explanation of why you are there, and what you need to do. In fact, there is no hand holding at any point, you are free to discover the game mechanics at your own pace, even though most of the time this will cost you your life, and all of your progress. It sounds like I’m pretty bitter about this process, I’m really not, I liked that the game evolved at the pace I set, it’s just hard to accept that all my progress was wiped just as I was getting to grips with the world around me.
With a number of other similar titles I’ve found that the developers have gone OTT regards; crafting options, how in-depth you can customise your player, any pets you may have, skill trees, and any character progression. Isles of Spirits has bucked this trend, and kept things simple. Your character doesn’t chop trees for hours at a time, just so that he can become super strong, and then somehow carry 500 trees from point A to point B. No, he stays the same throughout, just your regular guy doing his thing, by himself, on an island that wants to kill him. The crafting choices are extremely limited, you are able to create a couple of rudimentary tools, a choice of prefabricated houses, and then some basic survival tools. This is it, no elaborate laser dinosaur who can cut through the ore, while devouring your enemies, though, let’s be honest, that would be super cool. You are given enough items to survive the world around you, and that is it. It’s a refreshing take for a game from this category, and it allowed me just to focus on learning the various game mechanics and exploring the lands around me.
You must concentrate on a number of key elements in order to live out a full and happy life on your new island; Health, food, fatigue, and temperature. I can’t confirm it, but I also think there is a sanity scale, as I perished to talking voices a number of times, even though my stats were full. This could well be a bug, but I like to think I died to the mysterious forces that surround the island. You are in complete control of how you maintain your vital statistics, from placing your house, bed and fire, you must harvest food and for an increased boost you have the ability to cook it. Cooking the food does take a little getting used to, you have a zone which you must stop a moving line, within this area there are green sections, if you fail to hit them, it will cremate your food, and leave you hungry. There are a number of microclimates that you must venture through, these have a major impact on your well being. If you can avoid these sections, it’s for the best, but sometimes they are unavoidable, so planning and preparation is the key. The eerie part comes when day turns into night, you are given little warning, as dusk very quickly fades. If you don’t have a flame to light your way, then, a mysterious and unknown creature sets about attacking you. I discovered this on my first playthrough as I settled down for the night inside my wooden shack, I thought I was safe, and nothing could get me. I’ll never forget that evening, paralysed in my grass bed with no option to save myself, it was a sad, sad day.
This basic looking title is set in a low-poly world. Its striking features are its vivid colours and a variety of biomes that you discover. The weather fronts and hazards work well, and just about delivers what would be expected of a moderate level Indie title, nothing spectacular, just okay and playable. The ever-changing light to reflect the passing of hours works particularly well, and it does fill you with panic and dread if you have failed to prepare for the night time terrors. The main protagonist is a fair-skinned, redhead, with no sun cream in sight so I was particularly worried that he’d burn on this desert island, but no matter how long he stayed in the sun, he was fine, very bizarre. Though this is a procedurally generated title, the worlds all felt very similar, I think that the developers could have created a few more biomes, and locations to explore to really mix things up. I would have liked to see a number of islands located in close proximity of one another, each with specific resources missing, this would have forced the player to venture out in order to collect all the required items to truly survive.
When you play a game that forces you to constantly be worried about death, and the environment around you, you want audio that matches this feeling of despair. Fortunately, Silver Bullet Games have done just that. When you first start playing, and when everything is okay, you are joined by an upbeat and uplifting piece of music that makes you feel like everything is going to be okay. As things take a turn for the worse, and the darkness comes, the music starts taking a more sinister tone with minor keys creating a foreboding atmosphere. The sound effects used throughout are generally very good, I particularly enjoyed the noise of the mysterious creatures that lurk in the dark. I was reminded of the audio from the game Don’t Starve, when the player falls into a state of despair and insanity, he starts seeing evil beings and hearing taunting whispering, and that sound is exactly what plays out in Isle of Spirits.
As you wander around the world, you are free to climb and explore anything that you can see. Don’t touch the water though, like the Wicked Witch from The Land Of Oz, you will instantly die. Most of the movement is smooth and easy to accomplish, but occasionally you will discover that you get caught up on blocks, and snagged on invisible edges, its nothing game-breaking, it just makes the game feel rough and unfinished. The developers have placed reminders on the screen to help you remember which buttons are set to which action, this isn’t really required, as it’s pretty straightforward, and in my opinion easy enough to manage. Separate menus for your inventory and crafting keep things simpler still, but annoyingly the action continues to play as you are trying to craft items. I found that I lost my life a number of times as I desperately tried to create a fire, or torch, just for it to be placed in my inventory. This short delay was enough for me to be annihilated by the monsters from the shadows. A pause in the action or an ability to shortcut certain items would have overcome this issue, and it’s certainly something that I hope that the developers will alter in future updates.
The Survival genre is renowned for being one of the most replayable categories there is. Once you get into it, it gets under your skin, and you just want to progress that little bit more. Isle of Spirits is no different, even though it is a lot simpler than a lot of its peers, it also has a number of defining features that make it stand out from the crowd. The requirement for sleep and maintaining a correct temperature demands that you have to progress slowly, and plan ahead, you can’t just work for hours on end hoarding resources, and creating a super base. The varying weather fronts, and biomes enforce a change in your gaming style. The ever-present risk of permadeath keeps you on your toes, and makes you a little more cautious than you probably would like to be. It’s a slow and methodical game where trial and error will help you to fully understand what the island has to offer. I’m unable to place a time scale on this title, for some people they will feel like they have explored everything and completed all they want in just a few hours, others will play this for days on end, and still won’t be bored. What I can say is that in its current build there are no achievements attached, so I’m unable to tell you how easy or difficult this one will be to complete. Judging by my experiences so far, I think it’s going to have quite a challenging, but rewarding list to tick off.
Isle of Spirits feels very much like a simplified, and not so stylized Don’t Starve. This isn’t a bad thing DS is a fantastic game and is much loved. It has a massive following, so if Silver Bullet Games are only 10% as successful, it’ll still be considered a popular game, and a success. It’s hard to create a unique title in this category as everything has been tried, and most of the permutations have been played to death. What I believe has been done well here is, going back to basics. They have not over-complicated the matter with a ridiculous and unnecessary amount of building materials and tools. IoS has really nailed down the key principles of what makes a Survival game great, and they haven’t messed with it. The idea of permadeath will not be to everyone’s liking, heck I don’t like losing hours of progress, but that fear really pushes you to not make mistakes. Would I recommend this? Yes, it’s a good title at the moment, but with a few small tweaks, it could be something that you will be able to play on a casual basis for a long time. Will you be able to live off the land, and survive the Isle of Spirits? Only luck, patience, and time will tell!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Isle of Spirits Review
Gameplay - 6/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
The Isle of Spirits is a dangerous place. Explore, scavenge and build. The land provides you with everything that you need, but can you survive the elements, and the mysteries of the Island?
- Atmospheric audio.
- Simple control set up.
- Procedurally generated worlds.
- A basic gaming concept.
- More diverse biomes required.
- Movement can be restricted by collisions with blocks.
- Permadeath may not be to everyone’s liking.