Title: The Shrouded Isle
Developer: Kitfox Games
Release Date: January 17, 2018
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Kitfox Games
Most people would likely agree that there’s something strangely interesting about the occult and the supernatural, no matter how bogus these things may be. This morbid curiosity made The Shrouded Isle stick out to me upon viewing its trailer, and though it has its fair share of issues, it’s certainly a unique and peculiar gaming experience.
In The Shrouded Isle, you play as the leader of a cult-engulfed village. The entire village is made up of five prominent families, each of which is in charge of promoting a certain value that is of use to the cult and its beliefs. These values, Fanaticism, Ignorance, Penitence, Discipline, and Obedience are what keep the village in-line, meaning that as the cult’s leader, you have to keep these values strong, but more on that in a moment.
The Shrouded Isle begins with a premonition. Judgement Day is five years away, and your cult has to be ready for when that day comes. In order to be ready, you have to sacrifice a “sinner” at the end of every season, since your cult’s god is an old-school fire-and-brimstone deity. As you learn about the people of your village, you find out about their strengths and weaknesses, making it easier to pick a sacrifice. It’s still difficult, however, as you need to appease each of the five families to avoid revolt. Basically, you have a lot on your plate and the apocalypse is fast approaching.
What makes all these actions and choices more difficult is the lack of instruction given in The Shrouded Isle. You’re basically thrown into cult-leading without much in terms of an explanation, which makes your first couple attempts at reaching Judgement Day feel clunky and needlessly frustrating. I’m all for learning mechanics through gameplay instead of text walls, but for a complex sim like The Shrouded Isle, a lot of effort needs to be put into properly teaching players what to do. This effort isn’t really present in The Shrouded Isle, meaning it has a bumpy start for anyone but the most experienced fans of the genre.
The game itself can be quite engrossing, especially as time goes on and the cult starts thinning out because you’ve sacrificed more and more sinners. The families begin to get angry at you as you start sacrificing people for less severe sins, and each value begins to deplete as the people who uphold them are killed for your god. Just getting to the end can be incredibly challenging, as you can take quite a few different approaches to keep your cult alive. You need to do inquiries into each citizen to know what they’re good at and what they’re bad at, which helps you decide who to sacrifice when it comes down to it. I tried to keep everyone satisfied while also keeping the town pure and chaste, and that leads to some incredibly difficult choices and risks. You feel genuinely bad sacrificing someone just because they’re “curious”, but sometimes it’s the only option if you want to keep the cult going.
As the game goes on, things become even more complicated when some of your followers start acting strangely, which means they’ll have to be incarcerated in an abandoned tower. There, you can examine them for a season to learn about their affliction (which is often something like “Pervert” or “Kleptomaniac”), or you can purify them. Purification involves dunking their cage into a strange liquid, and can either “cure” the citizen, tragically drown them, or turn them into a disfigured “Awoken” creature who, while technically alive, has no virtue when compared to a regular citizen.
There’s a lot at play at all times in The Shrouded Isle, which can be a positive as well as a negative. You’ll likely tire of the “inquire, enhance virtues, and sacrifice” rhythm of gameplay after a couple runs, as it becomes incredibly repetitive fairly quickly. This is why I recommend playing the game in small doses, to fulfill your sim urges in bursts.
The best thing about The Shrouded Isle is how uncomfortable it makes you feel through just its presentation and writing. The muted monotone visuals (which can be altered to your liking in the settings menu) make things feel dusty and eerie, which is complemented by the quiet but tense sound design. You’re always on edge when you play The Shrouded Isle, which is its greatest strength.
As mentioned, the writing in The Shrouded Isle is haunting in the best way. As the cult leader, you’ll occasionally get letters from citizens or requests delivered in-person, mostly asking for advice and spiritual guidance. Some citizens feel they should be punished more, while another may worry that their deformed amphibian-baby is a sign of their sins. The fanaticism that is displayed through the actions and dialogue of these characters can be remarkably creepy, meaning you’ll never forget that you’re the head of a pretty macabre religion.
Excellent writing and an eerie atmosphere make The Shrouded Isle’s bumpy start and repetitive nature easier to swallow, though it’s still best swallowed in small doses from time to time. For its $4.99 price, The Shrouded Isle is worth grabbing for those interested in a fun little occult simulator, but if creepy sims aren’t your cup of tea, the game’s repetitive nature will likely be too much for you.
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