LGR – Isle of the Dead – DOS PC Game Review


[MIDI music plays] [typing] More often than not,
a lame game will make a fuss and then disappear into the shadows. But then there are some games
that are of another caliber entirely. Games like Isle of the Dead, developed by Rainmaker Software, Inc., and published by Merit Software in 1993. Yes, I’ve seen this one show up on
several “Worst Games of All Time” lists, but does it really deserve that distinction? Well, it does have some exceptionally
tawdry and misleading box art in its favor. You do at least play a dude
and there is a chick in the game, although they don’t look anything like this. Not to mention this quote here. Yeah, I wouldn’t sell your game using
words like “knock-off,” but what do I know? It continues on the back as well with another quote: “Arcade portion of the game
plays amazingly like Wolfenstein.” Talk about potentially out of context. For all we know, the rest of it could say, “But the adventure portion plays
like a month-old Sasquatch turd.” And yes, this is a weird hybrid of a game, blending both first-person shooting
with point-and-click adventure gaming. Takes balls to be truly innovative, so I’ll give them that. But you know what they say:
the bigger the balls the harder they fall. Inside the box, you get the game on a single CD-ROM, at least in this version, and a simple black-and-white
manual that doesn’t really tell you much of anything you couldn’t
figure out for yourself in-game. But wait, there’s technically more, as there was a previous edition with differing box art. This version also came with
a black-and-white comic book that explained the backstory of the game. I don’t have this, but the story
is that you’re Jake Dunbar, the sole survivor of a group that’s
crashed their plane on an island run by an evil scientist who’s making zombies. It also apparently provided some hints as to where to find certain items in-game, so screw me for getting
the wrong version, I guess. The game starts off with either a cheesy,
uninteresting logo in the later version, or a cheesy, blood-soaked logo in the early version, followed by the game’s credits consisting of
several people who appear to have never worked for any game developer other than Rainmaker Software. From what I gather, this was the
first game for several of these guys and many of them were from other industries,
like developers for Creative Labs and comic book illustrators and such. I only mention this because… well, ha! I find it amusing how games like
this ever got made in the first place. I mean, where do they get the funding? I know they got it from Merit, but wh-what
convinced them to give it to them? I don’t know. You then get an option screen that
wouldn’t look out of place in a golf game, allowing you to change some
control and difficulty options, turn off music and sound effects, and save and load your game. Exit the options and you’re dropped right into the game where you can use the mouse to– W-whoa! Wait, well–Holy crap! What? Ha! Okay, what’s going on with these controls? Didn’t I read in the manual that Isle of the Dead is easily controlled with a Microsoft-compatible mouse? [man screaming] So, it turns out you’ll want to crank down
your mouse-sensitivity settings if you can, and be sure to play it on a PC slow enough so as not to make the game too twitchy. 233 MHz Pentium II? Nope. 386DX 25? Yes! Once the controls are under control, you’ll notice that you’re in a first-
person shooter, without the shooting. There’s some crap on the ground, some more identifiable than others, as well as a burning airplane
that you should totally climb inside because you just barely escaped with your life, so why not revisit the scene of
the disaster for old time’s sake? And now you’re in point-and-
click adventure game mode, which means you can use the
user interface and mouse cursor to interact with the environment as you see fit. Oh, yeah, and I hope you don’t
mind the sight of cartoon blood because right from the beginning
here you’ll be seeing a lot of it. It’s not exactly easy to tell what
items are useable and what’s not, but just click on everything and
eventually you’ll find some supplies. Like wire cutters, a phrase book, a flare gun, a compass, and a piece of bamboo– er… Uh, no, apparently they’re adamant it’s a machete. That’s clearly a piece of
bam-friggin-boo. What the balls? Oh, yeah, I’m playing the later version here, which has a lot of little
censorship changes going on. The newer version is missing loads
of graphically violent cutscenes, it turns the machete into a stick, and even cranks down the difficulty by
giving you a shotgun right at the start. So it’s easier, but it’s still the
worst version in every other way except that it has some
slightly more tolerable music, so just go with the earlier version if you want more content and challenge. Uh, yeah, and turn off the music either way because it will drive you absolutely
insane with its impenetrable blandness. [bland MIDI stings] I’m sorry to break it to you, “Skinny Man,” but you’ve got a long way to go before
you reach “Fat Man” levels of awesome. So yeah, the game itself. Well, once you’ve collected everything
in the plane and on the beach, you are probably going to be stuck
because the textures are horribly thought out. I mean, yes, the ocean looks like a big blue fence, but that’s not even a problem compared to the jungle. What you want to do is look for these little textures that look a bit like vines, then go into your inventory, equip the bamboo-chete, and slice and dice to open the next area. Which looks almost exactly
the frickin’ same as the last one. There’s a map you can
bring up, but it’s quite possibly the least useful method
of navigation I’ve ever seen. You get a vague yellow outline of the current area and the position of you and any dead monsters, and that’s it. The manual even encourages
you to just draw your own map, since the jungle vine doors aren’t shown on theirs. It seems like they couldn’t
decide if they wanted this game to be a traditional adventure game, with no map, or a ’90s first-person shooter with a full map. So they just went with neither, to spite you. Before long, you’ll come across a cave with some crap inside, most of which is there just to screw your game up, so it’s a good idea to save, like, every minute. Try to pick up a gun, get vaporized by an explosive tripwire. Try to use the gun, get your head blown off
because the gun hasn’t been oiled. You know, crap like this is all over the place, and while it’s annoyingly trial-and-error, at least you get some fun cutscenes
drawn by cartoonist Myk Friedman. They get pretty friggin’ graphic, too,
like when you get eaten by zombies. And especially when you quit to DOS, which shows your guy pulling a Cobain, or Courtney Love, depending on your conspiracy. [gunshot] And yes, eventually you do run across the undead, since this is Isle of the Dead, after all. Er, maybe it should be Isle of the
Undead, now that I think about it. But screw thinking, just kill the
freaks with your weapon of choice, which is going to be the rifle, shotgun or the ma-bam-chete-boo thing for a while. The zombies range from dumb to stupid, so they’re really no problem as
long as you keep track of them. Chances are the only time you’ll die here is when you get swarmed by them or you don’t notice there’s one
behind you using your brain as avacado dip. And there’s no useful indication of this happening, so it’s a tad embarrassing how often this occurs. At least the undead themselves are somewhat fun, like the big surfer dude,
being all dude-like when he dies. Surfer: Ow! Bummer, dude! – And this little kid who thinks you’re his dad. Kid: Daddy? [swooshes, grunt, kid yells] Kind of messed up, but it
makes it that much more satisfying to blow them into chunks. This section plays well enough, I suppose, I mean, for an awkward,
watered-down Wolfenstein clone, but of course, it gets old fast. Especially since all the enemies
respawn every time you leave an area, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for slightly different wall textures which may possibly indicate a
door or passage of some kind. With any luck, one of these passages
will end up being a native settlement, guarded by two dudes who want
nothing more than to keep you out. Just use your phrase book on them, provided you picked it up earlier, then they’ll make some joke about
eating you instead and let you inside. You may then proceed to look
around the peaceful village, steal their food, watch them taking a dump, and murder their drummer boy in cold blood. [drumming, gunshot] Uh… yeah, no consequences for that,
just pretend it didn’t happen. One of the doors will lead to the
tribe’s perpetually-blazed chief, and it’s here you’re finally given a bit more narrative. Not that it really matters too much,
because once you’re done here, it’s right back to the aggravating zombies, crappy music and confusing level design. Other than the occasional bit
of fourth-wall-breaking humor and slight change of scenery,
there’s not much else to see in Isle of the Dead. Eventually the goal is to take down the evil scientist behind the zombie outbreak and save the token large-chested, barely-clothed lady, which is about as cliched as it gets. And while a predictably campy story is fine by me, if the game is sufficiently entertaining along the way, in Isle of the Dead, it’s just not. What you get with Isle of the Dead is a game that’s lacking as a point-and-click adventure
game and lacking as a shooter. It’s a jack of all trades and master of none. In fact, it’s not even a six of diamonds of all trades and a novice of none, it’s just not much of anything. What kept me playing was to
see the over-the-top cartoons whenever something horrible
happened to me and that’s about it. Otherwise, it’s a barely-passable experience at best, and an annoyance at worst. And while its reputation as one of the
worst games ever made may be overkill, it’s certainly not what I would call a good game. Isle of the Dead may have been something
decent to check out back in the day if you had no proper adventure
games and no proper FPS games, but unfortunately for this game,
those days are long gone. [bland MIDI stings]