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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

GAMING: "Shrouded Isle" Helps You Get a Grip on Your Sinners


For someone with epilepsy and anxiety, I make a lot of dumb decisions. "Let's take a deep vested interest in psychological horror." "Let's pursue a career that, by definition, includes public speaking and seeking out validation from strangers." So "Let's buy this game that combines elder gods with one of the most stressful game genres ever" was yet another I was going to file away as a point against me.

Fortunately, my dumb decisions tend to work out for the better, and this was no exception.

The Shrouded Isle came to my attention after it popped up on tons of game review sites, shared by friends who wanted to remind themselves to grab it later. I decided to grab it ASAP because I had looming deadlines, and managed to master the "Good Ending"(?) in one insomniac evening.


The Sims: Cult Edition



At first, this looks nothing like a resource management game, from either plot or mechanics. But once you get underway... yeah, it is, and you've got thinking to do.

You're the high priest on a secluded island whose inhabitants worship Chernobog, a sleeping eldritch god who requires one human sacrifice at the end of each season. There is also a prophecy that, in 500 years' time, Chernobog will awaken from his slumber, destroying the world and sparing only the worthy.

That was 497 years ago.

You now have three years -- twelve seasons -- to keep the isle's virtues in check, keep the five great families of the island faithful to you, and make appropriate sacrifices to Chernobog. Sounds straightforward... but, as with life in general, things get complicated as soon as people get involved.


World-Building

A fast explanation of the world of The Shrouded Isle.

In worship of Chernobog, five Virtues are prized: Ignorance, Fervor, Discipline, Penitence, and Obedience. Each of the five major families watches over one of these Virtues. And every season, you as the big boss choose an adviser from each family to help you maintain those Virtues. Send 1-3 advisers out every month to Get Things Done, and you increase the amount of that Virtue.

Except.

Oh, except.

Each potential adviser also has one major Virtue (anywhere from +5 to +30) and one major Vice (a Virtue at -5 to -30). And regardless of their family, any action they take will also affect that Virtue. For better or for worse. So say you've got someone working to increase Ignorance but they're secretly a Linguist. They may prop your Ignorance bar up, but then they're going to pull it right back down. And if a bar goes too low, it's game over for you and the island.

How do you find them? Well, attributes are revealed over time, either by questioning a family that is bare minimum Neutral toward you... or by making them an adviser. Yeah, you have to throw complete unknowns into the mix just to see what they'll do.

And don't even think about just not using people... because if you ignore a family for too long, they'll rebel.


The Fun Is Tryin' to Guess



Oh, we're not done yet.

So you've gotta balance the people's Virtues, the egos of the families, and the fact that there's about eight straight-up criminals living in your town. We haven't even touched on the fact that Chernobog has cravings.

At the beginning of your first summer, you start having some pretty wiggy dreams. And in them, Chernobog will make a very specific request. He wants the Embezzler. Or the Scholar. Or the Pervert. One of the major criminals. Sniff them out, sacrifice them, and you'll get a new request. You don't have to do so within the same season -- and that's good, because it can take a while -- but you do need to oust all of them so there's no one left to turn on you on the Day of Reckoning.

But now things are tetchy. Let's say Chernobog wants the Kleptomaniac. Last season, you killed the Pervert. But the Kleptomaniac and the Pervert were in the same family. (Heck of a family.) So you'll be pulling a sacrifice from the same family two seasons in a row. And while families housing sinners tend to understand if you off them, two in a row from the same house might get them a little pissy.

So what do you do? Kill the Kleptomaniac and risk rebellion? Or off someone else who's got a middling level vice... like being a teenager? (Oh, you still have to pick carefully, because when you sacrifice someone, whatever their Virtue was, the isle's overall level of that Virtue dips. Whoops.)


So Where Does This Leave You?



Well, High Priest, that's your job. You need to pick five people to keep your subjects stupid and obedient, kill one, and game your eldritch master's desires against the egos of the heads of five families. No bigs, right?

The hardest part of The Shrouded Isle is absolutely the first third to half, where you have very little information on anyone and are fighting just to keep your Virtues from dipping too low to continue. But as you start gaining information and thinning out the herd, it becomes easier to balance things out and find your sacrifices.

A note: If you're coming into this looking for deep story, a plot twist, or hidden secrets, you will not enjoy it. The world-building is what it is, and there's nothing hidden under the surface to puzzle out save for who's a masochist and who's an artist (same thing am I right? Eh? Eh?). I'd personally buy the hell out of a story-driven Shrouded Isle game, but this is not a story-driven game, and coming in with that expectation will make you hate it. But coming in expecting resource management in Lovecraftian makeup? There you go.

Incidentally, the aesthetic of this game is astounding, with eerie art by Erica June Lahaie and atmospheric music (integrating a few live soloists) by FX Bilodeau. If nothing else, it's worth your time just for the immersion.

Want to give it a try? Pick it up for $9.99 on Steam!