My heart is racing, my ammo is low, I have no idea where I am, and worst of all, I’m surrounded by at least a half dozen dinosaurs. This isn’t going to end well . . .
That was the situation I found myself in on multiple occasions while playing CloudGate Studio’s inaugural title, Island 359. This game will tax your ability to manage ammo effectively and challenge your navigation skills and sense of direction, all while pushing your nerves to their limits. Being hunted is scary stuff.
CloudGate Studio is a brand new company, but Steve Bowler and Jeremy Chapman, the two-man team behind Island 359, are no strangers to game development and have a history of scaring the crap out of people. Chapman and Bowler used to work for Phosphor Games, and they were the minds behind The Brookhaven Experiment demo, which has gone on to become one of the most terrifying games for the HTC Vive. Following the excitement that the demo for Brookhaven Experiment generated, the two-man team started their own studio to create Island 359 (see our interview with CloudGate’s founders for more detail).
A Call To Arms
There’s not a lot of depth to Island 359's storyline. A tropical island in an unknown region has been overcome by a resurgence of dinosaurs. Your mission: Help clear out the pesky dinos so that the local villagers can go back to their homes.
Island 359 launched as an Early Access title through Steam. As such, the game is in a playable state, but it is far from complete. Eventually, there will be two modes of play, but the initial release offers only Mercenary Mode, in which you make your way into the jungle to kill as many ancient reptiles as you can. The catch is that you have to make it out alive. This isn’t a go-until-you-die type of game. Survival is key, but it’s not all that likely.
Before You Get Started
When you first up Island 359, you’ll find yourself at a military-like base camp. You’ll be asked to go through some basic training that teaches you how to navigate through the world and use weapons and various items.
Picking up your gear is straightforward. You reach out to the object in question with your controller and pull the trigger button when the item is highlighted to grab it. If you want to drop what you have in your hands, simply press the menu button above the touchpad. You can’t pick up upgrades or extra weapons if both of your hands are full.
You do have a backpack that gives you four more item slots. Here you can store additional weapons and items, but make sure to keep one slot open, otherwise you’ll be dropping something on the ground every time you find a loot crate.
Ammo doesn’t take up storage space in your bag. When you pick up a clip or a box of rounds, hold it to your chest to attach it to your ammo belt.
The locomotion system for Island 359 is a modified version of the increasingly common teleport mechanic. Unlike Cloudhead Game’s Blink system, which fades your screen to black and re-positions you during the dark period, CloudGate Studio took a different approach to teleportation, which leaves you more grounded in the experience.
The core function of teleporting remains. You press down on the touchpad to activate the movement system. Where you place the icon in the world is where you will end up moving to, but the world won’t fade out around you. Instead, you will be hastily rushed to the next location with the scenery blasting by you. Acceleration is generally frowned upon in VR games, so CloudGate avoids that altogether by making the movement animation a constant pace.
Although the effect uses high-speed movement to trick you, the end result feels like you’ve been running through the jungle in a hyper-vigilant state, which is not hard to imagine from an adrenaline-fueled situation like running for your life from dinosaurs. Imagine watching a slow-motion scene in a movie, such as when Neo was dodging bullets in The Matrix, and then imagine what you think it would be like living through that without the slow motion. To pull that off you’d have to move at superhuman speeds and that’s exactly what teleporting in Island 359 feels like. It works well in a survival-based game such as this one.
You may be thinking that using a teleport/fast movement system to get away from enemies is pretty lame. Fortunately, Bowler and Chapman felt that way, too, so they modified it so you can’t use it as a crutch to get yourself out of a sticky situation. Island 359’s movement system is supposed to represent running, which burns energy and stamina. You can’t run for your life indefinitely. It’s more like a sprint that you can endure briefly before requiring a breather. The more frequently you use the feature and the further you travel each time, the more stamina will be burned up. Your energy is constantly being regenerated and you can quickly tell how far you can move by the color and height of the icon. When you have full stamina the icon will be tall and blue. Every time you move this way, the icon will get shorter. It will also transition from blue to green to purple to red.
It’s A Jungle Out There
On the left side of the training camp, you’ll find a helicopter waiting for you to depart. When you select the mode you want to play (mercenary is the only option right now), the helicopter will take off and fly you to your starting point. You can ride the chopper and watch the scenery go by, but if you start to get dizzy, there’s a puke bucket (nice touch) on the floor of the chopper. If you grab that and put it to your face, it will skip the rest of the flight for you.
The chopper will drop you off alone in the jungle at another base camp location. If you look around, you’ll find an axe to add to your arsenal before you head out on your hunt. Once you’re ready to go, follow the arrow to leave the camp. From here on out, you’re on your own. Your survival is entirely in your hands and depends on your ability to listen to your surroundings, aim at your target, and conserve your ammo.
The jungle on Island 359 is vast and full of elevation changes. The vegetation is also dense in some places, which makes it hard to see long distances. It won’t take long before you encounter the first creatures. A pack of compys will show up around the same time you find your first ammo box. These turkey-like reptiles aren’t a tremendous threat, but they usually come at you in groups of four or more, so be on your toes. They go down easily, though. A single shot to center mass will do the trick. As will a swing of that axe you'll find at basecamp.
Shortly after you fend off the first wave of compys, a group of raptors will show up. Raptors are smart and work together. There is always an alpha and generally two followers in the pack. The first encounter with them is mostly in the open, so you should be able to spot all three at once, but in future fights they will distract and flank you. If you haven’t killed any raptors yet and you don’t see three of them, there’s probably one behind you.
Once you’ve taken out the first wave of compys and raptors, your employer will drop a supply crate for you. This is where the predictability of the game goes out the window. The supply crate will land in a random location deeper in jungle. You can go find it to uncover upgraded weapons and attachments, as well as extra health kits. But be warned: You’re going to have to fight your way there. The chances are good that you’ll encounter more of both types of dinos before you get to the first supply drop, so mind your ammo and keep your eyes peeled.
Get To The Chopper! Dead Men Can’t Spend Their Spoils
As you traipse through the jungle, don’t forget to keep track of where you came from. You want to kill as many of these giant lizards as possible, but it’s all for naught if you don’t make it back to your ride out. You want to live to fight another day, not go out in a blaze of glory.
This is probably the biggest challenge in Island 359. If you’re the type of person that can memorize the map of GTA V such that you know how to get to any landmark from any location on the map, you’ll be putting the skill to good use in this game. For the rest of us: Good luck. The terrain is distinct, in that each hill and elevation change is different and you’ll find a variety of hills, cliffs, valleys, pastures, and wooded areas, but just like it can be disorienting to walk through a forest, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the jungle on Island 359.
If you do get yourself turned around (you will), there are lookout towers strewn about the island that will give you a better vantage point to regain your bearings. They can also be used as shelter when things get out of hand (they will). You may even get lucky and find a bonus item here or there, so it’s worth climbing them regularly anyway.
That’s Not A Raptor! RUN!!!
The deeper you get into the jungle, the more perilous the situation will be. The initial release of the game has three different dinosaurs. You’ll regularly encounter compys and raptors, but you have to venture fairly deep into the island to find the third species. In my experience, you probably don’t want to get that deep on your first few missions. The allosaurus is a much bigger animal and it will take much more firepower to bring one of these guys down. You better hope you’ve unlocked an uzi or a magnum if you want to drop one of these guys unscathed. What’s more, you likely won’t find one alone. When I stumbled across my first allosaurus, I was already in a battle with a half dozen compys and three raptors. Let’s just say I didn’t get to collect my bounty that time.
A Fun Game, But It’s Not Without Its Faults
This early incarnation of Island 359 shows tremendous promise. The game definitely needs a lot more work. Three enemies are a good start, but more variety will be necessary to keep players interested in coming back for more time and again. CloudGate is aware of this and expects to be releasing regular updates for the first couple of months. You can expect to see a variety of other creatures, including triceratops that will try to gore you, pterodactyls that will swoop in from the skies, and of course, everyone’s favorite predator, the tyrannosaurus rex.
Additional content isn’t all that this game will eventually need, though. The ragdoll animations need some tweaking. Currently, when you pummel a compy with a swing from an axe, they will unrealistically float across the ground. The physics model definitely needs some work.
AI can also use some work, but CloudGate already knows this. The two developers readily acknowledge that AI is not their strong suit, but they are working on improving it. This is actually the primary reason that the T-rex didn’t make the cut for the initial release.
Right now, the raptors will work together, but they aren’t great at object avoidance so you’ll occasionally find them hung up on a rock or a tree stump. The compys also occasionally fail. I once found three of them standing in place. I walked right up to them and they didn’t bother to attack me. Such is life with an early access game. The developers haven’t announced a formal release date so there’s plenty of time to address these concerns.
Despite a few shortcomings still being worked on, Island 359 already delivers an enjoyable experience. If you want to know what it’s like to come face to face with deadly dinosaurs and see if you have what it takes to come out on top, Island 359 is worth a close look.
Island 359 from CloudGate Studio is and HTC Vive exclusive. It is available now on Steam for $19.99.