Take control of a cult, and try to appease a Lovecraftian deity before the end of the world. Find out if it’s worth the hassle in The Shrouded Isle review for the Nintendo Switch.
Morality in games can bring up grim dilemmas, and most times they’ll be sure to wrench your heart and mind as you decide fates. In Kitfox Games’ The Shrouded Isle, morality is already out of the window from the start. It’s instead, all about how you manipulate those around you without getting any vengeful splashback. You have to kill and abuse just to simply do your job well. You’ve just got to make sure you don’t do too much or too little of either.
In this, the first console version of last year’s PC game, you’re placed as the head of a cult just three years from doomsday, The Shrouded Isle is a management sim far darker than most. Everything you do is about appeasing the God Chernobog from under the sea (yes, it’s got a Lovecraftian theme) in time for the end of the world, where presumably, you’ll be held in its tentacley embrace for all of eternity.
To do this, you have to manage five clans, setting them various tasks that facilitate the continuation of the cult’s existence via followers ignorance long enough to get an invite for that apocalyptic afterparty. Each season, you’ll pick an advisor (all procedurally-generated from a sizeable pool of traits) from each of the five clans to carry out the tasks. You can pick only three of the five advisors to do the work each month, and depending on their traits, they’ll either help or hinder the general mood of the cult’s village.
Then, at the end of the season, you must sacrifice one of the advisors to Chernobog. The simple decision would surely be to chuck who you deem worst at their job into the gaping maw of an ancient deity, but while an advisor may have a negative effect in one way, their death may destabilize relations with their family, and ultimately, their clan, and if that happens? Well, you’re gonna be on the wrong end of a lynching. So here you have the tired old cliche of a ‘decide who dies’ choice, but now it isn’t about justice, revenge, or morality. It’s basically so you keep your job and appease the behemoth beneath the waves for another season. The Shrouded Isle‘s heart is dark and uncaring, and that’s what makes it such a deliciously compelling game when it’s at its best.
The spanner in the works is that advisors can have vices, and those vices can affect the overall harmony of the cult if these advisors get delegated a job that contradicts it on any given month. You can either leave them out, possibly upsetting the elder of their clan, or pop them alongside other advisors who can nullify the harm their vices cause. There’s plenty of juggling to do in this respect, and it can be effective or it can do little more to mask an obvious issue than a pack of chewing gum and half a can of body spray does for an employee heading into work the morning after a binge of beer and cigarettes.
Procedural content works best when it has hilarious and/or unexpected results, and there’s a dark humor to some of the situations these traits and vices can bring up. Throw in the occasional suggestions from Chernobog itself to go after certain individuals, and there’s a perverse pleasure in seeing all your good intentions rapidly crumble.
The game’s decision making isn’t the only striking thing about it. The Shrouded Isle‘s monochromatic visual style is simple, yet so very effective. The sickly green-yellow hue feels in keeping with the atmosphere of the game, and it jazzes up the rather majestic menus, text, and map screens you pore over. You will be staring at a lot of text too. The Shrouded Isle is stats and information heavy, which certainly adds to building its randomized cast of characters into something a little more meaningful in a short space of time.
The only real downside to that (unless you’re averse to reading lots of text in games of course) is that in the Switch’s handheld mode, it’s really difficult to make out all the relevant details on such a relatively small screen. For a game that is reliant on you being able to read and understand everything, and on a console that thrives because of its portability, this is a big deal. Yes, you can still read it, but it’s not that easy, and it negates perhaps the best reason to pick the game up on Switch over PC.
The Shrouded Isle also has a longevity issue despite its procedural nature. There’s a bit too much repetition far too soon. There’s still new situations and occurrences, but they begin to feel like a rarified treat after awhile. This is a game that is quite good at masking its limitations otherwise, but this is the one area that the mask gets peeled back.
I fully recommend The Shrouded Isle for anyone wanting an unconventional, horror-led take on the sim management genre. It really does go to some fucked up places if your imagination is willing to back up the writing. The caveat here is that it’s hard to recommend this Switch version if you’re planning on playing it on the go. It’s just about worth persevering with if that is your choice, but it’s an unfortunate oversight nonetheless.
The Shrouded Isle review code for Nintendo Switch provided by the publisher.
The Shrouded Isle is out now on Nintendo Switch and PC.