ISLE OF THE DEAD by Merit Software

Reviewed by Brent Sampson

           Computer   Graphics   Memory   Disk Space 
Minimum:      386       VGA       2MB (?)    14 MB 
Max/Rec:      486       VGA       4MB

Control: Keyboard, Joystick, Mouse

Notes: The box and documentation specifically say only 2 MB Ram is needed;
however, additional documentation implies that 4 MB is required.

Reviewed version 1.0 on: 486/25, 4 MB Ram, Sound Blaster. Reviewer
recommends: 486/33, 4+ Ram, SB Pro.


Lately it seems you can't blink an eye without running into yet another 3D texture-mapped action/adventure game. Even before DOOM swept the genre into a whole new dimension, game companies were bombarding players with WOLFENSTEIN 3D clones-- BLAKE STONE, TERMINATOR RAMPAGE, and SHADOWCASTER, to name just a few. Bringing up the rear of the race for 3D supremacy is ISLE OF THE DEAD (IoD), which appeared at roughly the same time as all of the above but has yet to make much of a splash. There's a reason for that. In terms of the texture-mapped gene pool, it's about as successful as a fish out of water.

The main problem with IoD is that it can't decide what kind of fish it wants to be-- an action game or an adventure game. It's a little bit of both, with a few more fins on the action side. In order to allow for two different modes of game play, two different perspectives dictate which mode is which. The confusing part about this is that both modes are first person perspectives-- a smooth scrolling 1st-person view like Wolf 3D (action), and a static 1st-person view like WEEN: THE PROPHECY or RISE OF THE DRAGON (adventure). The majority of the game occurs in the former mode, while entering a hut, or a specific location brings up the latter mode. If one mode were better than the other, then at least half the game would be successful. Unfortunately, both modes have their problems.


The action mode is similar to Wolf 3D, and even a little worse. There is less graphic variety in IoD, less frames per second scrolling, less fear. Less of everything. One thing is does share with Wolf is light sourcing-- there is none. Like Wolf, movement can be accomplished in any of three ways, via the keyboard, joystick, or mouse. And, like Wolf, the keyboard works best for moving, and the mouse works best for aiming.

While Wolf 3D has Nazis, IoD features zombies, corpses, and other forms of walking undead. It's surprising, therefore, that IoD is no scarier than your average Elvis impersonator. Perhaps this is because of the numerous cartoonish cut-scenes that appear (usually when you die). Like DRAGON'S LAIR, the animation during these cut-scenes is full screen and very comical, even with the copious quantities of blood (warnings on the box and documentation state this is a violent game).

The mainstay of these cut-scenes is one in which a third person perspective shows you (a blond man) being attacked by three different types of zombies. One pulls you down, one rips out some of your intestines and chows down, and one pulls your arm off. In all the confusion, your head somehow manages to become dislodged from your spine and spins across the sky.

It's entertaining the first few times, but since I saw it roughly 2 billion times, it became quite tedious. After every death scene, you also must endure a close-up view of the nemesis cackling gleefully. Once is okay. 2 billion times is repetitive. Thankfully, there's a save/load feature. Of course, it's not the greatest, either.


The adventure mode is no better, although it is harder to die (thank God). The problem here is three-fold:

1) A static view allows you time to notice how sub-par the graphics are. At least during the 3D action mode, you're moving through the environment instead of staring at it.

2) The inventory screen must be accessed separately in order to use any of your items. In essence, the game requires you to click the mouse button about five times between two different screens just to use something on something else. This wouldn't be so bad if the cursor changed into a item icon (a la Sierra games) when you had an item chosen. It doesn't. What's more, if you miss placing the cursor correctly by a pixel or two, you have to go through the motions to pick out the item all over again.

3) The puzzles simply aren't very hard. Enough said.


As if it matters, the plot of IoD is your standard fare. As a passenger of a small airplane which has just crash landed on a native island, you must find a way to escape from the island. All the other passengers and crew are dead, and the plane is totaled. If that's not enough, someone is creating hordes of ghouls, and these minions are intent on keeping you from finding out the secret of the island. All you have is your wits, your grits, and your t-- testosterone. Even with as much as Jerry Seinfeld, John Wayne, and Jean Claude Van-Damme, you'll still find this extremely frustrating.


I already mentioned the graphics. They're cartoonish and hard to take seriously. If this added to the game rather than detracted from it, that would be acceptable. However, I get the sense that this is supposed to be a scary experience. It's not. And the sound effects don't help. The music soundtrack is repetitive and boring, and the effects are limited to a few screeches and short bursts of voice. These, too, become repetitive. In fact, the whole game is repetitive, and even the best music and effects in the world couldn't change that.


In general, Isle of the Dead is slow, graphically. Don't expect the speed of Wolfenstein 3D, much less Doom. The structure is also flawed. Entering any new area is nearly impossible until you kill the zombies in the near vicinity. After that, the rest of the area is nearly too easy. Sure, it makes a balance -- a ridiculously skewed balance.

The minimum requirements on the box are misleading. They state that 2MB Ram is sufficient to run the game. However, a addendum in the box states that 4MB Ram is required. Well, that does a whole lot of good! Putting the real requirements INSIDE the box. Along with the addendum and documentation is a comic book. It's the best thing about the game, and it's not all that great. Especially since the information given in the comic book is also misleading.

The bottom line is, everything about the box is misleading, because it indicates that this game is FUN.

This review is copyright 1994 by Brent Sampson for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.