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‘Island 359’ Early Access Review: Welcome to Jurassic Park

by David Jagneaux • August 23rd, 2016
Positives

- Richly detailed environments
- Addicting gameplay loop
- Terrifying dinosaurs
- Huge and expansive island to explore

Negatives

- Minor bugs and hiccups
- Relatively shallow content

Dinosaurs have been an intimate obsession of pop culture for quite some time now. When I was younger, I had figurines of various different dinosaurs that I’d use to reenact scenes from the iconic Jurassic Park films, various cartoons, and other media. In the decades since, dinosaurs have fallen out of the collective conscience for most people. The latest entry in the long-running movie franchise, Jurassic World, was surprisingly fantastic, so perhaps we are amidst a bit of a resurgence.

Island 359 (pronounced 3-5-9) is the latest attempt at reminding us that these cold-blooded killers may be extinct, but they can still be terrifying. You’ll begin your adventure by getting dropped off in a jungle via helicopter. The opening moments of gazing out the door as you zoom past a tropical canopy of trees is exhilarating and helps get the adrenaline pumping for what’s about to follow. But if it’s too much movement and is making you sick in VR, you can look down and grab the conveniently placed chuck bucket to skip the travel sequence.

On the surface, if you were to walk by and see someone playing Island 359, or passively glance at a gameplay video, you’d feel like you’ve seen it all before. Creepy monstrous enemies, guns, the whole nine yards for what appears to be the “Let’s make a VR game!” starter kit. But if you look a bit deeper, you’ll actually find some clever concepts.

For starters, you can actually move. Instead of blinking and magically teleporting across the map, your screen blurs as you sprint from one point to another. But don’t sprint too much, or you’ll get winded and have to stop. That’s bad news when you’re being chased. In practice, it feels really satisfying and does a good job of communicating a sense of rapid movement. If you’ve ever played Raw Data, it’s similar to that.

island 359 chopper

While Island 359 was created by the folks that made the original demo for The Brookhaven Experiment, other than the gameplay and foreboding tone, there isn’t much else that’s similar here. In Brookhaven, you’re restricted to standing in a single spot, but in Island 359 you’re free to move around the jungle. And that movement is essential, as you can also climb up to watchtowers to survey the land and find supplies, as well as track down loot crate drops from your air support allies.

It’s easy to say that Island 359 is not a wave shooter, but at it’s core it still is. The only game mode available right now in Early Access is a Mercenary mode, which tasks you with delving into the jungle, killing as many dinos as you can to rack up bounties, and then escaping back at base camp. As you kill dinos, you’ll start to find more and more as you venture deeper and deeper. This is how they’ve disguised the slow ramp up of difficulty you typically see in standard wave shooters. Exploration is the big differentiator here. But if you don’t escape, the run doesn’t count.

Once you land at the base camp, you can load yourself out with the starter pistol, a knife, and some ammo. As you rack up kills and find loot crate drops, you’ll also acquire bonuses, find new weapon modifications like scopes and silencers, as well as new gear. Reaching behind your back pulls out your backpack for storing excess items, similar to the inventory system found in The Gallery.

island 359 swarm

The Mercenary mode’s risk vs. reward system encourages you to be as dangerous and experimental as possible, but that’s not all that Island 359 will be about. The full version of the game is planning to not only expand the Mercenary mode with more challenges and leaderboards, but to also build out a full Campaign mode that opens up the island even more with missions and a more robust world to explore. The island itself, as it stands, is already quite massive. As far as I can tell, it may very well be the largest open environment we’ve seen in a VR game to date.

Every dinosaur I came across attacked differently — something that I initially thought may have just been marketing speak. But lo and behold, each creature I encountered in my travels approached me in different ways. Some would stalk and sniff around while I was hiding behind a rock. Others would gang up and swarm on me in a rush to gnaw off my legs. Facing down a pack of rabid prehistoric monsters is just as scary as you’d think it’d be.

island 359 pack shot

Final Score: 8/10 – Great

While it may only be in Early Access with a handful of minor issues, Island 359 is clearly building a strong foundation for one of VR’s breakout titles. The massive island is empowering to run around and explore in VR and the gameplay mixture of stealth, exploration, and combat, meld together to create one of the most engaging shooters we’ve seen inside an HMD so far.

Island 359 is available for download Steam for HTC Vive with tracked motion controllers and either standing or room-scale support.

Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score. Island 359 is in Early Access, which means it is still being actively developed. This review is reflective of the game as of publication only, taking into consideration its on-going development status.

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