Playing Every Game in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality
PEGBRJE: ‘Isolation Story’ and ‘Image of Perfection’
Reality can be the scariest of all
Isolation Story is simulation game created by Elushis, an indie developer in Australia who had their game Mutiny Island in the bundle already. There are no pirates this time. Instead, players will follow an unnamed protagonist in their attempt to survive seven days until the rollout of a vaccine. Wait a second… where have I heard this before?
Players will juggle their three stats as they navigate the somewhat open world, trying to avoid dying of hunger or the virus while also keeping happiness up. These three stats can be effected by events that players can take part in, like interacting with people in the building or on the streets. This gives a bonus to happiness but also runs a very high risk of increasing the ‘virus’ meter. If you max that out, and it does not matter how strong the immune system is, the player dies. Food is needed throughout the day and can be found in the home fridge or out on the town.
To add more depth to this simple concept, the player’s seven days are full of different adventure possibilities. The people out in the city have their own lives as well, and many are in constant need of supplies or companionship. They can reveal dark secrets that the player should not know about, or accidentally hook the protagonist in to an underground ring of ‘freedom fighters’. There’s so much life to the city that it is hard to capture everything going on in a single run, but that is kind of the point. We as players in our own lives cannot do everything every day. It’s best to just do what we might enjoy and see where it leads us.
Yes, this is a simulation of a scenario that many may have experienced during the past few years, although definitely not to this extreme. Players are in a world in which breaking quarantine is a definitive crime and there is a ‘reverse curfew’ in effect (which is more to keep people from sleeping too early but I digress). Moral quandaries are around every corner, and not just ones that are related to the quarantine and the virus itself. Players need to know where they stand on different issues and which decisions they will stick with. These will shape the daily routines as the days go on. Cause too many rebellions, and the police might arrest the player and take them to an unknown location. After all, this is not a ‘nice’ authoritarian state no matter what side of each argument one may be.
Isolation Story is a video game representation of what many people throughout the world had to experience, gamifying these decisions while taking away the actual stakes of life and death (thankfully). You can make all the decisions you could want, but it doesn’t matter if you contract the virus and die on day three or on day six. If you cannot make it to the end, you’ll still be dead.
If you don’t want to remember these past few years then I might recommend not trying this game. I don’t blame you. If you do want to try out a life simulation that is quite over-the-top — there’s a time travelling ending? — then this might be a great game to give a whirl.
Image of Perfection is an atmospheric RPG created by Crystal Game Works, the indie studio from the USA that made That Which Binds Us. Players will step in to the shoes of Sirius, a young person that has isolated themselves for some time, but gets a call from a nagging friend to help them out. Sure enough, the reasoning for the assistance is a bit more supernatural than Sirius had bargained for.
Playing as a top-down visual novel RPG, Sirius will confront their friend Hailey only to realize that she had reasons for her hysteria. Ghosts have been driving her up a wall for the past few weeks and she has no idea how to get rid of them. Together the two will rout the current ghosts, but Hailey knows that more will be back, so more will be necessary to combat them. Calling up all the old friends, players will slowly uncover Sirius’s relationships with them all and how many of them have been estranged from each other for a while now. Soon they will have bigger problems than their uncomfortable relationships as the ghosts are getting a bit impatient and want to have some fun. This is where things get a bit… tricky.
The RPG aspect is that Sirius can find themselves in combat with ghosts once the shotgun is acquired, and will participate in turn-based combat. This is relatively straight forward, featuring crosses and holy water as items to use and specials to bolster attacks. Completing combat will give EXP which can lead to level-ups for anyone involved in the combat (even if Sirius is the ‘important’ one here) which can increase their damage. Combat scenarios can get tricky as enemy ghosts do not give away how ‘strong’ they are. Players will have to infer based on the name and the current circumstances and adjust their strategy accordingly.
The other aspect that I associate with top-down RPGs often are the numerous puzzles surrounding narratives and rooms. Once the ghosts start getting serious (no pun intended, sorry Sirius), players will find themselves in surreal and dangerous rooms where failure to identify the style of puzzle at play can lead to an immediate death.
There are even riddles to solve, and here is where players will first realize that they should’ve manually saved before trying to solve them. I’m one of those players. I failed the riddle and realized I hadn’t saved since the beginning. The point is that while the combat is necessary to succeed, players will find themselves more engaged by the puzzles and the narrative on display. After all, ghosts don’t normally put people in to death games, right?
Image of Perfection is more of a narrative than an RPG, but the fusion is what makes the game work so well. There are hidden secrets all over the place that may not have been available if the game was more linear. These let players uncover the relationships between the ‘friends’ and what drove them all apart. We’ve all had similar circumstances, but Sirius has to deal with these issues while also dealing with deadly rhyming ghosts. If you know the studio from their previous works, some of the big twists may not be as ‘big’, but that doesn’t stop it from being an engaging ride. If you love surreal spooky games that thankfully avoid jump scares, then you’re in for a time.
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