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Evil Islands: Curse of the Lost Soul

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Fishtank Interactive
Developer: Nival Interactive
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 6
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Considering the relatively lackluster graphics of Nival Interactive's last two games (the two Rage of Mages titles), one would perhaps think that Evil Islands wouldn't be pretty. Fortunately, one would be wrong. While most of the human character models are downright ugly, the rest of the models in the game are quite nice-looking, and the world itself is pretty, bordering on gorgeous. There's something about walking around a huge forest as the sun sets, watching the shadows lengthen and listening to the crickets chirrup, that can really pull you into a game. The camera is free-floating 3D, and you can rotate it, bank it, and pull it in and out with ease. Keeping it 'high' is useful for exploration, to make sure you don't miss anything, but pulling it in close is great for the heated battles that occur during the game.

The graphics are solid, but when it comes to voice acting, Evil Islands has to join the ranks of such 'classics' as Resident Evil. The main character, Zak, is whiny and annoying to a fault, and while most of the rest of the characters aren't that bad, there's very few that I could stand for an extended period of time. Luckily, you can shut them up. The music in the game is almost nonexistent, picking up only when you enter battle, and while it's certainly adequate, it's nothing you'll particularly remember. The ambient sound in the game, however, is very cool. You can tell the difference between day and night in a heartbeat, and listening to the snuffling of the wild boars and the patter of the wolves' feet is just damned cool. Like the solid graphics engine, the atmospheric effects help draw you into the strange world of Evil Islands.


And the gameplay, while basically an evolution of the style of play found in the Rage of Mages games, is quite solid. It'll frustrate a lot of players, especially if they try to play on 'Normal' mode, but there's enough fun here to last for days if it's your type of thing--and if you like a little thinking to go along with your hack-and-slash, chances are good that Evil Islands will be right up your alley.

You are Zak, and you wake up on a stone altar with no recollection of how you got there or what you're supposed to be doing. Soon enough, a nearby village declares you as The Chosen, their redeemer. You need their help to find out what's going on, but of course they're going to want you to go on all sorts of quests, like a good saviour. Completing the quests both nets you experience and advances the storyline of the game, eventually spanning much more than the small area you start in.

That's not to say that the game isn't huge--the first major map you play in has hours of gameplay, and there are many more where that came from. Part of the Rage of Mages formula has always been packing a map full of excitement, and then forcing the player to learn where they can go and cannot . . . usually the hard way. That's still here in Evil Islands, and while it's not bad if you're used to that style of gameplay, the need to constantly save the game and the habit of walking into deathtraps can be somewhat disconcerting if you've never played Nival's other games.

The quests themselves often seem like fetch quests, which isn't generally far from the mark, but they often require a good deal of ingenuity to succeed at. Indeed, the ability to sneak around quietly and not cause much commotion is necessary to complete many of the quests--you'd get completely mauled if you weren't stealthy. Discovering the paths that you'll survive on is often a challenge, but it's certainly doable. As the game progresses, you also pick up companions, who can help you fight but whom you have to split the game experience with.

Evil Islands uses a character engine that's more Fallout than Diablo--you have a starting set of abilities, but you can tweak your character's skills and attributes as the game progresses without any hard and fast 'classes' that you must stay inside of. Boosting your melee or ranged attack abilities is simple enough; getting bonuses through 'Abilities' is simple at first but quickly becomes prohibitively expensive. You also get to make your own armour and weapons, using components you either find in the game or buy and blueprints. Considering the fact that solid armour is quite rare, especially in the beginning of the game, this sort of constructive ability is quite handy.

Combat can be simple or complex, as you prefer. You can choose to just have your characters attack the enemy, or you can command them to aim for specific body parts. If you damage an arm, the enemy will attack slower; if you damage the legs, they'll move slower . . . and so on. Indeed, the enemies can do the same sorts of damage to you, making your attacks frighteningly slow or stopping your ability to run away.

Actually, you can't run away anyways. There are a few balance issues in the game--while both the enemy and your characters can get in critical hits, the computer seems to never run out of stamina to run or cast spells, whereas your characters run out of it frighteningly quickly. This, added with the core difficulty of the game, may frustrate many gamers. But perseverence is key.

The game also supports multiplayer. There's a built-in 'matching server', but it would have been nice to have something like Gamespy Arcade support, where you could chat to people before you browsed for servers. That's being nit-picky, though.


There's no getting around this--playing Evil Islands at the default difficulty level will probably frustrate many gamers to the point of not wanting to play it. Turning it down to Novice makes it a much more palatable game experience for the uninitiated, but it somewhat ruins the balance of the game. I stuck with the default difficulty level, and while I certainly got tired of having to creep and save as much as I did, once my characters got into the swing of things it was quite enjoyable to play at such a high level. It's interesting, really--games recently haven't been as challenging as those in the past, and it's both entertaining and frustrating to play something whose difficulty is a 'throwback' to the times when games really required you to bust your butt. The ability to tone it down if you can't handle it is undoubtedly a blessing for most, though.

Game Mechanics:

Moving the characters is done by simply clicking where you want them to go; combat is either automated or forced by clicking on an enemy. Rotating the camera is done with the right mouse button, which is handy. You can also pause the game at any time by slapping space, giving you breating room and letting you order your characters around with much less hassle. The core mechanics of the game are solid, if a bit unforgiving; the ability of the enemy to land critical hits is often devestating. The one major mechanic I wish would be different is the fact that running stamina and magic use the same bar--splitting it into two, with different recharge rates, would have made me a happier man. I also experienced a few crashes, but nothing terribly untoward.

Evil Islands is basically Rage of Mages in a more complete and 3D cloth, and as such will seem immediately familiar to fans of the previous games. Fortunately, there's enough new material here--and the 3D helps immensely--to keep the game fresh, and perhaps even entice those who never played the first two games to give it a shot. Fans of RPGs who like some strategy with their click-fest battles would do well to check out Evil Islands, but be forewarned: the default difficulty level is not for the weak of heart. There's a world to see and do in Evil Islands, and you have to conquer it one step at a time.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/2K, P2 300, 64MB RAM, 8MB 3D video card, sound card, 4x CD-ROM, 500MB HD Space

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Europa Universalis Windows Fallout Tactics

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated