Bred from a Ludum Dare game jam where the concept was “you are the monster”, is how The Shrouded Isle came to be. Kitfox Games makes and publishes stylish games, and The Shrouded Isle is no different in that regard, but the game is incredibly unique and unlike anything that’s come before it. The Shrouded Isle is dark, mysterious, and unsettling but maintains a level head so that its themes aren’t overbearing as a game to be entertaining and intriguing to experiment with.
The Shrouded Isle is a cult management simulator, and one not like other games where you’re trying to build a thriving and growing civilization, this is a small group of people that have to be managed carefully. This cult worships Charnobog, the Slavic God, and they as a people have been waiting 497 for his return. Now, only 3 years remain and you must sacrifice sinners to maintain order and faith. The people you manage understand there’s a finite end to their cult, and can’t live this way forever, but they don’t like when people of their house are sacrificed before then. In a lot of ways, The Shrouded Isle reminds me of “The Village”, from M. Night Shyamalan wherein there was a real world out there, but you need to keep your villagers at bay and believing in what is being taught.
Among the five houses that live in the village, you must perform inquiries, appoint advisers, and sacrifice a sinner each season. Each house manages different aspects of faith: Ignorance, Fervor, Discipline, Penitence and Obedience. There’s autonomous systems other games would force you to manage like in Banished. But here, this is a game about the people. If you want a personal touch, you can rename villagers to ones you know and care about.
At the start, you see what the current standings of each house are, and this is something that must be remembered, as it can’t be recalled in-game after you’ve seen it. As you work to gather information to find the sinners, you’ll have to perform inquiries. If you spread inquiries across everyone, you know just as much as when you went in – but put too much info on a single house, and you seem to be favoring them and will upset the others unless you appease them.
For each person you look into, there are positive and negative traits, and must base a decision on what you know for whomever is appointed. I’ve seen it get pretty silly where their positive trait and negative trait contradict each other, but that seldom happens. There are six endings for The Shrouded Isle, so multiple playthroughs are encouraged. And this is reinforced as each person’s traits change with each playthrough. This is a game where when you win, or are feeling like you’re winning – you’re really not.
In The Shrouded Isle, you can very quickly lose control of your villagers. If the favor drops too low in disapproval for any house, they will start to revolt, and you will have to appease them during the season. The dichotomy to it is that they could have someone in their house who should be sacrificed, but it’ll be game over if you push them over the edge. The decisions you make in The Shrouded Isle are never easy, and feels like a game of spinning plates. And assuredly, one of them will fall and break.
The music is ominous and moody, but the monochromatic look of The Shrouded Isle is memorable and haunting. The default scheme is a mix of green and yellow recalls a Game Boy under harsh sunlight. Other color modes of “Sacramental Wine” and “Poison Ivy” are not as menacing as the default, but offer a different look that makes the game feel different as you start over for another playthrough.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything like The Shrouded Isle. It’s not meant to question your faith, but be satirical. You can see the three years pass by in about forty-five minutes to an hour if you’re deeply thinking about things, or thirty minutes if you’re hasty. All in all, each successive replay is different that you’ll need to think how you Inquiry, Appoint, Sacrifice, Repeat. I do wish there was more event variety and more to do, but all-in-all, is a carefully devious game where you truly are the monster.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes