Island Time VR Review – Castaway on Groundhog’s Day (PS4)
Virtual reality can bring a number of amazing and immersive experiences right into players’ homes. We’ve explored old games in completely new ways, we’ve befriended small woodland creatures, and we’ve even taken Wild West gunslinging duels at high noon to the most bizarre places. VR games are great at taking us on adventures, but what if they left us stranded someplace with nothing more than sticks, rocks, coconuts, and a silly crab that just happens to have the voice of Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller?
Island Time VR is an interesting take on the survival game premise. After landing on a tiny remote island in the middle of the ocean, I was tasked with, you guessed it, surviving. Some quirky comments from Carl the Crab that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Pixar movie about locating a fish ease the tension. Looking down at my disembodied hands I see a watch counting the time I’ve been alive and displaying my slowly draining life meter. Without any clear explanation, I set out to figure out how to make life work on this small island.
My immediate thought was that I probably needed to eat. I turned around to find some sticks growing near the tree and grabbed one to knock down the coconuts above my head. My hands on a coconut, I cracked it open on a nearby rock and watched as my life refilled a little bit once I ate it. Beginning to run out of coconuts, I realized it was time to build a fire and attempt to grill up some fish. Grabbing two stones, I smacked them together, sparking the single log, but also setting myself on fire. Panic ensued, but I was dead. I hadn’t even made it three minutes.
Moving on an Island
Using the Move controllers makes it pretty effortless to pick up and manipulate various objects in the vicinity. Island Time VR doesn’t support the DualShock 4, but it really doesn’t need it. There’s no locomotion. I was sitting in one small spot, wedged squarely between a tree, a makeshift fire pit, water, and sand. The distance that objects can be picked up from is also quite generous, so even when things seem out of reach, it’s worth trying to grab them. I occasionally found myself needed to re-calibrate the headset when I would drift slowly from the intended spot, but that could have just as easily been the lighting in my living room causing issues.
Progress is only saved through your own experience. Every death leads back to a completely fresh run, but this time I knew to lean away from the fire, to not eat the poison fish, or to more steadily consume my rations to prolong the survival time. I knew how to make spears and other tools, and I got better at making sure that damn Steven Seagull didn’t fly in and steal my stuff. A couple of times I managed to cook the bird into a nice meal that extended my time even more. The longer I survived, the more I found additional survival items would arrive via a wooden crate, which was often just more wood for the fire or stones to make spears.
All the while Carl the Crab is delightfully encouraging. He’s so excited to have a friend with him there on the island, and wants nothing more than for me to survive this arduous trial. When I combined a stone with a stick to make a spear, he was elated. When I attached a coconut half to one of those sticks, he was confused, but still excited about my success. The tool (which looked like an island version of a plunger) didn’t really seem to be anything useful, but Carl was only excited that I was trying things and learning. Miller’s performance as Carl the Crab is charmingly fun. His lines keep an otherwise dull and tiny island full of life and personality, and Carl alone is a reason to want to play this game.
Living the Same Day Again
It was a lot of fun to play around with the various items, figuring out how I could combine or use items, and what exactly could kill me, but the early gameplay loop begins to wear thin after the first five to ten playthroughs. More interesting items don’t show up until later in the run, so restarting each new session became a redundant routine. Make spear, organize wood, catch fish, light fire, cook fish, get coconuts, etc. Once I had a process down, these early moments were rote and formulaic. There were no random surprises that made the early moments less dull, which is unfortunate, because the longer the game goes on, the more frantic and and exciting it can become. After the fifth or sixth time reaching 10+ minutes, I began to tire of those opening moments.
Carl the Crab began to repeat the same lines I’d heard before. I grabbed the stick and a rock to make yet another spear. I stabbed the same school of fish. I lit the same fire. I knocked down the same coconuts. I fought off the same seagull. The frantic period near the end of each run became a simple battle of maintaining resources over the long haul. Did I have enough fish, enough coconuts, enough wood and stones to survive just a few minutes longer this time? In short, Island Time VR became predictable, which is the worst possible outcome for a game that is designed to be played on repeat with the only progression being your own skills and knowledge.
The trophy list puts a twenty-minute survival time as the top-tier accomplishment. It’s surprising that a game designed to be played in under twenty-minute spurts doesn’t feature more randomization, though coming it at a $14.99 price point does help to make the relatively limited scope a bit more palatable. I’m certain there are things that I have yet to discover, but gating all of those more interesting things behind making it past the first ten minutes is an easy way to make sure that I never actually discover them. It’s hard to justify experimentation that could end up in your death when you’re sitting at 15 minutes. It’s far more enticing to stick to the tried and true methods of survival in order to eke out as much time as you possibly can.
Island Time VR is a delightful escape to a remote tropical island, but this isn’t LOST. The secrets of this tiny plot of land can be figured out all too quickly, and there’s not enough of an element of random chance to retain interest in repeated playthroughs. As early as the fifth time reattempting a survival run, things become rote and formulaic. Carl the Crab is brilliantly charming, and each of his lines are witty, but after numerous attempts, the lines begin to repeat themselves. The price agrees with the limited scope, but I would have loved to see each attempt at survival find a more varied tack. Island Time VR is a fun little vacation for a short time, but I wouldn’t want to take up permanent residence.
Island Time VR review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.