Evil Islands is a role-playing adventure with strong aspects of tactical strategy. The game is designed to offer the player freedom in decision making, both in battle and in character development, allowing the player's character to go where he wishes when he wishes, in search of adventure and glory. The customizable camera perspective allows the player to zoom in on an enemy close enough to observe his equipment and see how he is armed, then move out for a tactical view of the battlefield that shows the relative positions of all friends and foes.
Emphasizing the idea that a small, well-placed strike can be at least as effective as a large-scale onslaught, the skilled player can direct the character to sneak past guards, crawl safely through dangerous areas, or even perform a surprise backstab attack on an unwitting villain. The game features 80 different quests, requiring both bravado and surreptitiousness for ultimate success. Up to six human-controlled characters can adventure together over the Internet or a local network.
Normally, I don't really have the patience or time to play really long RPGs, but after playing Evil Islands for just a few minutes, I was hooked. This game takes a few pieces from some of my favorite RPGs and mixes in some new little tricks to make an entertaining, albeit a bit frustrating at times, trip through fleshed out lands filled with monsters, intrigue, and magic. While there were some small flaws and frustrating gameplay elements that put some unsightly blemishes on the face of a good game, those looking for a bit of a mix between games like the Final Fantasy, Baldur's Gate, and the Diablo series will get a kick out of this one.
In Evil Islands, you play the role of a confused little man named known as Zak that has woken up in the middle of some ruins without any idea where or who he is. It immediately becomes his task to find out who he is and where he comes from. The information that you need is not going to be free however, you're going to have to do some people some favors to get them to talk. The characters in this game are not all nice however noble they may think they are or pretend to be. You'll soon find yourself immersed in some intriguing and questionable actions as you try to find out your origins. Clues will lead to new quests that will give you more clues that will lead you to find someone that will ask a favor then give you another lead and so on. One thing can certainly be said for this game...it's long. And it has a multiplayer feature within the same lands that could add a buttload more time to your gaming time.
The adventure takes place across three islands that have been ripped apart in a bit of a magical cataclysm. There are societies of people on each of them as well varied environments. The game comes forth in glorious full 3D, and looks really good. This is a really pretty game. Textures are fantastic on both the environment and models alike. However there were some clipping problems on some of the models mainly due to the way they were pieced together, but I can say that only one of these instances was really bothersome to my eye. Otherwise it was a treat to wander the world and check out the view.
The control scheme is elegant and effective. The camera is used by holding down the right mouse button and rotating and tilting with mouse movements. What has been clumsy in a lot of RTS games works totally fine in an RPG apparently. I never once had a problem moving the camera to a spot where I could get a good view of the environment. There were some points when I couldn't get in close for that neat up close and personal view of a fight, but that really didn't detract from the playability or overall enjoyment of the game. And the nifty mid-combat pause function let you move the camera around if an object did block your view a little, which did happen every now and again with the lush forests in the game. Spell effects were also done well and the particle system looked fantastic, although I do wish that there had been more of them, but I'll get more into that in a minute. I also thought that some of them could have been a little more grandiose, but I guess that's artistic choice.
The sound work in the game had some really high production values with some very good sound effects and beautiful music, but the voice work on some of the characters, while charming at times, could really be annoying and sometimes downright laughable. The feel of this game does tend to run towards the goofy old days of the big-headed anime style Chrono Trigger/Final Fantasy VII type of games. But I actually dig those kind of games and I didn't have a problem with a lot of the goofiness. In fact, I thought so of the over-the-top performances were really great at times, but when the goofiness gets into the "bad acting" realm, it's doesn't hold so well. My other main complaint with the sound would have to be the small number of sound bytes for characters when running and fighting and all of that. The frequency which they replay the same bytes tends on the nerve wracking until you learn to tune it out or just turn the voices off in the options completely.
Once you get past the aesthetic and auditory parts of the game, you'll find a pretty rewarding experience underneath as well. There are a lot of ways which you can go about playing this game, from the incredibly challenging and almost impossible sneaky style, to the "hit someone in the face until they fall over blood-letting" type of gameplay. Each of these styles was utilized well throughout the game and I tried each a bit and found that both were rewarding, but they were also incredibly difficult and even annoying at times if you don't have a huge amount of patience. This basically boils down to the difficulty level and number of monsters...which can be downright daunting at times.
Sneaking around is a really fun part of the game. If you try hard enough, you can sneak around most anywhere without being detected by crouching and moving or even crawling on your belly. You can steal money and items from creatures instead of killing them for it and even backstab those that won't be nice and move out of your way for you. But this is a really time consuming process as patrol paths for creatures make the sneaking near impossible at some points in the game. Even though that was once of the most entertaining parts of the game for me, I just didn't have the patience for it and ended up attacking things more often then not.
The problem there is that most of the creatures are at least equal strength with you. But in Russian terms, "equal" apparently means stronger. On normal difficulty it can take a really long time to kill an evenly matched opponent, even if its three against one. And if you bring another evenly matched creature into the mix, it gets close to impossible. They'll hit you for critical hits so many times your head will be rolling along before you can say "uncle." Rather than finding this challenging at early stages of the game where you can't afford good weapons, armor, or spells, it is annoyingly frustrating.
For the most part, fighting is done much like the Baldur's Gate series with real time combat made manageable by a pause feature. There are some great ideas in the battlefield that should have made fights less frustrating, but it just didn't work that way. One of those features in the fights is the ability to target different parts of creatures' bodies. If you are worried about getting hit too often, you can take out their arms to make them attack at a much slower rate. And this does work... when you manage to hit them. When trying to do this on normal difficulty with a three-on-one against a comparable opponent, I would miss a good 80 percent of the time when trying to hit. Meanwhile, my enemy would be landing critical hits, presumably at my head judging by the point value on the hits which is the most difficult part of the body to hit, every third hit or so. I was forced to turn the game to novice to be able to fight. I hate having to do that. But I also had a lot more fun when I did. I still went sneaking around as often as I could, but at least I had a chance if I accidentally ran into a couple of equal foes. Even on novice, there's a chance of losing the fight, although nowhere near as great. If the normal had been expert and there had been another level of difficulty added between that and novice, I would have like that much more.
My last big bit of contention was the rate at which stamina ran out when running through the world. I understand the need to keep you from just running from the enemy all of the time, but when they seem to have a limitless amount of stamina, that's not fair. That and it takes too long to run across a level when you have to stop and let it recharge after a short sprint. Maybe if they had had a rate of reduction when running for when enemies are near and when you are just running though open territory...
One of the nice parts about the game that I had some fun with was the ability to build your own armor and weapons using "blueprints," materials, and spells. The first thing you need are the blueprints, which are really just basic models without materials. You then add different types of materials like stone, leather, bone, or metal. There are various grades of each of the materials and if you've picked a lesser grade and want to come back, you can deconstruct your item for a price and rebuild it with a better material.
Spells can be constructed the same way with blueprints and runes. I really wish there had been more basic spells in the game. There were a good number, but none of them were really that creative. You can add runes to these that will give effects like added strength or more range or the ability to attach them to items for more derivatives of each. If a spell is given the ability to attach to an item, you can add them to armor or weapons so the spell activates when that item is used or struck. It's really nice seeing your guy heal automatically when hit in the head. The interface and menu system in the game is really easy to pick up and works like a charm for all of its purposes, but is especially nice for the building of weapons and spells.
Once you have these weapons, you can equip your team for battle to specific situations, which is a really cool way to deal with tactics and strategy. You can actually go through the game without any teammates, but given the difficulty level, that might be near impossible. You'll have plenty of opportunity to pick up people to journey with and have control over their development as well by assigning experience points just like you do for yourself.
So the moral of the story is that if you are looking for an RPG that mixes a good bit of gameplay variety with a lot of gaming hours, this could be your choice. Evil Islands has great visuals and some goofy character that is really endearing.
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