Unlike SimEarth, SimTower, or SimCity, SimIsle -- subtitled "Missions in the Rainforest" -- allows you to take over the development of any number of islands in a long chain. Many of them have missions. Five small islands comprise a tutorial that teaches the things you need to know to play the game.
There is also one island, with a giant ghostly "X" on it, which you can shape and mold any way you wish. There is no specific scenario associated with this island.
This game introduces agents, who you send about the island in order to carry out your directives. If your agent does not have the right skills to do the job, nothing will happen.
Like all Maxis sims, a wide variety of graphs, charts, and maps allow you to plot your progress toward the goal of the scenario. Will you turn your island into a tourist trap, suck all the resources out of it, or leave it an unspoiled and pristine haven? It's all up to you.
"Trees are a poem the Earth writes across the sky. Humanity cuts them down for paper so we may record our emptiness." -a quote from Kahlil Gibran, on page one of SimIsle's 100-page paper manual.
The cynic would say that SimIsle represents Maxis' effort to make up for creating a generation of developers, polluters and high-risers with their excellent and incredibly popular SimCity series of games. I say that after SimFarm, SimTower and SimAnt, they have simply run out of places to develop. Whatever the case, Maxis has come out with a new sim that manages to keep most of what was good about the other titles, and incorporate just enough change to create a new challenge for all of the SimAddicts out there.
The big change in SimIsle, aside from its heavy-duty, protect-the-rainforest theme, is that it's more like a role-playing game than its predecessors. Where SimCity allowed you total freedom in initial creation and then forced you to face the consequences, SimIsle is more concerned with having you think of your actions as a means to an end. Each new island presents a different challenge - say, building a tourist industry or developing local cultures - and you must utilize your agents' special skills to achieve these goals within a preset time period (although you can play in FreeForm mode, with no limits). As in a RPG, your actions are restricted to those that will help you on your way, and everything you do serves as a stepping stone to success. If you cut more trees, you can build more hotels; more hotels mean more tourists, more tourists mean more cash, etc.
The graphics keep the same colorful, busy feel as earlier Maxis titles, with little planes and trucks zooming around the island. Multimedia film clips and sound effects are included but are, for the most part, repetitive and extraneous. One exception is the game's soundtrack, which ranges from tribal chants to metal rock with no apparent rhyme or reason.
In general, SimIsle won't disappoint the high expectations of hardened SimFans. It may not be the best of the bunch, but, if you can handle the sick feeling you get when the first high-rise goes up on a previously unspoiled island, your free time will soon be the endangered species.
My most favorite "Sim" game of all time aside from SimCity 2000, SimIsle is a fun and challenging tropical island simulation. You must manage the difficult balance between economic success and ecological harmony. For instance, cutting too many trees to make building materials (wood) and you risk forest fires. Add the neat RPG-style personnel management, and the game is quite addictive in the long haul, despite a steep learning curve that may prove too daunting to beginners, and some cumbersome interface designs.
Note: the download here is the rare Windows version, which features a much faster game engine and interface than the clunky DOS version.
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