Island Time VR doesn’t waste any time getting started. The only thing between you and being shipwrecked is…well, the ship. You start off at the helm of an awfully short boat with nothing but open seas and a remote island ahead of you. As you get your bearings straight and acclimate to your in-game hands (PlayStation Move controllers are required), you start to hear a voice. That voice is telling you to pull the lever to get things started.
That voice is Carl the Crab.
I typically eat crabs (Marylander here), but Carl redirected my initial carnivorous tendencies. Almost instantly, Carl’s excitement to see another living being becomes infectious. His quirky commentary makes watching your boat sink a little easier to watch, but then it dawns on you: you need to survive. Island Time only gives you Carl to help figure out survival — the rest is up to you.
If you look at your left hand, a wristwatch with a constantly depleting heart and an ever-increasing timer will tell you all you need to know. You’ve been alive for this long, and you are this hungry. Carl can only do so much, but his genuine desire to help you outpaces his dickish sarcasm. He won’t tell you exactly what to do, but he is sure to acknowledge when you do something beneficial to your survival. There’s not much to work with; the island is barely big enough for you and Carl. There are a few bamboo shoots, a tree with a handful of coconuts, some rocks, flint, precut logs for burnin’…that’s about it. The lack of resources demands creativity to keep yourself alive, but what feels like an endless stream of crafting options quickly becomes a repetitive gameplay loop as you find yourself solving the same problems with all too similar solutions.
Fish, coconuts, and seagulls are constant variables. Their effect on your playthrough (Carl himself often breaks the fourth wall) depends wholly on your performance. Once you make a spear, the catching of the fish becomes the next obstacle. After you familiarize yourself with impalement, you need to cook it without setting yourself on fire. This is easier said than done as objects seem to retain their heat once used. Banging two flints together will cause a spark to set aflame anything remotely flammable, but tossing that hot flint back into your makeshift wood pile will cause the wood to heat up until the flint cools down. Cooking fish is paramount to success, but knocking down coconuts and cracking them open helps mitigate the hunger between meals — if you don’t burn your fish and throw it in the ocean. Seagulls are the worst of it all. These birds will land on a nearby rock and stalk you and your actions until they deem it an appropriate time to strike. Divebombing birds do not make survival any easier, but they can quickly turn into a meal if the conditions are right. These aspects alone reinforce the importance of object positioning, becoming yet another variable to Island Time‘s formula.
You can’t really move on the island, but you’re going to need a lot of physical space in the real world to feel comfortable playing. As your health trickles down, audio cues can trigger some frantic movements. Cracking open a coconut just in time to save yourself for another couple seconds can be done with one hand while you’re stabbing a fish with another, but the multi-tasking puzzle solving loses its luster after a couple of playthroughs. Even with a good lighting set-up, your hands can get pretty shaky at inopportune times. Crates come ashore every so often with some much-needed resources — namely flint and wood. There were quite a few times I had to just let something sail back out to sea because it was tucked in the corner of the crate, just barely out of reach (yet within my grasp). Island Time‘s personality overshadows technical limitations like these, but the issues become more and more apparent with each attempt.
You will die, and you will die a lot. If you’ve got a friend or two (or three) to take turns, that’s where Island Time feels most enjoyable. Watching someone panic as they accidentally throw a lifesaving coconut into the ocean is fit for a good laugh for anyone watching.
Survive long enough and you’ll start to gather an assortment of items that wash up on shore. Collectible skulls are among the first items to breach the pattern of wood and flint collecting — but discovering their purpose (if any) requires a successful run of ten(ish) minutes before even encountering any of them. While the ocean constantly surprises you with mysterious activity, it was difficult for the island to keep my attention after the fifth or sixth run.
At least I met Carl. I hope he’s doing alright out there.
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Review Statement: The author was provided a PS4 code by the publisher for the purposes of this review.