We really wanted to like The Isle Tide Hotel. Wales Interactive’s latest FMV game promises to throw you into the shoes of a father, infiltrating a mysterious cult. And despite a decent premise and a strong cast, we’re simply left wondering what the point of everything was – even after playing it through a number of times.
The game begins with a young woman, Eleanor, being taken from her apartment. Instantly, you know something isn’t right: she’s given an injection, and she’s rendered unconscious. A business card gets left – accidentally – in her apartment: The Isle Tide Hotel. Looks like that’s where she’s being taken, then.
Cut to Eleanor’s father, who you’ll step into the shoes of during the course of The Isle Tide Hotel. He’s estranged from his daughter, and a private investigator has tracked him down and pointed him in Eleanor’s direction. And so, arriving in a taxi outside the grand building of the titular Isle Tide Hotel is where this supposed detective mystery begins. Except there’s not really a great deal of detective work to be done.
That’s perhaps our first criticism with The Isle Tide Hotel: there’s simply not enough interaction. Sure, there’s some: enough to give the game seven different endings. But for great chunks of the game it feels as if you’re simply being guided. When you are given control, typically it’s to look around, or to choose something to inspect. You’ll either look at everything, anyway, or an interrupting cutscene will limit how many things you can interact with.
We never really felt truly in charge. Eleanor’s fate never really felt like it was in our hands; we’re not even sure if The Isle Tide Hotel ever wanted us to feel that, either. Playing simply feels like going through the motions, which is a shame. There’s a great deal of potential here, but through a mixture of poor pacing and mismanaged storytelling, you never really see most of it. That’s the trouble with having multiple endings and branching narratives: you never really get a full picture the first time around, or even the second or third time. And if the story doesn’t grab you, you’re not all that likely to want to keep jumping back in.
The idea of infiltrating a mysterious cult sounds absolutely fabulous, but the premise is somewhat squandered here. Sure, you’ll get a good idea of what the cult is about after a couple of playthroughs, but with one runthrough of The Isle Tide Hotel only taking around 80 minutes – or less, depending on the choices you make – it’s not enough time to ever fully establish it as a threat, or something to be overly concerned with.
The cult, it turns out, is concerned with body-swapping, and throughout the course of The Isle Tide Hotel you’ll see some laughably cheesy retro sci-fi equipment with which these body swaps are carried out. But really, the cult could be up to anything. It wouldn’t really have much impact on the story as there’s too much focus on your paternal relationship with Eleanor. With no real time to develop any of the characters’ back stories, it’s hard to truly care about anything.
As with any FMV game, the acting here is a mixed bag. It’s hard to take anyone seriously, with the typical level of cheesiness you find in most games of this type. There are some great actors on board too, like Michael Xavier (Grantchester and Gentleman Jack) and Jemima Rooper (Lost in Austen, The Girlfriend Experience) but most performances are underwhelming. Perhaps the most recognisable face is Richard Brake who plays a great role, but is sorely underutilised (at least during the choices we made).
It’s not all bad, though. There’s some fantastic set design and cinematography on show. The location used for The Isle Tide Hotel is simply phenomenal, and a great amount of work has gone into setting up each scene just right. It’s just a shame that we’re not given much opportunity to truly make the most of any of it. It’s always a tricky balance in a game like this, but more player autonomy here would have gone a long way.
Described as “a British Twin Peaks” on its Steam page, The Isle Tide Hotel falls desperately short of its promises. It has some interesting moments, sure, but the overall storytelling just isn’t good enough to ever truly capture your attention. This certainly isn’t Wales Interactive’s worst game – there’s still a lot to like – but with its premise of a mysterious cult holding so much potential, it’s perhaps one of the most disappointing.