Lush, tropical island? Love it! Helicopter rides? What a thrill! Carnivorous dinosaurs? Wait...
Note: This preview is based on a Steam Early Access version of Island 359 using the HTC Vive.
The Blackhawk chopper lands in a jungle clearing and you're told to get busy — the pilot will return to pick you up when you decide the mission is over. There's a crate sitting in front of you with a gun case, some ammunition, and a knife. These are the tools of the mercenary trade.
You leave the clearing, pass by a watch tower, and the sounds of the jungle assault your ears. It's not long before you hear a different, shrill sound behind you — here comes a group of annoying little compies ready to have a bite of a human. You dispatch them with your pistol and continue on your way.
Which way did you come from? This foliage all looks the same. You turn back to retrace your steps, and the place where you dispatched the compies now has two velociraptors in it — they heard the gunshots and came to investigate. One leans back and gives a guttural call to announce your presence. You look down to reload your pistol and when you look back up you only see one hungry dinosaur creeping your way.
You shoot several times and feel proud you took it down, but you forgot to check your surroundings — velociraptors hunt in packs, and the other one is sneaking up behind you.
The thrill of the hunt
I was delighted the first time two raptors split up to hunt me; I didn't realize what was going on until I turned around to see the second raptor leaping through the air. The eternal words of Robert Muldoon ran through my head: "Clever girl."
At this point, that's about as exciting as it gets. When you're not dealing with clever raptors, you're shooting at copious amounts of hopping compies or single, lumbering allosaurs. Don't get me wrong — these foes are a challenge if you don't have the right weapons, especially when you run into a bunch in the same area. The compies come for you immediately, the raptors split up, and the allosaur shakes the ground as it approaches. It would be really cool to see these dinosaurs attack each other, but for now, they all head straight for you.
The only game-mode currently available is Mercenary, where you earn money for eradicating dinosaurs. As you kill, your boss chimes in to tell you how you're doing, and how soon your team will be able to drop you a care package. These care packages contain some ammo, health packs, a stat boost in the form of either maximum stamina or maximum health, and a random gun.
A limited armory
As far as guns go, you can currently find a standard 9mm pistol, a Desert Eagle knockoff, a .50 caliber revolver, and an Uzi knockoff. There are weapon mods scattered throughout the jungle and usually one in a care package — attach a laser, silencer, or holographic sight to your guns. If you keep the same weapon for most of a round, it will likely have all three mods by the time you get back to the chopper.
There are also a number of melee weapons available to help deal with swarms of compies. It's actually quite satisfying swinging a bat or crowbar in a wide arc and watching the ragdoll effect take over. At one point I was out of ammo in my pistol and had to stab a raptor in the face with a knife — needless to say, it was a rush. Scattered throughout the jungle are discarded, flammable items that you can carry, throw, and shoot to explode.
Running through the jungle
Island 359 has employed a smart locomotion device to get you around the huge map: hold down the thumbpad on one of your Vive Wands, look at where you want to go, and release to teleport. A bar of light shows you where you'll be teleporting and doubles as a stamina bar. If you teleport too many times in a row, you'll be forced to wait until your merc catches their breath.
This system provides you with enough movement to creep from tree to tree while not being chased by dinosaurs, and it provides you with enough movement to take a tactical position when you're in a fight. Teleporting won't make you sick, and you won't feel like an overpowered cheater — the balance is pretty much perfect.
The small details in this game really make me want to go back and play it over and over. Using a Vive Wand to grab the handle of a gun case and throw it open really makes me feel like I'm actually standing there. Trying to open cases properly when a couple of raptors are approaching is intense — you have to pay attention to your immediate threat, but you also have to actually look at what you're doing.
Climbing ladders is a treat, as you have to actually use your Wands to pull yourself up the rungs. The movement is natural, and I hardly had to think about what controls to use to get up into the tower.
When it comes to sound, Island 359 has nailed it. A raptor barking out to alert others of my presence is chilling, and the incessant hum of jungle insects adds an eerie feel to a mostly bright jungle. The guns are loud and sound like they do serious damage, the compies are shrill and annoying, and the allosaur's roar makes you want an even louder gun.
The future of the past
If you've played The Brookhaven Experiment, you know how far it's come since the early access days. Two of the developers who created it went on to create Island 359, so we're expecting good things here too. Although Island 359 is currently limited to one map, one game mode, and a few weapons, I've been replaying it constantly, trying to rack up a high score. Some of these sessions are long, but I hardly notice thanks to smooth control and immersive gameplay.
A final release of this game, if the devs really want to hit it out of the park, will need more dinosaurs, more guns, more game modes, and more levels. What we have now is a demo that is still one of the most functional Vive shooters and indeed one of the most immersive experiences yet. A full version of the game, if done right, will no doubt be a favorite of just about everyone with an HTC Vive.