Four years – that’s how long Tom Hanks’ character Chuck Noland was marooned in Cast Away. Four looooooooong years. Every time the credits roll I’ve wondered how well I’d fare if I were shipwrecked on a desert island as, like Chuck, I have little to no experience in real life survival situations. Luckily, life as a castaway can now be experienced without the constant worry of actually dying with Flight School Studio’s survival sim Island Time VR.
The game begins as you regain consciousness on a desert island, having crashed your boat on some nearby rocks. Your only companion is a friendly crustacean called Carl, voiced by Ain’t It Funny’s Greg Miller. Your task is simple, yet at the same time incredibly difficult – survive as long as you can by using the few items at your disposal to prolong your lifespan.
Island Time VR’s world is bright, colourful and cartoony – an intentional choice by Flight School Studio in order to widen its appeal to all age groups. The island itself is small, the sort of size you’d see in a newspaper comic strip, with a solitary coconut palm tree listing lazily towards the sun and a small school of fish swimming in the shallow of the shore in front of you. To your left you’ll find a firepit, a flat rock that serves as a substitute table, Carl and a boombox; to your right, a crate which acts as your inventory. To your rear you’ll find a few small rocks and low lying bushes.
Your main priority in Island Time VR is to ensure that you don’t die of starvation. Sources of food are scarce at best, though the island does provide you with raw materials that can be combined or used in some way, shape or form to help you keep your belly full. There’s very little in the way of hand holding, with Carl providing hints as to what you’re supposed to do in order to stay alive; though sometimes you have to read between the lines of what he’s saying.
On your left wrist you’ll find a digital watch, which counts off the amount of time spent on the island in real time. The counter is transposed over an ever depleting health bar, which can only be topped up by consuming food at a pretty steady rate. It’s up to you to figure out how to maintain your health; ignore it and chimes will start to sound in order to remind you that you are mere seconds away from death.
Death in Island Time VR comes quickly. In my first few playthroughs I barely lasted longer than a few minutes. Despite being on such a small island there are a number of ways that can potentially lead to your demise; starvation, wildfire and a pesky seagull snatching precious food or tools were just a few of my experiences. You learn through trial and error – Can I pick this up? What if a rub this item against that one? How can I scare that damned seagull away? I found that surviving even ten seconds longer or crafting a new item felt like a massive achievement.
Linked to the frustration factor brought by constant death as I learned the ropes, the only complaint I have is that Carl’s pool of dialogue quickly depletes, and it doesn’t take long before I’d heard the same lines for what seems like the hundredth time – it got to the point where he turned into an irritation that I’d snap at sarcastically when he mentioned something positive I’d done a dozen times before.
Once you’re acclimatised to the island’s hazards and timing you’ll find there’s a certain rhythm and strategy required. Exhaust your supplies and you’re left with no means to survive until your food sources or essentials are replenished. Supply crate wash up on shore with goodies that can restock your inventory, though the crate must be plundered quickly before it drifts back out to sea. I also found that it was worth keeping the lid of the crate handy, as it turned out to be a really good fuel source.
Island Time VR is built to be played with PS Move controllers. Interacting with the world is simple and intuitive. Any items that can be interacted with flash green as you move your hand toward them, pressing and holding the T button grips the item and releasing it drops the item. The Move buttons rotate your point of view, though I found it was easier to just turn on the spot to where I wanted to be. A warning on the game’s title screen warns that a serious amount of space is required to play; ignore this at your own peril, as I found when I whacked my hand against a wall in the midst of a panic situation as the countdown chimes started and I found myself with only a low hanging coconut to consume. I also found that Island Time VR is best experienced whilst standing, as playing whilst seated makes fishing and reaching for items a chore.
In summary, Island Time VR is a fun way to experience life as a castaway. I liked that challenge presented in trying to survive longer and longer with each playthrough and was determined to see what I could and couldn’t craft. If you’re curious by nature and like figuring things out for yourself, the game is an absolute blast. However, if you like to be led along and told what to do and when, being marooned on a virtual desert island isn’t for you, as Island Time VR is all about taking the initiative in order to succeed.