BEN COWLES Game on: Reports from a virtual frontier
PLAYING Kitbox Games’s cult management sim The Shrouded Isle, I got a taste of what it must have been like running Heaven’s Gate, the People’s Temple or Scientology.
In this wonderfully monochromatic roguelike game — if you fail, you can’t load a previous save and have to start all over again — players are cast as the high priest of a sacrificial cult in a secluded 16th-century town, whose founders saw that humanity was doomed.
Luckily for the folk on the shrouded isle, lord and saviour Chernobog is prophesied to save us in three years — quite how or why our bloodthirsty deity would do such a thing isn’t clear. But best not go there — questions are blasphemous.
To maintain the town’s reverence for this bizarre order, players need to manage the loyalty of five powerful families as well as the town’s ignorance, fervour, discipline, penitence and obedience, the levels of which are displayed at the bottom of the screen.
These levels are managed by appointing one member from each family at the beginning of every season to increase one of them.
The problem? Everyone’s a sinner.
You may choose a zealously loyal adviser to lead in the ritual book burning and so improve the town’s ignorance but, if this person turns out to be a scholar, your efforts to improve this trait will be for naught and they may in fact make things worse.
At the end of each month you must choose to sacrifice one of your advisers to the glory of Chernobog, so that insubordinate swine who led your townsfolk astray can be sent to meet their maker, though their family might not be too happy about this.
The Shrouded Isle is morbid fun and a challenging, if repetitive, escapade. It’s not supposed to be easy and so be prepared for failure.
Though the game didn’t grab me enough to unlock all six of its endings, I was slightly disturbed by how much I enjoyed the tyranny.
The comic-book and Kaiju-inspired graphics and lo-fi electro soundtrack of Ghost Time Games’s Jettomero: Hero of the Universe sent to me into a kind of trance.
In this action-adventure game, you play as an enormous, indestructible and incredibly clumsy yet utterly adorable robot, who upon waking up stranded on a rock in outer space at the beginning of the game asks itself: “Who am I? Where am I?”
Our protagonist quickly decides it must have a purpose and so blasts itself off towards the nearest wormhole to find out. And so begins an existential adventure on an intergalactic scale.
As Jettomero, you fly through beautifully pixelated solar systems and land on human-inhabited planets in an attempt to save them from other, more menacing-looking giant robots. At least, that’s what our hero believes itself to be doing.
As if things weren’t bad enough for the humans, Jettomero traverses about their worlds with all the grace of a 200,000-foot toddler.
No wonder the inhabitants unleash their entire armies at him.
Though the gameplay loop becomes a little repetitive, the procedurally generated universe is breathtakingly gorgeous and so is its sense of scale.
As you stomp across the planets, you’ll see each system’s star blaze through the darkness and moons, while meteors and comets cruise overhead.
I frequently found myself pausing the game to take it all in and mess around with the photographer mode.
Not only is the game a joy to behold but its story — unlocked by decoding increasingly tricky word puzzles — touches on some rather deep philosophical ground, the serious nature of which contrasts nicely with the comedy.