Wales Interactive are one of the only video game companies left around that specialise in live-action, FMV games. The Isle Tide Hotel is their latest outing, and it's definitely worth playing for fans of the genre. It's not perfect, but in many ways it's a refreshing take on the FMV genre.
After a creepy opening segment, you follow the distraught Josh Malone on his way to The Isle Tide Hotel - a hotel that only opens for three days every three years. Oh, and your daughter has also gone missing, with all signs pointing to the hotel.
You'll get to select Malone's conversation responses, actions, and decisions throughout the game, and each choice affects the branching narrative of the game. The game's Steam page touts "7 main endings available with 14 different outcomes."
We can say with surety that even seemingly small choices end up affecting not only the game's ending, but also what you will learn on your playthrough. It's a game that relies on multiple playthroughs, urging you to explore new realities as soon as you finish. There's a handy menu that shows who and what you've encountered before as a refresher, but you'll certainly need to play the game's 1-2 hours of gameplay multiple times to fully understand what's going on at The Isle Tide Hotel.
The story itself is where The Isle Tide Hotel really shines. There's a cult that meets at the hotel every few years when it opens. As you explore the hotel, you start to piece together what it is they do there exactly, and it's rife with themes of personal identity and what exactly it means to be a soul trapped inside - for lack of a better term - a meat suit that we didn't choose.
As an FMV game, The Isle Tide Hotel leans heavily on its writing and cast of actors handing in a good performance. We can safely say that you won't find any cheesy or amateur antics here.
For example, one branch of the narrative has you encounter a mysterious woman who is bitter that she has never won a competition and asks for your help. The catch? She can't even remember her own name. The character is brought to life with interesting writing and a great performance from Pennyworth actress Jessica Ellerby.
Most of the cast hands in good performances too, but main character Malone doesn't get as much of the spotlight as you might think. As he is the player avatar, he stays mostly silent and neutral so that players can project their own thoughts, feelings, and actions onto him.
Regardless, each choice or branch in the narrative is presented in a way that makes you want to explore and find out the story behind each of the individuals at the hotel, too, making for compelling reasons to replay.
But this is where the issues with The Isle Tide Hotel start to appear. You can zoom through a playthrough of the game in an hour, and while replaying the game is obviously something that you're expected to do, it still feels a little too short - even for an FMV game.
In general, the pacing of the game feels off, with certain key plot points unravelling too slowly. There is a skip feature that allows you to bypass scenes you've already played through before, but this means you're speeding through a lot of the game just to get to the choices you haven't made to see where the game goes.
This might be more of a genre problem than a The Isle Tide Hotel problem, but nevertheless it exists. And when you factor in that not all branches of the story are created equal - some are significantly more interesting than others - you might find yourself underwhelmed with where the story goes based on your decisions. This is exacerbated by the fact that no single playthrough is designed to provide satisfactory answers on its own.
Ultimately, though, The Isle Tide Hotel is a great FMV game. Despite its genre-specific failings in some areas, it tries to do something new and refreshing by introducing themes relevant to 2023 and making you ponder both your in-game decisions and your place outside in the real world. It's well worth picking up if your interest has been piqued.