Horror and resource management are video game chocolate and peanut butter that never seemed destined to meet until August 4th 2017. That was the day when indie game studio Kitfox released a clever little game called The Shrouded Isle.
The Shrouded Isle puts the player in control of the eponymous locale, which happens to be a ruthless theocracy of which you are the leader. As high priest of the horrific deity Chernobog, you are assisted by five aristocratic families both in the day-to-day tasks of running your authoritarian mini-state and with appeasing the endless demands of the dark god himself. Unfortunately for them, appeasing him primarily consists of choosing one of your erstwhile blueblood companions and eviscerating him or her in the god’s honor. Making matters worse, each noble has a special talent for boosting some aspect of the faith’s morale, but also a personal failing that harms the cult in other areas. Sometimes Chernobog himself will intervene and demand that you ferret out a traitor with a particularly grievous sin, leading you on a witch hunt to find the victim who will appease your unholy savior the most.
Gameplay is deceptively simple. Choosing what areas of the cult you will nurture and which to willingly take a hit on becomes a nerve-wracking balancing act. You also have to worry about keeping those individual families happy – just because they know someone needs to be a human sacrifice doesn’t mean they like it when it happens to them! What you end up with is a game that is relaxed enough for casual play, but challenging enough for avid gamers to sit down with. The decayed, smeared art style that can be set to one of nearly a half-dozen nauseating monochromatic tones is perfect for the atmosphere the game is trying to create. The world itself is left deliberately vague. Is this an Eastern European hamlet that might be found in a 19th century tale of werewolves or vampires? Or is it some blighted post-apocalyptic hellscape that barely remembers the civilization upon whose rubble it stands? The questions are unimportant, but the atmosphere they create is very effective and absorbing.
The Shrouded Isle isn’t a particularly gory game. Much of the fear and anxiety come from just watching your approval and morale bars slide back and forth. It actually plays to some very real and relatable fears this way: what if, despite your best efforts, nobody really likes you? What if the people you like and trust the most are secretly terrible and undermining you? In The Shrouded Isle it is good to be the cult leader, and it plays to megalomaniacal power fantasies quite nicely. But when you meddle with cosmic forces of evil every action has its price.
The Shrouded Isle is available through Steam for both Mac and PC. At $9.99, it’s a very affordable game that has multiple endings and good replay value, so there’s a lot of bang for the buck. It makes for a pleasant gaming diversion for fans of horror, puzzle, and resource management games alike. For those who might be on the fence about it, just think of it this way: those cultists aren’t going to just sacrifice themselves.