I've never really delved into the renaissance of FMV games before, but it's impossible to deny that Wales Interactive is at the forefront of this revolution. Its hit 'Dates' series put this retro style of dialogue-choosing gameplay back in the public eye, and now the studio is turning its hand at a murder mystery.
The Isle Tide Hotel is very reminiscent of Rian Johnson's Knives Out films, but never with a veneer of imitation. Instead it's far darker once you delve past its charming surface, and harbours some surprisingly ethereal moments. With so many endings to explore as well, there's no right or wrong way to tackle the mystery in this hotel.
With big-boy RPGs like Starfield and Baldur's Gate 3 smashing player count records and dominating the discourse, it's hard for a game like The Isle Tide Hotel to carve out attention. But if you do give it a chance, there's plenty of mysterious fun to be had.
A murky mystery
In The Isle Tide Hotel you play as Josh (Michael D. Xavier), a father who travels to the eponymous hotel to find his kidnapped daughter, Eleanor (Fabienne Piolini-Castle). You go in completely alone, but discover very quickly that this isn't like your regular Travelodge: there's a dark cult at work here, evoking memories of Jordan Peele's Get Out as you unravel a deeper conspiracy lurking within.
It's a story that kept me hooked over the two hours or so that my first playthrough took, even if The Isle Tide Hotel does start a bit slowly. There's an inevitable necessity to establish character and situations in the first 30 minutes or so, but right from the bat the game lets you role-play and decide how you want to approach scenarios.
That's aided by the plethora of endings on offer, with seven core ones and 14 permutations within that depending on choices you make throughout the game. This shorter runtime per playthrough therefore works in the game's advantage, because you'll be compelled to dive back in and see what you could do differently.
It's fortunately supported by strong writing that gives noticeable personality to the range of wacky characters lurking in the hotel. From a drowsy chess champion to various undercover operatives vying for your help in getting to the bottom of the hotel's secrets, the alliances you choose to make invariably alter your destiny.
Luckily, performances are also fairly strong across the board, without any noticeable duds, even if the production values of the live-action footage can feel a bit lower than your average big-screen fare. Special mentions go to Sarah Bennington's undercover investigator Eileen, who packs plenty of emotion into her characterisation, and the ominous presence of the hotel's leader, the Grand Elect (Joni Ayton-Kent). Some of these characters may be far less prevalent in your first run depending on choices you make, which compounds the need to play through a few times to uncover more.
Choose your own adventure
The Isle Tide Hotel is my first foray into Wales Interactive's hands-off style of FMV games, and it's clearly a formula that works. Things are much less interactive than other choose-your-own-adventure games like those from Telltale, with little actual gameplay beyond selecting dialogue options and occasionally sifting through evidence or solving puzzles. This took some getting used to, because a lot of the time you will feel like you're just watching a film, before remembering your choices really matter.
That said, the transition between making your choices and those actually being enacted in the footage can feel clunky. Since there's a countdown on the live-action footage where you make your choice (which can be switched off if you're playing on streamer mode), that timer inevitably has to run down before the scene changes. That leads to a few seconds of dead silence if you choose your option quickly, followed by a sudden transition to the dialogue you picked. It can break the immersion when it happens in such a stunted way, but such is the price of making a game of this style with live-action footage.
It's certainly a formula I'd be willing to see more of, as a massive film fan who also happens to work in games media. Visually it's as immersive as a game can get due to its live-action nature, and getting to choose how the story plays out is a novelty that hasn't yet worn off for me.
While I still think the actual execution of choices and their outcomes could use some polishing, I enjoyed my time with The Isle Tide Hotel. The story was twisty enough to ensure I plodded through in just two sittings, and the scope of its alternate paths makes replaying it almost a necessity. I may never have dabbled with FMV games before, but The Isle Tide Hotel is a solid start.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. A code was provided by the publisher.
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