Blood Island tries to be three games in one: a dating sim, a slasher flick, and an interactive meta commentary on reality television. It’s an intruiging and ambitious concept, but unfortunately, none of the elements work, making for a game that’s more frustrating than thrilling.
First: the dating sim. The game introduces you to a cast of hunks and babes, and invites you to choose who to woo. But you never get much of a chance to know these characters: in the handful of group conversation their voices blend together, and you don’t have much of an opportunity to talk to people one-on-one; there’s two chances to do so, and it’s implied you’re betraying your first date’s trust if you pick someone different for the second.
So, I went with Mona, mostly because she smoked. She didn’t seem to have much of a personality. I thought maybe that was because she’s the emotionally distant, walled-off type. But I went back to the game to see if the other characters are more developed, and it turns out they’re all exactly the same. Literally–the scenes feature the same text for every character, with just their name changed. This helped explain why the “date” was more about the scenery than the character interaction, and why the events following that lean heavily on the fact that you’re too preoccupied to talk to your partner. You could read that as clever meta-commentary on how every contestant on a reality dating show is essentially the same person: eye candy seasoned with quirk. But it felt like lazy writing.
The slasher action is the most successful part of the game, but it is hindered by an inherent contradiction. Slasher flicks are about the victim’s options being taken away. They’re trapped and defenseless, with little other to do than run. How do you make such a scenario satisfyingly interactive? Blood Island doesn’t really answer that question. Mostly you choose whether to run or hide, with occasional options to attack and then run or hide. I generally found this irritating: the character customization options at the beginning primed me to assume the main character was supposed to be a stand-in for me, and, well, I’d try and take the fight to the bastard. I think I could handle a disgruntled PA in a mask. As the game progresses, and you are increasingly forced into the “Final Girl” role, your choices become more and more constrained. Eventually, the game dresses you up in a crop top and booty shorts, and give you the option to flash your chest at characters, negating even the initial choice of gender.
The problem of choice could’ve been ameliorated by providing with the player with the ability to play different slasher movie archetypes: maybe you can be the foolhardy jock who attempts to take the fight to the killer, only to be brutally dismembered; or the promiscuous lech who’s “punished” for his immorality.
But allowing significant branching would’ve interfered with the game’s central theme: drawing parallels between reality television and slasher films. It’s a clever point, and I’d probably enjoy reading the analyses the author is pulling from to make their case, but the meta-commentary doesn’t translate well to an interactive format. Characters were constantly asking me what I thought about the academic points they were making, but not only were my opinions never represented in the text, whatever I did pick was inevitably cheerfully disregarded by whoever was playing Socrates in the dialogue.
The blurb presents this as a game that affords you the option to “be who you want” and choose “who will live and who will die.” It’s not. It’s a mostly linear exploration of horror movies and reality television. I probably would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if I had gone into it with those expectations, but the game is much less than it aspires to be.
Since the game didn’t let me say what I think about the points it’s making, I’m going to shoehorn them in here: Reality TV and slasher flicks have similarities because both are Low Art pandering to base human instincts. People are drawn to sex, violence, and drama, and, while feminist critiques of these media can be fun intellectual play or provide interesting insights into a dark cultural id, they often miss basic truths because they’re trying to plumb the depths of something that simply isn’t that deep. It’s a “Last Girl” because someone, be it a sweaty executive or a horny sixteen year old, wants to see an attractive woman without a bra running around in a wet t-shirt for half an hour. People dress up as slashers and not their victims because slashers have iconic costumes, and the victims don’t. Probably both of these media have a malign cultural influence, but so does any corporate production pandering to the largest possible audience. It’s part of the territory.
To be clear, I love like schlocky horror movies and find myself captivated by reality TV whenever I’m around it. But deep analyses of these genres often feel like an intellectual’s attempt to justify their enjoyment of media that’s clearly designed for those icky unwashed masses. Can’t we just admit that sometimes we like things precisely because they’re crass and stereotypical?