VR Spotlight: Island 359 lets you live your dinosaur-hunting dreams

In VR Spotlight, we take a look at the virtual reality games and experiences we have been enjoying around the office. This time the spotlight shines on Island 359, the multi-platform VR title from CloudGate Studios. It's available now as an Early Access release for Vive and Oculus Touch.

Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

Apparently the protagonist in Island 359, the dinosaur-shooting simulator (yeah that’s a thing) created by CloudGate Studio for the HTC Vive and Oculus Touch.

The namesake of the game is an island infested with dinosaurs, and it’s your job to kill them all to earn rewards and power ups. It’s sort of the opposite of Jurassic Park.

There’s no story to speak of, and the premise doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that’s really not the focus of Island 359. It’s a game about murdering dinosaurs with a large selection of different weapons, and that’s a premise that doesn’t need a great narrative arc to make an impression.

Gameplay


Editor's Note: Aside from the header image, for this article we're using screenshots we captured directly from the game, which we feel give you a better representation of what the game is actually like than the sceenshot selection on the game's Steam page

This is a shooting game, so the vast majority of the gameplay consists of pulling a virtual trigger and taking down varying sizes of giant lizards. If you’ve played Arizona Sunshine or one of the numerous other shooting simulators in the VR marketplaces, you know more or less what to expect. Just imagine instead of people or zombies you’re taking out dinosaurs. Good stuff.

Here you’ll find a fairly standard allotment of firepower, from your basic handgun to automatic weapons, and even some more unconventional weapons like a bow and a baseball bat. There’s something strange about going into a dinosaur habitat and clubbing them to death with a baseball bat, but I’ll leave the moral implications of bashing giant lizards for another article.

Shooting is fairly standard fare, with the inclusion of iron sights and upgradeable weaponry (laser scopes, better sights, etc.). You reload by hitting a button and pulling the controller toward your chest, which is uncommon for VR shooters and takes some getting used to, but overall the controls are solid. My only gripe control-wise is the mapping of the interact button to the trigger, meaning if you try and pick up some ammo or health and don’t time it perfectly, you waste bullets.

There are two primary gameplay types in Island 359: Arcade Mode and Mercenary Mode.

Arcade mode is in the stationary shooting gallery style, where you gun down wave after wave of ferocious dinosaurs. It starts off with tiny little raptors as you’d expect, but as you continue to survive larger and larger dinos come to eat your tasty flesh.

By the fourth level you’re gunning down multiple allosaurus (basically baby t-rexes for those of you who had a more exciting childhood than mine,) and it only escalates from there.

It’s simple, but undeniably fun. The large stature and speed of the raptors and larger foes is quite a rush, and though the sometimes strange animations and so-so graphics reduce the immersion a little bit, every time I stopped playing I was smiling and my heart was pounding. That’s a good sign.

Mercenary Mode is a little more complex, with the addition of a more open world and movement. The premise is that you’re dropped into the map from a helicopter, given some supplies, and set out into the verdant jungle to hunt some dinos. The more you explore the map and hunt the closer you get to your next supply drop, consisting of weapon power ups and health. When you’ve exhausted yourself it’s time to get back to the chopper and see how high you scored.

In both modes there is a simple upgrade system. After each wave (or in-game hour) of arcade mode you’re awarded XP, and everytime you level up you can upgrade attributes like stamina or health. In Mercenary mode after killing a certain amount of dinosaurs a supply box will drop, containing ammo, health, and sometimes an upgrade for your weapon. This means the more you play the more powerful you become, which is a good way to keep you playing and pushing yourself further and further.

Both of these progression systems are simple, but they are welcome additions and add some complexity and replayability to an otherwise straightforward premise.

There will be additional modes added in the final build, including a more fleshed out bounty mode and something called “Survive the Night” which sounds pretty cool.

Island 359 boasts simple gameplay, but the arcade-style twitch shooting is pretty entertaining, and at $19.99 I can forgive it for being a bit light on content.

Movement


Movement in Island 359 is the “Look and ye shall go” teleport variety. By pressing the button above the directional pad you get a blue cursor, and by moving the headset around you can get closer or farther. Let go of the button, and you magically teleport there. It’s similar to other movement systems, but the added flexibility of using the headset for further precision is a nice touch.

If you move too quickly across the map you’ll get out of breath and will have to stop for a bit, which adds an element of tension to the experience. Still though, I feel like I could run further than the protagonist in reality, and I’m in terrible shape. At times this feature felt more limiting than interactive.

In general movement in Island 359 is not as fluid as I’m hoping it will one day be, but it didn’t make me sick and I adjusted to it quickly. That’s good enough for me.

Performance and Graphics


This is an Early Access build, so a little roughness around the edges is to be expected, and will hopefully be addressed before the game's official "release."

Overall, Island 359 looks fine. The maps look sufficiently verdant, with special attention paid to the vegetation. It isn’t Robo Recall and it’s not going to max out your GPU, but it gets the job done.

The environments in Mercenary mode, while large, are fairly sparse. There’s not much interaction other than the occasional box of ammo or herd of dinosaurs that appear. It would be great to add some more dynamic features to spice things up.

The game's best visual detail comes in its cool-looking dinosaurs. Even though the repetitive models are all identical, they are appropriately imposing.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of seeing your first large dinosaur trundle past. The sense of scale is really neat, and brought out my inner 11 year old who always wanted to see a Triceratops up close.

It’s unfortunate, then, that there are serious clipping issues with the character and dinosaur models. Your sense of awe is quickly diminished when you end up inside the model of the dino attacking you (and not because you’re being eaten).

There are some strange physics issues as well, mostly relating to picking up and dropping objects, but these are more amusing than game-breaking.

I’m hoping some of these issues (especially the clipping) are ironed out in the final release, because an extra level of polish would make this game even more fun.

Is Island 359 worth buying?

Note: This footage was captured from an earlier version of Island 359, but the gameplay and experience is largely the same. 

Island 359 has a simple and amusing premise: hunt and kill dinosaurs. This is a concept tailor-made for video games, and even a lackluster effort would probably have been entertaining. It’s well executed, from the detailed character models of the great beasts to the fun (if somewhat rudimentary) environments.

A few unpolished aspects don’t diminish that enjoyment, and once it’s out of Early Access, I’m legitimately looking forward to checking it out again and seeing what else CloudGate comes up with.

It’s not a complex game, but it’s really not trying to be. It plays to its strengths, and there’s no denying that shooting dinosaurs in VR is every bit as fun as it sounds.

You can pick up Island 359 on Steam for $19.99.

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