The Isle Tide Hotel is an FMV detective game that seats players in the role of Josh, an absent father of his daughter who went missing sometime around the start of the game. Josh needs to get into the mysterious Isle Tide Hotel, find his daughter, and escape, but the largest issue is that everyone in the hotel seems to be absolutely insane in the best possible interpretation of their characters. Something seems to be sinister in the hotel, and the appropriate answer to anyone asking you to join a cult is always, “No.” So, will Josh find his daughter and avoid having to sign up for a rewards card, or should this title be left to sink beneath high tide? Let’s find out.
The Isle Tide Hotel is an FMV game that plays footage of real-life people and presents some choices for the player to use to interact with the environment. Ergo, if presented the option to go inspect some notes on a desk, you click the desk, watch Josh walk up to the desk, then select the note and watch Josh pick it up so you can read it. It’s very similar to how many visual novels play out where you largely interact with the world through a menu that gives you various choices. The real focus is in the story of helping Josh find his daughter, finding out more about the people of the hotel, as well as the events transpiring there.
The interactive elements of The Isle Tide Hotel are entirely within dialogue and during scenes where you’re searching rooms for clues and items to help Josh find his daughter, or whatever cockamamie boondoggle he’s decided to distract himself with at that point in time (sure, why not help that man with his petition, it’s not like you came to this hotel for anything!). There is a great number of varying story branches you can interact with – my first playthrough focused on finding Josh’s daughter, while the second largely focused on a mysterious woman named D. There are eight endings, each with their own story branches to enjoy as well as puzzles to solve.
One thing to note is that the speed of The Isle Tide Hotel is actually quite slow to play out. When given a dialogue choice, a meter pops up on-screen, indicating how long you have to provide your response. Even if you select your response quickly, the recorded footage that makes up the idle animation has to play out to completion before playing the result of your decision. This leads to numerous and awkward bouts of complete silence, or immersion-breaking skips in the background music that form quite the pace breaking pitfall for many of the scenes, something that other FMV games like Death Come True managed to avoid.
What constitutes idle animations in The Isle Tide Hotel are weird too. If you’re shown a table that has four objects on it, selecting an object will play five to ten seconds of footage of Josh reaching down, picking up the object, letting you read what it says, then he puts it down and rests back into the same idling animation again. This repeats for every object on the table with no way to skip this footage that you’ve seen the equivalent of already- and this happens with everything, items on desks, beds, tables, sets of drawers you need to open one at a time. There’s just a lot of time spent that’s consumed by watching similar animations.
One particular story branch is especially egregious about being as time-consuming as possible. In one ending path, your choices will lead you to a maze of nigh-identical rooms with four doors, and you have to select which door you’ll take so you can piece a clock back together. Normally, maze puzzles like this wouldn’t be an issue, but there is a whopping 19 seconds of un-skippable footage after selecting a door until you can make a choice again, and you’ll need to choose directions 15 to 25 times before you beat it and get one of the endings. That means there is, at absolute best-case scenario, nearly 5 minutes of game time consumed by just watching the same animations play out, which is entirely too much.
A single playthrough of The Isle Tide Hotel will take somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on how many actions you need to take to find the right items. Once you’ve finished a playthrough, you can move through it faster to see other story paths and endings because you’ll now be able to skip scenes you’ve seen before, which is extremely helpful. On your first run you can’t even skip dialogue you’ve already read if you accidentally choose the same choice twice, or if you already read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen before the actor has finished their delivery. That’s right, you have to listen at the speed the characters speak for your entire first playthrough, and for any dialogue you haven’t yet heard.
The primary allure of The Isle Tide Hotel lies in the Twin Peaks style characters and Hitchcock approach to storytelling, though it is more on the amateur side than either of the aforementioned. Many of the characters are quite interesting, though several of them are more like set pieces and lore/backstory dumps. I say this mostly because on more than one occasion you’ll have people tell you their entire life’s purpose simply because you said hi, but when you actually get the opportunity to ask them any questions that could illuminate their usage of jargon like Core and Term, they suddenly clam up and turn mysterious, as if that’s supposed to spur on your sense of intrigue. This storytelling approach simply didn’t do much for me, and just made me think of the opening hours of Final Fantasy XIII where it did its best to explain nothing about fal’cie, l’cie, CeeLo Green, or anything else. I found it to be like a goofier version of when characters in anime and manga have important information they could impart, but instead of saying anything useful, they say, “Never mind” or “Nothing.”
That being said, a dislike for an approach to narrative doesn’t mean this will be the case for every person who plays The Isle Tide Hotel. The story presented can be interesting for some, especially for those who like eccentric and entertaining characters. That being said, there is only around 5 to 6 hours of total game time in The Isle Tide Hotel if you decide to get every achievement and see every ending. You get more options to skip in subsequent playthroughs, including a chapter select, though your first run of it will require a bit of patience as you deal with the animations resetting so you can select something else.
The cinematography is very solid, with there being more camera angles used for emphasis than what I’m used to with several other FMV titles. There’s a variety of camera angles that are dynamic enough to keep the player invested in what’s happening on-screen. The character acting, especially considering the setting of the game, does a pretty good job of selling the environments they’re in, though some are obviously better than others. The protagonist Josh, played by Michael Xavier, is an easy highlight for the experience. The setting, the Isle Tide Hotel, is also beautifully decorated and helps contribute to the scenes.
That being said, if you’re looking for a new FMV title to play, you could likely do worse than The Isle Tide Hotel. If you’ve played any of Wales Interactive’s previous titles, like Five Dates, this one can be considered as one of their best due to the sheer volume of differing outcomes you can have by the end of the game. Late Shift is probably still the strongest one published by them if for nothing else than due to how exciting it is. If you can get past how slow and clunky the investigation portions of The Isle Tide Hotel are, you can have a great experience with this entertaining and aloof cast of characters.