In the face of the recent onslaught of "Myst clones" and sparse traditional third-person adventure releases, flies the independent French release Isabelle from Belisa. This esoteric title has created a little buzz among the adventure community, but is it worthy of the talk?
In two words…devastatingly not. For many reasons, I had a really difficult time giving this game such a harsh critique. One of the reasons being, as we wait for the larger game companies to release more games for our beloved genre, we are becoming ever increasingly reliant on independent publishers to sate our appetite for adventures.
Before I booted up Isabelle, I was incredibly excited to play it. The number one reason being, this game was presented as a surreal, imaginative departure form the adventure genre as we know it. The screenshots I had seen reminded me of another French title I enjoyed tremendously, Little Big Adventure 2 or Twinsen’s Odyssey (as it is known in the US). SO with great anticipation, I inserted the Isabelle CD into my CD ROM drive. That’s when it happened…I began to play Isabelle.
I expected to be a bit disoriented and confused, as customary when beginning such a title, and what met with me on my monitor and over my speakers sufficiently fulfilled my expectations.
Then came the voice-overs. Never in my experience adventuring have my ears been invaded with such intolerable voice-over work. In the sub-par effort to introduce the game, the voice-over actors relayed a badly translated script with all of the exuberance of a high school geography teacher. "It’s okay," I told myself. "Maybe because this game is independently produced, there simply wasn’t enough budget to hire expensive voice-over actors for the English language version." I let it slide.
I began my journey into Isabelle as George, who has been severely injured in and accident along with his friend Paul, who is now in a coma. George has been blinded by the ill-fated event, and as a result, the beginning of the game and overwhelming profusion of blue, black, and gray. Fortunately, in this game it is possible to play as George or his little brother Raymond (who retains his sight).
When I had gained the capacity to play as Raymond, I observed the one redeeming quality of this game….the colors. Isabelle is extraordinarily bright and colorful, and I found this a welcome exit from the darkness in all of the mystery adventure titles I have been playing recently.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Isabelle.
Navigating around Isabelle was nothing short of infuriating. While the world was pretty and colorful, it was intolerably disorienting. Accomplishing any task in Isabelle was nothing short of impossible. Many times I left my keyboard in frustration and disgust, so I wouldn’t cause damage to my precious computer.
As I was fumbling along the confounding world of Isabelle, I was met at every turn with violence against children, poorly illustrated sex, and annoying remarks made by George against his mother. Now, I am aware that sex, violence, and foul language can hold a certain amount of intrigue. Before playing Isabelle, I believed adding these elements to a game was foolproof. Boy, was I ever wrong.
As if all of the previously stated were not enough, throughout the game I was made to endure badly composed (and even more badly placed) MIDI music. The music was reminiscent of some of the 8-bit role-playing games that were published for the original Nintendo gaming console in the mid-80’s. In other words, severely below what is capable with current technology. I found this tirelessly assaulting to my aural senses after playing such titles as Faust and Discworld Noir.
While I applaud Belisa for their intriguing concept, the end product falls short in nearly every aspect excluding the pretty colors. This is not a bad game, because it dares to be different. It is simply a good concept that has been half-heartedly realized.
In the end, playing all the way through Isabelle is not unlike attending a showing of an art-house foreign film and enduring 4 and 1/2 hours of confounding situations and subtitles in effort to impress the group of pseudo-intellectuals that demanded you go in the first place. Unless you are a fervent fan of extreme confusion, or have gaming tendencies that lean toward the masochistic, I highly recommend that you overlook this title.
Spend your money elsewhere