The Best Games Set On An Island
We take a look at some memorable (and forgotten) video game island settings on all systems including the PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4 and PS3.
[Update: This article has been updated to include new video game titles to the list.]
The remote or abandoned island seems to be one of the most used — and most useful — settings for stories in any medium. From Daniel Defoe’s groundbreaking novel Robinson Crusoe to Ubisoft’s best-selling FPS Far Cry 3, humans have been using islands to explore various ideas and themes for centuries.
This is especially true in video games, where islands cut off from the rest of the world are the perfect places for mystical adventures, insane terrorists, and quiet puzzle solving. They can serve as places to escape to, or prisons for characters to get trapped on. Including both the serious and the silly, here are the ten best games with island settings.
Like most who grew up during the PSX era, the most memorable aspect of Crash Banidcoot is the orange mascot’s choice of jean shorts (or jorts) as his only article of clothing. But there is an island setting here: the game’s antagonist, Dr. Neo Cortex, needs three isles to house his army of mutated animals. Crash’s adventure takes him through jungles, across beaches, and into temple ruins in order to stop Cortex’s nefarious plan. Naughty Dog’s breakout hit may be remembered more for its protagonist than its setting, but the game’s Wumpa islands both narratively and literally serve as Crash’s home.
The recently-released narrative adventure game from Night School Studio mixes The Goonies and Freaks n’ Geeks with magical realism reminiscent of hispanic authors Isabelle Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The main character, a 16-year-old named Alex, is spending the weekend with some friends on a remote island off the coast of her Pacific Northwest town. As would be expected, the island harbors supernatural horrors that the unknowing teenagers must survive. Edwards Island is a uniquely haunted and tormented place, and one definitely worth visiting.
Techland’s survival game may be most remembered for its fantastic first trailer, but we can’t forget that all of that zombie killing and open-world roaming is set in the middle of the ocean on a fictional island called Banoi, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Four survivors wake up to find out that everyone else on the resort island has been infected and turned to creepy-crawlies by a plague. The game’s heroes then bash lots of zombie parts with baseball bats and axes. While it can easily be argued that Dying Light is a better iteration on Dead Island, the tropical island resort setting definitely made Techland’s first major project interesting.
Konami’s run-and-gun action game takes place on the Galuga archipelago in Oceania. You may not remember that, even if you blasted your way through its seven stages several times, whether it be in an arcade or on the NES. The game will forever be remembered for its blasting gameplay rather than its setting. Much like Dr. Neo Cortex in Crash Bandicoot, the Red Falcon organization needs a small chain of islands to start its world-conquering business. Are we starting to notice a theme here?
While islands are great settings for zombie apocalypses and evil organizations, they can also be great place for introverted meditations. When you’re surrounded by nothing but water, on an empty island, what else are you going to do but solve 600 or so puzzles? As we noted in our review, Jonathan Blow’s open-world puzzle game wants the player to slow down and think. An abandoned island serves as a great place to emphasize isolation. This isn’t a bad thing — everyone needs some time to be alone and ruminate every once in a while.
The Secret of Monkey Island
Before Lucasfilm Games shuttered their doors in 2013, they were responsible for some great games like Grim Fandango and Maniac Mansion. Chief among these was 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island, set on the fictional Melee and Monkey Islands. The game is well-remembered for its point-and-click gameplay. It’s even more revered for its humorous and tongue-in-cheek story, which while silly at times, is at its core a story of a young man looking to escape where he’s from in order to better himself (through piracy, obviously). Lucasfilm’s point-and-click masterpiece shows that islands don’t just have to be prisons of plague or otherworldly horror – they can be beacons of hope, too.
Tomb Raider (2013)
And just like that, we’re back to the supernatural cradles of terror. Crsytal Dynamics’ reboot of Lara Croft’s adventure looked to emphasize her character more than her body, and while it achieved that, it also portrayed her as a murderous psychopath. Still, the game is remembered for its engaging tombs and great puzzle physics. The island of Yamatai, where Lara and her team are marooned, is full of mystery with a strong seasoning of the supernatural. The game’s backstory about the island’s old inhabitants and their politics is one of its unsung qualities. Found through quick notes and other artifacts scattered around the island, these small bits of background make exploring Yamatai interesting and exciting.
The Room Three
Okay, so it looks like video games love to mix remote/abandoned islands with horror. In what way could a mysterious mansion be made more dreadful and daunting? By being placed on a remote island with nobody around, of course. Continuing the excellence this iOS series is known for, The Room Three‘s puzzles are commendable and its story minimal. If you’re going to drop your phone on your face while lying in bed, it might as well be out of shock or surprise rather than typing a text.
Far Cry 3
Set on the tropical archipelago Rook Island, everyone probably remembers the “definition of insanity” speech from E3 2011, given by Vaas, the game’s frenetic antagonist. The game explores ideas of identity and mental health while asking the player to slowly retake the archipelago by hunting animals, crafting weapons, and retaking enemy outposts. The island’s inhabitants, both human and wildlife, give it a sense of personality just as strong, if not as vocal, as Vaas himself, making Rook Island one of gaming’s most memorable island settings.
Considered a puzzle-adventure masterpiece, Myst‘s titular island houses brain-bending puzzles, mysteries, and magic. A the beginning of the game, the player is whisked away to Myst Island after placing his hand on the last page of a book. The island world is one of the most famous in video game history because of the story hidden within its puzzles. While the player will visit other worlds throughout the game, Myst island serves as the game’s anchor. It’s the most interesting and full-fledged island setting in video games.
Ark: Survival Evolved
Ark: Survival Evolved is more of a survival action-adventure game. Players are tossed into the island and forced to survive in the ruthless environment. Not only will you have to gather supplies and resources to build a base, but you’ll have to prepare your protagonist to survive other players and creatures that are consistently seeking your demise.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is the tenth installment to the long running The Legend of Zelda franchise. As always, players take on the role of Link but this time, the emphasis is for players to explore the open seas as they take the fight against Ganon.
Much like the recent installments to the franchise, Wind Waker features 3D gameplay, however, the art style is drastically different in comparison to the past few installments at the time. Nintendo developed the video game to retain more of a cartoonish style to the video game with cel shading.
Being the ruthless dictator of a Caribbean island is no walk in the park but you do get a few perks. Tropico has been around since 2001 and since then, the video game franchise has seen a number of installments released into the market. As such, it’s no surprise to see the series in full make our list.
This is a simulation type video game where players take control of an island and manage their nation through the years. Depending on how well you handle situations and gain the respect of your peers will determine just how long you stay in office.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
The sixth main installment of the Assassin’s Creed series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, takes players to the open seas. While following the main overall plot of the series with the fight between Assassins and the Templars, there’s a real joy in taking up the pirate life with Edward Kenway.
Players will find that there is an emphasis on exploring the open waters, gathering a crew, sink opposing ships, and reap the rewards that come across their way. Outside of the sea life, players will also explore lands and fight using melee combat with stealthy takedowns.
If you enjoy horror titles then The Suffering may be worth checking out. Released back in 2004 and developed by Surreal Software, The Suffering is a third-person shooter psychological horror video game. Players take on the role of Torque who is a prisoner waiting on death row for his execution date after being found guilty of murdering his ex-wife and children.
Torque claims to be innocent, however, after an earthquake hits the prison located on an island, our protagonist may be able to escape, but, he will have to worry about other inmates along with a slew of supernatural threats getting in his way.
The Isle is currently an early access title that players can purchase today on Steam. Developed under Afterthought LLC, The Isle is an open-world survival horror game. Players are stuck on a series of islands where they must learn to survive on their own against the slew of threats such as predatorial dinosaurs.
Crysis is a well-known franchise by developers Crytek and in this particular list, we’re looking at the first Crysis title. The video game is set in the future where an alien structure was discovered within the mountains of a series of islands near the East Philippines. Players will step into the shoes of Jake Dunn, a soldier in the U.S. Army Delta Force. During your expedition to the mountains, gamers will find that they will need to battle against aliens and North Korean forces.
The Forest, much like The Isle, is an early access title with the final full release set to hit the markets sometime in 2018. Again, similar to The Isle, players are found trapped on an island and tasked simply with survival. Within this island, players will find that there are cannibalistic groups who will keep watch over you and raid your camp. This will force players to set traps in order to survive through the night.
Yoshi’s Island is a classic and one title that originated all the way back in 1995. This platformer follows Baby Mario and Yoshi over a course of several levels in an attempt to save Luigi who becomes kidnapped by minions under the control of Baby Bower early on in the video game. While the game originally released back on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or otherwise known as the SNES, Nintendo did release the game once again as a virtual title for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U.
Fallout 4 Far Harbor
If you completed Fallout 4, then we suggest checking out the expansion pack, Far Harbor. As a DLC title, we are going to toss this as an honorable mention. Within the game, players become a detective and must locate a missing girl who was living on a remote island.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dragonborn
Again, much like Far Harbor for Fallout 4, Dragonborn was DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, the DLC found its way into the full game thanks to the later title editions. After completing the main campaign of Skyrim, the Dragonborn DLC will have players traveling to the island of Solstheim which will have ties to the very first Dragonborn.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is another honorable mention which is another great open-world RPG if players find themselves enjoying the latest release The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, you could make the argument that Morrowind is more of a continent which are made up of a series of islands. Regardless, the overall campaign of the video game will follow The Tribunal and their struggle against Dagoth Ur.