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"If Level 9 were in the pop world they would be somewhere up there with The Police because their success is grounded in a deep understanding of their subject coupled with an uncanny knack of always remaining commercial. To stay at the top by standing on old successes is not enough, a fact with which Level 9 are fully aware, and so here we have their eleventh release and itís not only good ó it is perceptibly better."
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In Emerald Isle, you play a pilot who's had to bail out in the Bermuda Triangle. The back-of-the-box blurb promises a man vs. nature fight for survival: "You escape by parachute, floating downwards to the lonely atoll, the 'Emerald Isle,' from which few escape. The only way out is to solve its challenges...".
It turns out not to be a man vs. nature fight for survival. After extricating yourself from a tree, you...hunt for treasures, in a part-fantasy part-modern world. And then you put the treasures in a room to score points. Huzzah. It's exactly like Zork or Adventure, but inferior in nearly every respect. There are no room descriptions, only room titles. Objects are described with three or four words apiece. The parser is two-word, and not overly robust even in comparison with others of its kind. The puzzles offer no surface area for experimentation and feedback. You either guess the right action, or get an unhelpful default response. And several of the actions are simply unguessable.
What the game does have is a lot of empty space. There are at least 200 rooms, and maybe 1/4 of those have an object or something to interact with. It also has illustrations for every one of those rooms. I would have gladly traded half the rooms and all of the illustrations for a description of the train-ticket machine that went beyond "Looks dented."
Level 9 did some fine work, not least of which is 1987's Knight Orc, which had an excellent parser and a highly original story. Emerald Isle has to be one of their worst. In his indispensable walkthrough, Jacob Gunness had this to say: "Credits must go to Level 9 for producing one of the largest, dullest and most plot-less adventures in a long while."
I'll co-sign that.
Despite the fact that the work is indeed pretty much an empty shell in today's standards, we often forget that the aesthetics of IF have changed a lot along these years. In the early days, players / readers used to approach these works from a different perspective, enjoying the sensations of inhabiting and exploring space without necessarily expecting to proceed on the narrative level as we do nowadays. In this respect, Emerald Isle is a relatively fascinating construction of a virtual world with a load of hidden secrets -- though visibly inferior to those of later RPGs.
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