Islands of Insight

released on Feb 13, 2024

Islands of Insight is an epic shared-world puzzle game where you play as a Seeker on a peaceful journey of exploration and discovery. Seek out and solve mysterious puzzles at your own pace across an awe-inspiring world of floating islands.

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I've seen that Sonic meme about wanting to pay more for smaller games with worse graphics, etc. and I vibe with it as much as the next guy, but it's rare for me to encounter a game that I actually feel like I would have enjoyed substantially more if only substantially less work had gone into it.

Islands of Insight is a game about solving a zillion logic puzzles dotted throughout a number of serene, scenic locales. And that's already a winning formula, as the success of The Witness and The Talos Principle can attest to. That's all I needed. And if that's all there was to Islands of Insight, it would be a reputable entry in the genre. The cornerstone of the game is the Logic Grid, which is a consistently fun time with all the myriad rules that get added, twisted, and blended together over the course of the game. In addition to these are a variety of other puzzle types, which cover pretty broad spectra of difficulty, engagement, and quality. Some, like the classic block-sliding puzzles, are similarly cerebral to the Logic Grids, whereas others, like the hidden objects and perspective-based Skydrops, are tiny little things that you can pop off as you make your way from one major objective to another. Many of the puzzle types didn't vibe with me, like the crystal mazes or the fractal thing, but they're easy to ignore and simple enough to not be frustrating even when mandatory. The only hard stop I encountered was the music grid, which past a certain complexity level just requires a brain function that I don't have (now that I think of it, I think these are what made me drop The Witness too).

But however much joy the simple act of solving puzzles brings, it's marred by the game's greater ambitions. The online aspect is weird, on the face of it - the game seems to have been initially pitched as some kind of puzzle-MMO but player interactivity is heavily limited and the puzzles themselves are all single-player affairs, necessitating the removal of the "online co-op" tag a few days past release. I don't particularly care about any of this, as I was planning to ignore the online aspect completely. But there's one part of it you can't ignore, and that's the server lag. In multiple play sessions I found myself experiencing constant rubber-banding, to the extent that the more movement-centric puzzles became impossible to complete.

Additionally, although there are no microtransactions or anything in the game, there's still this "live-servicey" energy permeating the entire game, where puzzles will routinely appear, disappear, and reset, such that you can never actually completely clear any of the hub areas and instead progress through them by grinding out puzzles over multiple play sessions. This was probably intended to give the game more longevity through more content, but ironically had the opposite effect for me - most puzzles became disposable to me when I realized this, and I would bypass them entirely if they took more than a second or two to solve. This is only true of the hub areas, though - the main progression is done through more classically-designed Enclaves. These are still quite fun, and some of them take advantage of their hand-crafted nature to give the more boring puzzle types like the mazes a unique twist. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that I learned to ignore the hub areas, since that funneled me towards the best content that much faster.

I didn't engage with the story at all, because the Ubisoft-y dopamine loop of making numbers go up kept me cranking through puzzles at a breakneck pace. However, I think it can be accurately summarized as "if you swallow all the cubes you are legally a master".

I'm quite torn on Islands of Insight.

On one hand, the game includes some truly excellent puzzle design. Especially the puzzle grids, the most common type of puzzles, that manage to feel fresh even after solving hundreds of them, thanks to their variable rules. The meta puzzles (or "Mysteries") were also very interesting, and some of them were very cool to solve.
Puzzles that are scattered around the open world change every day, making the game very hostile to completionism. Which, as a completionist myself, I think actually improved my experience! It encouraged me to just go with the flow, solving only the puzzles I passed by when I feel like it.
Occasionally seeing other players in the world make the world feel more lively.

On the other hand, the game just isn't very good from a technical stand point, and feels too unpolished in many aspects.
The game has many bugs / server issues, that never completely break the game, but are frequently annoying (jumps breaking in mid air, progress not properly displayed, ...).
The online aspect of the game feels somewhat incomplete. Although you can ping locations and gesture to other players, with no way to know what puzzle the other player is in need of help with, you can't really meaningfully interact with them. The whole experience/resource system also felt like it was made with this online experience in mind, but just didn't gel very well with the rest of the game.
While I enjoyed the mysteries, I often felt like I had some idea on what could have been done to make them feel substantially more satisfying to solve.
The lore is also completely uninteresting.

Despite all that, if you're a big fan of puzzle games, I'd still recommend you to check this one out. It tries some unique stuff that is still interesting to see. But maybe wait a few months to see if some of the technical issues get fixed.