Do you enjoy crouching through ambiguously industrial-looking corridors? Does the sight of steam softly seeping out of sphincter-shaped air ducts give you the sexy sweats? Would hiding from a dribbling rubbery man-monster make your heart beat faster?
If you thought ‘yes’ to the above, you will probably enjoy Alien: Isolation.
(Image: Giant Bomb)
That’s right, it’s the survival horror game based on the 1979 cult classic Alien. Over the years many have attempted to distill Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror film and its sequels into tasty video game form, with almost all of those attempts being terrible (just look at 2013’s Aliens: Colonial Marines). Alien: Isolation recreates the implacable deadliness that makes the titular star beast so terrifying: there’s only one horrible Mr Alien, but there’s no way to kill him off. A thorough blast from a flamethrower is about the only way to avoid a stabtastic death if it finds you, forcing you to sneak around sheepishly, diving into an empty locker or aforementioned air duct if the alien pokes about nearby.
Alien: Isolation has sold over 1 million copies since it released 4 month ago and talk of a sequel is a “daily topic” around the developer’s office. While it’s certainly jolly good fun (a certain bowel-loosening kind of fun), it’s far from a perfect jaunt into alien town. Here are 5 ideas to make the next trip even better.
1. A more bashful alien
In the whole of the original 70s film the alien’s only on camera for a few minutes. But finding a snug hiding spot and watching it swagger about is a core mechanic in Isolation. The prospect of not knowing exactly what’s after you is much more scary, and to be honest this alien’s a bit of an exhibitionist.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent used a clever system: the more you look at the monsters the more mentally unhinged your character becomes, leading to spooky hallucinations and eventual unconsciousness. This prevents you from looking at them too much, keeping their menace mysterious. Perhaps in the next game peeking at the alien could exponentially increase the chance of you pooing yourself in fear (another reason for the robot janitors to be on your case).
Check out those gnashers. This alien has a very good dentist. (Image: YouTube)
2. A better crafting system
This CGI trailer shows what could have been: hunting for bits of kit found around the space station, a sense of satisfaction at invented a new tool to help you survive. It’s a far cry from the actual game, in which you inhale seemingly random pieces of litter like a kleptomanic Henry Hoover. The actual constructing process happens offscreen, depositing a perfectly-made smoke bomb or molotov in your inventory.
I’d love to see something like Dead Space 3’s modular weapon crafting system in a future Alien game. It’s one of the more engaging parts of Dead Space 3; the prospect of finding a shiny new part to stick on the end of my favourite gun kept me playing into the wee hours. A similar approach for crafting Isolation’s gadgets would make you feel like a proper space-age mechanic, just like protagonist Amanda Ripley.
3. Fewer frustrating computer console minigames
I can definitely see what developer Creative Assembly was going for with these short puzzles inspired by the many fuzzy cathode-ray interfaces from the original film, but they crop up far too frequently over the course of the game. It’s often hard to determine exactly what you should do to solve them, and their generic, interchangeable nature takes away from the space station’s impression as a coherent, credible place.
That’s not to say that giving you fiddly tasks to carry out under pressure isn’t a novel idea. I rather enjoyed cutting open doors with the blowtorch because, crucially, I understood why I was doing it and what it would achieve. Equally, the ‘security access tuner’ has just enough challenge to make it a suddenly intense exercise in controlled panic if an enemy is nearby. There’s a bit of skill involved, so punching in the correct symbols perfectly the first time makes you feel like a total boss.
4. Proper character interaction
It’s always been joked that Alien is a film where nothing happens for the first 45 minutes, but that isn’t quite true: nothing explicitly scary happens, but the film excels in describing the personalities of the space freighter’s crew and their relationships within a tight, hierarchical working environment. It makes the horrors they face later on that much more believable.
This part of the film doesn’t get translated to game-form at all. While there are lots of parts of Isolation where nothing much happens, the game doesn’t use it as an opportunity to get you familiar with its characters. There’s never much of a chance to talk to people outside of a few pre-rendered cutscenes and over-the-radio chatter, and everything Ripley says to them is already decided for you in non-interactive fashion. Which leads us to…
5. A properly branching story
The Sevastopol space station you’re trapped in is largely an open book, so it seems strange this isn’t already a feature. You’re encouraged to return to areas you’ve already visited, opening up doors with the handy gadgets you’ve since acquired, but the completely linear nature of the story means there isn’t much point in exploring except to track down collectable audio recordings made by the film’s original and now old-person-voiced cast.
Of course the real tension in an Alien story comes from the unlikely team of survivors, arguing amongst each other about the best plan to get rid of the alien and back home safely. Imagine a system in Isolation that let’s you choose your own objectives, convincing other survivors to help you along the way: do you keep the alien trapped while you fix up an escape shuttle or blow up the whole space station, giving your life to ensure no-one finds the alien and shares your fate (it’s the only way to be sure, after all)?
So, that’s my list. Much like the dastardly monster itself, the Alien franchise is almost impossible to kill off. I expect there’ll be many more Alien games to come and hopefully they’ll improve on the stellar example Isolation set. I found the game so jolly interesting I wrote my 3rd year dissertation on it – I’m particularly proud that it’s exactly 5,500 words long.
Originally published on Storehouse online.