Sunday, October 19, 2014

Alien: Isolation

I didn't expect to be reviewing more than one new game this year, but at this rate I might actually be able to fill up my top five games of 2014!
I might as well put up a disclaimer saying that part of this review was written prior to finishing the game, which is why the transitions are a little awkward. Also, minor spoilers inbound when I talk about a scripting error. Nothing major, but I figured I'd let you know.
Alien: Isolation the latest in a line of licensed games based on the Alien franchise. The last one, Colonial Marines was a followup to the movie, Aliens. As I was only informed about the backlash after the fact, I will not be comparing the two games, despite what other outlets and critics may be doing. Now, considering that, I'd like to talk about the history of Alien in videogames rather briefly.
Alien has had quite a few bad games based on it. For instance, the Super Nintendo platformer based on Alien Cubed was trying to be Metroid, but utterly failed due to some pretty bad mechanics and poor level design. The NES version was also trying to be Metroid pretty hard, but it failed a little more than the SNES one thanks to the LJN rainbow of doom, and the fact that the developers had obviously never played Metroid. I've heard that most of the other games made based on the Alien/Predator franchise aren't great. The ones I've heard good things about are Alien vs Predator: Requiem for Sony's PSP, which I haven't played but was apparently pretty good, and Aliens vs Predator for Xbox 360, PC and PS3, which spread itself a little too thin, but was apparently pretty decent.
And then there's the arcade beat-em-up based on the Alien vs Predator comic, which is apparently remembered alongside Turtles In Time as one of the greatest Beat 'Em Ups ever made, despite never seeing a home console release. One of the main characters is based on Dutch, Arnold's character from Predator, and someone who.... Most certainly isn't Ellen Ripley. As well as two Predators. And no Alien. Why no Xenomorph?
Anyways, the last two Alien games I wanted to talk about are Alien Trilogy and Alien: Resurrection, both for  the Sony PlayStation.
Alien Trilogy is apparently a DooM clone in every sense of the phrase. It's an FPS, you run around fighting Aliens and doing other stuff. It received generally positive reviews.
And finally, Alien: Resurrection. It started off as a survival-horror-y Resident Evil clone, but transitioned into an FPS.
Which is the exact opposite of the path Resident Evil took. It started development as an FPS, but mutated into the game that defined survival-horror.
And now we have Alien: Isolation. A followup to Alien where you play as Ellen Ripley's daughter, Amanda Ripley. Fifteen years after the events of Alien, Amanda finds out that the flight-recorder from her mothers ship has been found and joins the crew of a ship that's been sent out to retrieve it. She winds up going on a space-walk with two other members of the crew because the space-station had a damaged docking-bay.
As such, an explosion separates them and Amanda winds up having to search the station for her shipmates.
Now, as demonstrated in my ongoing let's play I was confused as to which of the characters was blown over to the airlock Ripley enters. Obviously it was Ripley, but I though it was the British girl, Taylor because of how it was... Filmed? Rendered? I don't know.
Anyways, that might have been a lapse of attention on my part.
So as the title suggests, there is an Alien in this game. There might be more than one for all I know, since this is a first impressions review. I call him "Mister drooly-face" because giving a deadly creature a cutesy nickname is hilarious. And I already beat this joke into the ground in the first few minutes after making it.
So anyways, let's start talking about the gameplay.
You guys remember my Metal Gear Solid and MGS2 playthroughs, right? And my (Currently incomplete) MGS3 playthrough? Well it's very similar to that. It's like Metal Gear in the first person. Except that you can move around in the first person.
That was something I didn't like about Metal Gear Solid 2 and MGS3, they (Unless I'm forgetting something) didn't let you move in the FPV, because they used the left stick for looking around and the right stick for the katana. Sometimes we need three analog sticks I suppose. Or maybe we should have a switch to go between the first and third person, and not a deadmans switch.
And maybe a third analog stick for the sword if we really need that.
Or maybe I'm thinking about this way too hard and I should probably get back to the real review.
Well anyways, as I said it's a lot like Metal Gear. Except crossed with Call of Duty, but with voluntary prone stance removed. Instead of letting you crawl around on the floor, you have to crouch and move like that. Your proning is completely reliant upon moving next to a low surface, and then staying under it, at least in the Xbox 360 version. It's incredibly inconvenient, as somebody who's played a lot of Metal Gear Solid and enjoyed the stealth-sections in Call of Duty 4 I expect to be able to lie down and crawl. It was invaluable in Call of Duty 4 and also in the Metal Gear Solid games. Just saying, it would have been nice to be able to crawl on my stomach. I might have not been seen or killed as many times. Having to crouch like that was what got me killed by a bunch of Androids once. If I'd been prone and crawling, the android wouldn't have seen me over the computer banks.
My point is that not being able to go prone in a stealth-horror game at-will is something that baffles me.
And also, the automatic-proning gets really irritating around certain low-hanging edges later in the game. Not letting you lay prone on your own means that you're sometimes lying down under a desk when all you want to do is not be seen over the computer monitor.
Now, I started the game on hard mode because the menu said that was how the game was meant to be played, and as of this writing I've sunken about nine hours into it give or take a few (I haven't had time to look at the footage I shot yesterday quite yet) and I'm only on chapter five. That's about the amount of time I spent on Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Sonic Adventure, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl: Subspace Emissary each. I've poured enough time into this game to fill up almost two Call of Duty games and definitely two of the shorter Sonic The Hedgehog games.
And I have to say, it feels like it's worth the time. Might even be worth the money. I wouldn't know, having only ever bought one game at full-price in my entire lifetime (For those of you who don't know, it was Fire Emblem: Awakening) and that one was certainly worth the forty bucks I paid for it. Poured almost fifty hours into it so far (And I'm sorry about putting off my midpoint thoughts on it for so long, but my summer catchup reviews have shunted it down the list quite a bit.) and it's been worth every single penny. I'll have to reserve judgement of this game until I finish it (Which I did)
For the sake of knowing, I decided to look at the achievements and see how many missions there are.
And I was shocked to see that there were... At least fifteen if I remember correctly.
Fifteen missions. Fifteen. It's crazy. It's like they actually put some kind of effort into the game!
And that's something that you can tell throughout, that actual effort was put into it. There are all kinds of little things scattered around the space station chronicling what all the residents did and what happened to them before the game started. Nice little touches here and there, you know? Fluffy things that flesh out the world.
Anyways, I can't remember how long it took for the Alien to show up, but it was at least four hours. And I like it. (Not a spoiler because Penny Arcade already mentioned that fact) Until then you're pretty much just hiding and running from human survivors. And that's a nice way to add to the tension. Sort of like the original Alien, where there was a lot of stuff going on in it before the Alien appeared. You got to know the characters, you get used the the grungy sci-fi environments, explore a little, find some cool stuff to read. And that's pretty good. I liked Alien for doing that. It was pretty sweet. For the first horror-movie I'd ever seen I would say that it was a pretty good start.
So I might as well go into some things I noticed about the game here. First off, there are quite a few physics bugs even after the patch was installed. They're fairly rampant, but they're also not major and don't really cause many problems. Second is that there are a few scripting errors that persisted past the installation of the patch. First is that, in one mission you get seen by a female survivor who was trying to unlock an elevator. When you get shot at you automatically crouch down and can't get back up to sprint until she leaves. This wasn't something I noticed until after I'd been killed by her harem of preternatural psychic sharpshooters a couple of times.
After the first time I got found, I decided to try and sneak up on her to kill her before she could sound the alarm. I got found. So at some point in time I decided to run up to her and smash her with my mighty hammer of doom. And Mjolnir just clipped right through her, but her shots managed to smack right into me. That was the point when I found out that she couldn't be killed at that point. But before that (Or after, I can't remember because that entire thing started to blur together after a while), I decided to run after her and try to keep her from sounding the alarm. And she got away. And that was about the time I found out that you don't get chased by her and her buddies until after you pick up her access-tuner. Which means you can run around the whole area looting and setting up traps to your hearts content. Up until then, the pacing was picture perfect. And that wasn't fixed in the patch to my knowledge, since I installed the patch prior to my second play session. That little scripting error broke all of my immersion built up to that point. Fortunately, they managed to suck me back into the game some more later on.
Except for the time that one of the Androids I was running from at one point managed to teleport right through the elevator door. They did that like twice if I remember correctly. Just popped right through the elevator door after it had been shut. This was after the patch was installed, by the way
In addition to that, the human NPCs in that one sequence I mentioned seemed a little too smart. They wound up being able to shoot me from across the freaking room, with pinpoint accuracy, using handguns. That really shouldn't happen. In anything. While making the NPCs scary-smart does add to the tension, humans still shouldn't be able to tell friend from foe in the dark, on a different floor, across the freaking room, and with plenty of obscuring objects between us.
At one point in time I grabbed the tuner and booked it out of the room, and then stumbled upon what I presume to have been another group of survivors, who threatened me with their guns and told me to back off or be shot. I did just that, and they proceeded to fill me with hot lead.
That didn't really make much sense. I was doing what they asked and they STILL opened fire!
Anyways, after that I decided to grab the tuner and book it out of there, opting to hide in a locker on the way. After a while, someone who I presume to have been the woman who sounded the alarm passed right by me, and then a little while later passed by me again after having checked the room. I burst out of the locker and whacked her with the maintenance jack a few times, killing her.
At that point, I decided to loot her body for her weapons and supplies. Which was when I found out that I couldn't take her revolver.
Another thing I feel like mentioning is that all of the handguns in this game look like Barry Burton's Colt Anaconda from Resident Evil. All of them. The revolver you find looks like it, and every character with a gun uses that same model. I'm not saying that they were lazy in designing guns, but it's a little bit perplexing that there wouldn't be at least one other model of pistol on board the station.
Anyways, I don't really appreciate the inability to loot weapons from others. That got to me in Metal Gear Solid as well, but at least they had a plausible explanation for that in the sequel. The weapons are bio-metrically locked to the owners of them, therefore they're about as useful as a knife in a gunfight. In this game however, why you can't pick up and use the weapons of others is neither addressed nor explained.
So anyways, from there on I noticed that the Alien seems to be programmed to mess with you.
In some seriously messed up ways.
I cannot count the number of times that drooling black monster just stared at me. Like it was thinking "Yeah, I'll be back for you" and then walked away to do something else.
Usually killing other people.
And then coming back to kill me. A lot. I unlocked an achievement called "100 times too many"
In case you want to know what you have to do to get that achievement, you have to be killed by the Alien a hundred times.
And that's not even counting how many times I was killed by androids, or humans, or my IED's inexplicably going off in my face.
Not that inexplicably, but sometimes I wonder how the flames from my molotovs kept arcing back towards me when I was too close to the target.
It wasn't major though. Just gotta learn to be a little further away from ground zero before tossing a pipe-bomb or molotov.
So Ripley travels around the station, gathering supplies and trying to get back into contact with her ship. And all the while, pretty much everything in the station is trying to kill her.
I won't give anything away, but suffice to say that there are some truly brutal moments in this game. The kind that must be seen to be believed.
Now, onto the level design.
Some doors require a certain button combination to open. Like holding down on the left trigger and pulling down on the left stick, or pressing A multiple times to start up a generator, or moving the left stick around to cut open a panel. Personally, I really like that the game makes you open up doors, panels and other things like that. It adds to the interactivity and immersion.
There are other, similar puzzles that require certain timing with button presses, or holding one stick in a certain position while selecting a certain panel with the other. It can get a little awkward, but it's supposed to be that way. I doubt I'd be able to do much better than Ripley in that same situation, and I like the button-combination things. They're not exactly what I would call quick-time-events, but they're similar.
I don't know why I like them, really. It might be because they add to the atmosphere, that they don't break immersion or the flow of the game, or maybe that they tend to be brief and easy to get used to.
Another thing I love about this game is that you never leave Ripley's POV once you're on the space-station. The camera never cuts to third-person for anything. And there's hardly any HUD, just an ammo-counter and a health-meter in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. And it works. You see this, Jurassic Park: Trespasser? This is what you were supposed to be. You see this, Colonial Marines? You were supposed to do this a year ago. Hell, you were supposed to be doing this thirteen years ago.
Hey, Slender? You see this? This is how you do survival horror. Not jumpscares, not inconsistent AI, but with a malicious and sadistic monster that actually poses a threat to you. Slender's game overs consist of a mannequin dressed up like The Nostalgia Critic staring at you. Alien Isolation's game overs consist of you being strangled by an android, stabbed through the stomach in graphic detail by the Alien, stomped to death, having your face bitten off, being just plain SHOT and PUMMELED TO DEATH.
And blown up by your own weapons. You see this, Slender? I'm talking to both The Arrival and The Eight Pages, as well as Slenderman's Shadow. This is how you make a good horror game. If you guys had done this instead of.... Whatever the Slender games were, I might have liked you. You might have been more than a passing fad. But guess what? You've been replaced by good survival-horror games now (As if you weren't a year ago). Games that actually have survival elements (As opposed to insta-kills and nothing to fight back with) and horror. We've got The Evil Within coming out as well, here's hoping Shinji Mikami can light the spark up again, am I right?
And finally, the graphics. This game looks pretty good. The lip-sync is a little off at times, and my slow as molasses flash-drive I had to install the game on meant that textures and sometimes whole areas would take a few seconds to pop in, but I don't blame the game for that. The Xbox 360 said that it wasn't at par for data storage. As far as a game that's seeing a release on current as well as next-gen goes, it looks better than, say, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for the PlayStation did at the time. Or Chamber of Secrets on the same system. Or Spider-Man 3, or Sonic Unleashed, or pick a sports game. It looks really nice. I played it at 1080i and I thought it looked pretty good. And I'm not usually one to care about how good something looks.
There are, as I've said before, a few minor physics bugs, and some things I presume were supposed to be round turn out looking kind of polygonal, but that's a minor detail compared to how awesome the game is.
So, moving on to Crew: Expendable.
Crew: Expendable is the first piece of DLC released for Alien: Isolation, included with the Nostromo Edition, which came as a free upgrade for all pre-orders.
It lasts about a half hour.
It includes a faithful recreation of the Nostromo from the original Alien, as well as most of their equipment. The DLC starts off right after the deaths of Kane and Brett.
In addition to informing you of that, the voucher falsely claims that Lambert and Ash have already been killed as well, despite both of them being alive and well at the beginning of the DLC, and playing rather large roles in the story. I presume this summary was attached to an older version and they didn't have time to print up new vouchers when the direction of the content changed.
Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerrit, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright and Sigourney Weaver reprise their roles as Parker, Dallas, Brett, Lambert and Ellen Ripley respectively, with Ian Holm reprising his likeness as Ash, but unable to provide voice work. And it works pretty well. I like that they were able to get most of the original cast for this DLC, however brief it may be.
The expansion gives you a choice of playing as Dallas, Parker or Ripley. Considering Ripley's status as the only survivor of Alien, I naturally chose to play as her. You'd think that playing as either Dallas or Parker would open up a different ending, but from what I've read it seems to play out the same way no matter which character you choose.
I figured that it would be an abridged recreation of Alien, or maybe even a complete adaptation, which would last a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, it didn't get that far. I clocked hard mode in, give or take a half an hour. It's just an excerpt of a few scenes from Alien combined with a deleted scene and some narration.
Admittedly pretty cool and pretty tense scenes, but if you want the experience this DLC gives, you can easily just re-watch Alien.
It's pretty good for what it is I suppose. But it's nothing special. You could put the four dollars to something that lasts longer. DooM 3, for instance is ten dollars, as are, Half Life, Half Life 2, both HL2 episodes, Fallout 3, 2 and New Vegas, both KOTOR games, Portal, Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition, all for ten dollars each on Steam. X-COM is seven dollars right now on Steam, Deus Ex is seven dollars, DooM II, Ultimate DooM and FinaL DooM are all five dollars, hell. Aliens vs Predator 2000 is five dollars!
My point is that if you didn't get the Nostromo Edition already, and you've seen Alien, you won't be missing anything, and you can easily spend your money in better ways on better and longer games.
Like Aliens vs Predator 2000.
Sorry to say it, but I was disappointed in Crew: Expendable. As an unlockable once you completed the main campaign, it might have redeemed itself, but as DLC I'd personally pass on it in favor of buying a full game, or waiting on larger expansions to this one. The file-size of just over a hundred megabytes should have tipped me off as to the length. It's kind of fun at first, but I was disappointed by how short it is. Personally, I think that a full-on adaptation of Alien would have been in order. Heck, just give it its own game! That would work!
All in all, aside from the DLC, I liked Alien: Isolation. I have a feeling that it's going to become one of the defining survival horror games of this decade. It's got stealth, it's got tension, it's got aliens, it's got androids, and it has immersion. If you were burned by Aliens: Colonial Marines (And if you were, I wouldn't blame you), this game is here to provide some soothing cream. And by cream, I mean tears of fear and sweat of terror.
In the end I give it a 10.1* rating. It's a great game, and it must be played to be believed. I'll be seeing you soon with Resident Evil 2!
Side note, the game includes a brochure, stating that all four Alien movies with extended cuts and "awesome extras" available on Xbox Video.
Notice that it's mentioning all four movies as opposed to just the first two.
Granted, my hypothesis about both of those movies being figments of Ripley's imagination, dreams she's having during her cryosleep journey back to earth does make both Alien 3 and Resurrection better films (And granted, Alien 4 was much better than Alien 3, but that's not hard to do) but I don't know why anyone would want to associate something as good as this game, much less as good as the first two Alien movies with Alien 3. It would be so easy just to pull a Superman Returns and say that the third and fourth movies never happened and be done with it, and yet they keep advertising all four movies.
Probably because they know they're only going to get the last two movies into peoples hands if they bundle them with the first two. But I can tell they're trying for a soft reboot and retcon to get peoples minds off of Alien 3, and have been for the last seventeen years.
So anyways, tangents and ranting aside, this game was good. End of story.