The alien doesn’t follow any patterns. It doesn’t fall for your gadgets’ tricks, it doesn’t respect your hiding places as out-of-bounds, and it doesn’t follow any traditional survival-horror villain tendencies.
I expected the alien to travel at a consistent speed, which would give me the necessary time to slip past when it walked by me. It doesn’t. Sometimes it runs for no reason. Sometimes it walks painfully slow or stops on a dime and looks around. Hope would later tell me that the alien actually travels on through air ducts and channels both above and below the player, which enables it to travel from room to room in a way that seemingly denies the laws of physics.
I don’t even know when I am alerting the bastard. Games typically bombard me with cues when I am being too reckless, like yellow question marks turning red or some kind of sound or vibration hint. I could faintly feel and hear if the alien was walking near me. If the music suddenly gets loud and the vibrations go crazy, I know I am about to die. But that’s really about it.
The level design also plays tricks on players. Each level has multiple routes to and from the various rooms that Amanda must visit. This sounds like a positive in theory because it helps players to find more ways around the alien. My experience was actually just the opposite; I found that it simply provided the alien with more routes to chase me down and kill me.
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And it isn’t just the alien that’s out to get players. The other humans on the space station are just as likely to shoot Amanda as they are to offer aid or ask for help.
Hope said that the development team really wanted to convey a sense of panic and disaster on the space station.
“These people are desperate to survive. I was inspired by War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, and the way people react in that crisis. When you come across a guy in the game, he might point a gun at you and say ‘Hey, you go your way and I’ll go mine.’ Some will be hostile or freaked out, and some will be a real asset.”
FYI: Your weapons work just fine on other survivors — if you choose to go that route.
The final slap in the face of modern gaming trends came in the form of save points. Alien: Isolation does not use checkpoints; players must find and use various save points located throughout the levels.
It sounds like a little hiccup. I didn’t even flinch when Hope told the group about this before leading us to our video game slaughter stations.
I was wrong. This makes a massive, unbelievably huge difference. It can take up to 30 minutes just to travel 100 feet in Alien: Isolation. When every step forward is an important and dangerous one, progress markers are vital. Dying could scrap an hour of gameplay if you weren’t thorough or took a route that didn’t include a save point.
And — as you may have figured out — dying is something you do quite often in Alien: Isolation.
After three hours with Alien: Isolation, I made very little progress. I couldn’t quite get the hang of it — even on the easy difficulty.
I am not shocked that I suck at it. I knew that was going to happen.
However, I was surprised that I didn’t enjoy my experience. Somewhere in the haze of constant impalement, Alien: Isolation stopped being scary. The first dozen or so times the alien sliced me up, I jumped, laughed at myself, and carried on.
But you can only endure so many horrible deaths. After a while, these are frustrating — not scary. I noticed that myself and many of the other writers weren’t yelling out of terror; we were yelling because we were angry. This game was not keeping me on the edge of my seat; it was pissing me off.
Alien: Isolation has a striking look and feel to it and definitely features an near-omnipotent bad guy, one of the strongest I’ve gone up against. Playing it is quite a unique experience.
However, I didn’t have fun playing Isolation. Maybe I am just too set in my ways, and these freaky new features are too much for my fragile gamer brain to handle. Maybe Isolation is meant to illicit a more serious response from players, and my frustrations are meant to mirror the frustrations of someone trying to survive an impossible situation.
Still, I can’t help but think that games should be fun, and I think Alien: Isolation’s harsh practices will steer it away from that for most people.
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