Monday, 6 April 2015

Alien: Isolation (PC) - Part 1

Developer:Creative Assembly|Release Date:2014|Systems:PS3, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows

Today on Super Adventures, I'm taking a look at scary, stealthy, 'Alien' sequel Alien: Isolation.

Isolation was in development at The Creative Assembly around the same time as Gearbox and friends were working on Aliens: Colonial Marines, but while that project was very public (with expensive consequences for Sega when the finished product failed to live up to the trailers), Isolation remained hidden in the shadows until the year of release. Another big difference between the games is that everyone loved this one! It was a huge success with both critics and players!

I watched both 'Alien' and 'Aliens' in preparation for looking at Colonial Marines the other day, so I'm in a bit of an Alien mood right now. The thing is though, I'm coming from the perspective of someone who's never gotten on with survival horror games, doesn't like pure stealth, hates replaying levels, and doesn't appreciate too much of a challenge, so the game might not be the perfect fit for me. On the other hand it was a Christmas present from someone who reads the site and I kind of know a couple of people employed at Creative Assembly so I can't actually say anything bad about the game. I'm sure you understand.

But It's a first person sci-fi game with amazing visuals and critical acclaim practically across the board, so chances are that I'm going to end up liking it. I'll give it a couple of hours either way, sharing my thoughts as I go.

BEWARE OF SPOILERS FOR THE GAME AND MAYBE THE MOVIES TOO I DUNNO.

(Click screenshots to view them at a very reasonable 1920x1080 resolution with all the graphics on high.)



I was going to make a joke here about accidentally getting the 'cam' version of the game, filmed right off someone's TV screen, but I did the bare minimum of research and learned that's exactly what they did to create in-game videos like this. Stuck the footage on a VHS tape, then pointed a camera at the TV while screwing around with the tracking.

Straight away it's clear what they're going for with the game, and that's to make it look it takes place inside a 1979 sci-fi movie. And they even remembered to reveal the A L I E N logo slowly instead of just impatiently slapping the title across the screen!

The game originally came with three difficulty settings, but a couple of months later it was patched up to include another two, each considered a big enough deal to get its own poster.

Seriously, you can even download high res versions of the posters from the official site to print out and put up on your wall. Even this game's patch notes are an event!

The game recommends starting on Hard mode, while my brain's trying to talk me into going with Novice. When I'm writing up a game I always go with the normal average default difficulty though, so I'll be playing on Medium.

Oh by the way there's also an equally single-player Survivor Mode here separate to the story, which features challenges and time limits and probably should be saved until you've played a fair bit of the game. So I'll leave that for now.

It might look like a 70s vision of the future but the game actually takes place 15 years after 'Alien' (which puts it a quarter of the way towards the 'Aliens' time period).

Ellen Ripley's pre-teen daughter is now an adult, working as an engineer in some crappy corner of space. But her carefree life of maintenance work is interrupted by an affable well-mannered gentleman from Weyland-Yutani who nearly gets a few words in before she turns back to her welding. I can't decide whether he's a robot or just British, but he's called Samuels and... wait! Ash, Bishop, Call, David... nope, unless his first name is Eric he can't be a synthetic or it wouldn't fit the pattern.

Samuels keeps talking and eventually comes across the codeword to get Ripley's attention, after he explains that he's here because he knows where she can find the flight recorder of her mother's ship, the Nostromo. He's arranged transport on a courier ship to Sevastopol station with another exec to collect the recorder, and offers her a chance to come along so that she might find some closure. Also there's probably some nefarious other reason, but there's no hint of what it could be yet.

You wouldn't mistake this as a deleted scene from 'Alien', but this is an A-grade video game cutscene in my opinion. I mean I'd watch this movie. It's a far cry from the clich├ęd briefing at the start of Colonial Marines. Oh, also it's 100% skippable.

Cut to first person, as Ripley wakes up in a cryotube on the USCSS Torrens, and then spends the next ten minutes just staring at the graphics in this room. Look at the overlapping glass, the realtime radiosity, the subtle reflection on the floor panels, and the... huh, is that some chromatic aberration going on there as well? I don't remember the colours separating like that in the movie, but it's a cool look so whatever.

Speaking of things that don't look like the movie, this room doesn't look like the hypersleep chamber in the movie. It's really close, but the Nostromo's sleep chamber was pure white, without the dark floor or the computers on the walls. Which makes a lot of sense really, because this isn't the Nostromo.

It really annoys me when movies and games show little interest in replicating the style of the source material (especially if the source is any good), so I can definitely appreciate the effort that has gone into making this look so authentic.

It's a shame I can't reach down there and pick the magazine up, but it seems to be the same few lines of repeating text anyway, and if that's an LCD Game and Watch thing above it that can stay right where it is as well.

Oh, I've just realised another aspect in which Isolation is superior to Colonial Marines: Ripley actually has some legs down there if you look down. No trousers yet, but we're working on that. My current objectives are "Explore the Torrens" and "Get dressed", which is a little weird to me because who would buy an Alien game and then not explore the ship? If you have to tell a player to explore, then something's gone wrong.

Hey it's Samuels from the intro, hanging around in the med bay. This ridiculously good looking med bay. Shame about the aliasing issues that won't go away no matter what anti-aliasing mode I switch to though; apparently that's due to the shaders somehow.

Anyway, I only stopped by to check out how the place looked, and because it was one of the objectives programmed into my brain when I woke up. I have to talk to his colleague as well, but I've forgotten their name. Hang on, there has to be a way to pull up my goals.

Ah, it's 'Taylor', that's right.

OH SHIT, I have a map! A proper map, that's awesome. The corridors look very different to the ones on the Nostromo, but the layout of A Deck seems pretty much the same. Uh, not that I've been checking blueprints or anything...

I'm playing with an Xbox 360 controller by the way, so ignore the text across the bottom of the screen. It switches over to showing the keyboard commands whenever I hit the screenshot key, which is exactly what you want really.

Here's another gratuitous shot of the Torrens for you. The game felt a bit claustrophobic so I've changed the FOV from 47 to 75. That sounds absurdly low, but it's actually the vertical FOV I believe, not the horizontal. I'm not sure what 75 equals to horizontally, but it's certainly enough to make this room seem huge. On the downside it's made Amanda's legs disappear, but she seems capable of floating around just fine regardless.

I can't choose to talk to people on board, but if they have anything to say they start up a conversation as I'm walking around the room. I'd say jumping around the room, but the game's denied me jumping privileges because jumping isn't scary. The lip synch on the NPCs isn't the best in the world, but creepy doll people are scary so I'll give them a pass there.

Okay maybe that's taking it a bit far. It's one thing creating a 70s vision of the future, but another to just stick a ghetto blaster and a box of cassettes in your spaceship.

Anyway there was no dinner scene, but we all met up on the bridge to see the ship approach Sevastopol station. You'd think with all the chairs around this place there'd be a good sized crew on this ship, but besides us three passengers there's only two people flying the thing.

And here we are at... the ore refinery that the Nostromo was towing around? No, it just looks a lot like it.

I don't much want to leave this cosy alien-free ship and neither does Taylor, but they're not going to just throw this flight recorder over to us. In fact they're not even answering us, which means we're going to have to make a spacewalk over to the airlock to get inside.


A FEW SECONDS LATER.


Well it turns out that the space station's on fire. It's very nice looking fire and I love the lighting effects, but I took my space suit off at the door so I kind of need this oxygen to breathe. Also the rumbling and shaking is a bit of a concern as well. Sounds like the station's falling to pieces.

This place reminds me so much of BioShock that I keep expecting a splicer to come around the corner and try to bash my brains out, but there's nothing. My current objective is to 'find help' but I'm apparently alone down here.

I'm hoping I'm alone down here anyway, as being caught in a vent by an xenomorph would be a bit... distressing.

This is the kind of disaster movie antics I felt was missing from Colonial Marines; a bit of that Half-Life-style 'crawling around behind the walls' action, getting around damaged hallways and locked doors. I like how they've actually bothered to put some lights in here as well, instead of having the vent lit by magic like a lot of other games. It's all proper dynamic lighting as well, which I found out after I head-butted the bulb by accident along the way.

Oh, plus the vents have the same kind of iris hatches on them as in the movie!

Fortunately there's an emergency phone over here so I can call for help, maybe find out what's going on here save my game. I have to wait until the count of three until the save process is completed, during which I'm presumably still vulnerable to attack, so even saving is designed to be a tense experience.

There's no checkpoints or quicksaves, or even regular phones for me to use, just save phones. Still, it could've been worse: I could've had to wait for it to save to a cassette tape like the icon on the top right suggests, and if you've ever tried that before you know how horrific that is.


SOON.


I'm getting a lot of Fallout 3 vibes from this computer terminal I've found. I feel like I'm exploring a Vault right now, except I can't run outside and buy more supplies when I get into trouble. To be honest though I feel like there's only so many times you can investigate the downfall of a community before it starts getting a bit repetitive.

One thing that's interesting is that the station was run by the Seegson Corporation, not Weyland-Bloody-Yutani for once, though it looks like they hired the same interior designer that worked on the Nostromo. So I get to find out how an entirely different corporation screwed everything up I guess.

Stuff huh? I like stuff. I don't have any immediate need for compound b and pile of scrap, but I can't be sure I won't need them later. Maybe a society has formed in this ruined space station that uses compound b for currency. Or maybe I'm just filling my inventory with absolutely worthless junk, who knows?

I've found a blueprint to craft medikits! Well that explains what the junk is used for, but not why there was a 'Take Item' option earlier. Why would I ever not choose to 'Take All'?

I honestly wasn't expecting this cinematic horror experience to have a crafting system, but I probably should've realised that bringing up the menu wouldn't pause the game. To be honest it seems strange and out of place to have such a video gamey feature in an otherwise immersive horror simulator. Anyway I have a medikit now, but I'm going to hold off from using it for a bit as I don't know how much it heals and I don't want to waste it on a grazed elbow.

The more I explore this place, the more I feel like I arrived too late for the riot.

It seems that the level designer has chosen to use the Left 4 Dead style of environmental storytelling here, where they just write the story all over the environment. Not that I can judge the survivors for noting down every stray thought that's crossed through their mind, as I'm just starting my third page of notes here myself, but I hope if I'm ever trapped on a decommissioned space station I hope I can manage to come up with something a little more insightful or wry than this.

Hey, I am in that aforementioned situation! Where's all the spray cans at? Why don't I have a Duke Nukem Forever-style drawing minigame to scribble my thoughts across the walls?

Oh by the way those glowing light boxes over on the right that look nothing like map terminals are actually map terminals that I can use to update my auto-map! But if I did that then they'd turn off and there'd be nothing left to light up the graffiti.

Oh no, the path is blocked by a fallen ceiling fan, a knee-high railing and a few suitcases, how will I ever get past? No seriously, how am I supposed to get past this without a jump button? Ripley's a capable engineer, but climbing isn't in her job description.

Wait... I just saw something. A prompt flashed up on screen for a moment, but then disappeared again. This has happened a few times now, and it means that I have to retrace my steps and look at everything I may have glanced at earlier, searching for the item I can interact with.

Ah, there you go, I can move this orange vacuum cleaner thing out of the way of the vent by pressing a button hidden around the back of it.


ONE HOUR INTO THE GAME.


Well it's not quite a survivor, but a dead guy is a step up from no one at all, especially when he's holding a tool I need. He's not called Maintenance Jack by the way, that's the wrench I'm about to relieve him of.

Oh I also found an audio diary on the floor revealing very little about what happened down here. It's fine though, I can guess. Or just read it off the walls I suppose. Audio diaries are far more common in this than they were in Colonial Marines, and the game's kind enough to let me access them in my menu at any time.

Nice solid digital watch that. It a Samani E-125, the same model Ripley wore in 'Alien' and the only watch in the galaxy chunky enough to be alien blood resistant up to 50M. Actually it's just two 70s Casios stuck together, and the movie's low cost approach to prop creation was also applied to creating objects in the game for extra authenticity.

Now that I've got maintenance jack on my team, I can finally get some of these doors open. Not the ones that need the power restored, or a passcode, or a keycard, or an ion torch, or a plasma torch, or... but some of the doors. It's a bit Metroid with its gating. In this case to open the door I have to hold both triggers, then pull the left stick across to mimic the act of grabbing the handle with both hands and turning the wrench. It's a very Fahrenheit way of interacting with things, David Cage would approve.

I had to do something like this earlier to turn a power generator on as well. The game likes to give me tasks to complete that leave me out in the open, helpless, with my back turned to all the nasty things creeping around in the dark.


LATER.


Holy shit, I've found some actual real live people in here and they're not behaving like lunatics! Such a nice change from the usual post-apocalyptic psychopaths you run into in games. I've only convinced one to team up with me though, with the others preferring not to trust the stranger who came in through an airlock with an agenda of her own. Still, at least they didn't shoot me on sight, so there's that.

The blue lens flare might seem a bit 'J.J. Abrams', but it's actually faithful to the look of the first 'Alien' movie; that film's all about the lens flares. It's also about an evil monster picking people off one by one, which apparently has been going on here too according to my new friend. Not a huge shock I know.


EVENTUALLY.


Well my partnership with the survivor didn't get me all the way to the comms room to send a message out to the Torrens, but at least I know where I'm going now. I have come across some other people down here, but I'm keeping my head down in case they get any ideas about putting a bullet through it.

I just came across a security access tuner device lying next to a locked door, which was convenient, but I need to find a data cell to fix the thing before I can hack the door open. I'm pretty sure I could sneak around up here if I'm quiet, but this is a pretty big room and I don't know which way... SHIT, they've seen me!

I'm hoping I can outrun them, as I'm not sure where I could hide up here. Oh, never mind, they shot me twice in the blink of an eye and now I've reloaded back at the last save phone.


SEVERAL TRIES LATER.


This time I ran in, grabbed the access tuner, then ran back out to the phone and saved. But now whenever I step back in the room they spot me almost instantly and send bullets directly to Ripley's head. I think leaving to save was a mistake, as I was in a better position when I was over by the locked door at the far end.

Right, I need to think this through and work out a plan. If the rows of chairs in there are too small to hide behind, and I can't sprint through, then I need to lure the looters out of this massive room into somewhere more manageable. There's a vent behind me, so I'll try hitting the wall a few times with the jack to get their attention, then duck inside out of sight and watch to see what they do. Maybe I can get them all to walk right past me without any unpleasant confrontations.


SEVERAL DEATHS LATER.


Oh for FUCK'S SAKE!

You're just so determined to shoot me aren't you? I'm a harmless engineer with a rescue ship waiting outside for me to call, who just happens to have the skills to fix the security tuner and get that locked door open for you, but don't try talking to me or anything! I guess I'm just far too scary for your group of well armed psychopaths.

Well if you want to run up close and stick a Space-Desert Eagle in my face, fine, that's good, it means I can introduce you to my good friend Maintenance Jack!

I'm just swinging this wrench wildly now, killing whoever I can, then ducking back behind the wall to use a medikit and wait for the next pair to come around the corner. I've tried this a few times now, getting an extra kill each time before catching a bullet, so I reckon I can actually pull this off with a bit of luck.

Eventually.


Do I eventually get past the looters? Does the xenomorph ever make an appearance in this Alien game? You'll have to click this link to find out: Part two.

Semi-Random Game Box