Late To The Party: Alien Isolation

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I ended up choosing Alien: Isolation as one of my October horror games for this year and I couldn’t really come up with anything else to write about today. I’m not done with the game yet but I think I’ve seen enough to do an LTTP post about it. I am of course almost exactly a year late on this game (I bought it on a Steam sale back in the spring), so maybe everything I’m about to write is pretty much what everyone else knew about the game by last Halloween.

I’m sure a lot of people, possibly including myself, said around the time Isolation was announced that this was the game nobody thought a big publisher like SEGA would ever greenlight — using the Alien licence for an actual survival horror game. I think it’s the reason so many indie developers have been making horror games in the style of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, some of them in sci-fi settings. You even have Routine — a still-upcoming sci-fi first person horror game with a 1970’s sci-fi aesthetic. It’s like they were making the Alien game they always wanted to play but knew no big publisher would ever make with the actual Alien license… until they did.

While writing this I took a quick look at a wiki list of all the Alien video games and found that basically none of them are survival horror except possibly the Alien: Resurrection PlayStation game. It also kind of boggles my mind no one tried to do a straight-up Alien survival horror game back in the late 90’s when the genre was actually in its prime in the mainstream space. Looking back it seems like it would have been a no-brainer for someone to attempt to basically just do Resident Evil but on a space ship with an alien in it. If the first Dead Space is Resident Evil 4 on a space ship, Isolation is much more like the original Resident Evil on a space ship.

In a lot of ways I can also sense that maybe Isolation had kind of a low budget by 2014 console game blockbuster standards. Maybe it’s because SEGA probably can’t finance a game the way EA or Ubisoft can, or because developer The Creative Assembly hasn’t really done big-budget action games and thus didn’t have the propensity to make one. For whatever reason, I keep getting the feeling that Isolation is a 2001 middle-budget game with 2014 graphics.

Most of the time those graphics look absolutely pristine. The lighting, post-processing, and art direction continually come together to produce moments where I can scarcely imagine how any Alien game could ever look any better. Even more impressive is how it all manages to maintain a steady 60 frames per second on mid-range graphics hardware. Then I realize a developer like Creative Assembly was likely able to accomplish this by not asking their proprietary engine to render anything outside the ship’s tight corridors. The character models also don’t display the expensive animation you might see in an Uncharted game. Whenever the game has to convey anything on a remotely epic scale or any scene with humans doing complex acting, it relies on FMV, which is pretty much what a ton of games did during the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 eras.

That’s not even mentioning how Isolation fully reverts back to health packs and static save points — features replaced by the anti-frustration features I just got done writing about. Of course Dead Space did the same thing. Maybe when any developer makes a horror game, even in today’s blockbuster shooter-filled climate, it still recognizes the need for tension and how some level of player frustration is necessary for that. All these anti-frustration features have gone towards making action games more accessible, but horror games are supposed to deliver a whole other set of emotions to players.

BULLETS:

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One thought on “Late To The Party: Alien Isolation

  1. Alien: Resurrection, while tense and decently creepy, was still mostly a FPS. Not a terrible game, and I suppose you could say it was horror. Isolation is a game I enjoyed watching others stream on Twitch or LP on YouTube, but it wasn’t something I fully enjoyed playing myself. The tense stealth is great, but it’s not something I can do for 15 straight hours.

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