Alien Isolation – Review (PS4)

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So here we are again, another console generation and another Alien game. Isolation promised an experience much closer to the original film and pre-release material looked great. However as someone who got burnt by Alien vs Predator and Colonial Marines, I was reluctant to let the hype carry me away. Could Creative Assembly be the first developer in decades to nail an Alien game?

Picking up in 2137, between the events of Alien and Aliens, Isolation sees you take on the role of Amanda Ripley – the daughter of general badass Ellen Ripley. With Ellen still missing, a flight recorder from her ship Nostromo is discovered and Amanda heads to Sevastopol, the space station that has the recorder, to get some answers. And that’s where we pick up the story, playing as Amanda from a first person perspective.

The first thing you’ll notice is the presentation. From the opening boot up sequence, featuring some wonderful retro logos, to the in game world, everything has been crafted with a level of dedication that shows a real love for the universe. As you make your way through the levels you’ll find yourself taken in by how good your surroundings look. Of course, you’d expect a high level of fidelity and detail when dealing with enclosed spaces and corridors like this but that doesn’t mean its any less impressive. The fire in the game looks especially good and while character models can sometimes look a little off facially, Isolation is a pretty good looking game.

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Another thing to note is that while Isolation is a first person game that features guns, flamethrowers and other weapons, it is not a shooter. This is a horror game, pure and simple. You will spend a lot of time hiding and almost all of the game crouch-walking slowly around areas. While Amanda can handle herself against human and android enemies (although even those can kill you quickly) the Alien itself is not killable, or at least certainly not with the tools you have at your disposal. It will also kill you in one hit, often from behind. These mini cut scenes are great, for example the first you might know about it is suddenly losing control of Amanda and she looks down to see the tail of the Alien break through her chest! That means if you hear it nearby you’ll need to find somewhere to hide or set up a distraction.

The Alien is well designed and uses the games artificial intelligence to learn your patterns, which is really cool (but terrifying). If you keep hiding in lockers the Alien will check them first when looking for you. Same goes for hiding under desks or in cabinets. It’s a clever mechanic and doesn’t feel unfair, it’s something that adds a bit more tension to proceedings. The amount of times I was hiding somewhere only to see the Alien slowly stalk passed outside, I was literally holding my breath.

As someone who doesn’t really like horror games with jump scares (I survived about 20 minutes of Outlast before turning it off and let’s not mention P.T…) I found this to be a great experience. The issue I had was that it was so intense I could only play an hour or so at a time. Which is why it’s taken me months to finish it (apologies @lefty_flip!). And that brings me to my main complaint about the game, it’s length. It is quite rare these days for a game to be too long but unfortunately Alien Isolation out stays its welcome by a good few hours. Clocking in at around 20 hours, it was just too draining. Also a few of those missions before the game ramps up at the end really felt like filler and there was a lot of ‘go to this door, try the handle, power’s out, track back across the map to turn it back on, and return to the door’ type stuff. And all the while you’re being hunted by an AI clever Alien. It just felt too long.

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The other issue was that the game lost any suspense when failing areas. If you could get through them on your first or second attempt it was an exhilarating ride. However repeated deaths led to instances where you ended up just running here and there with pinpoint accuracy. I’m not really sure what the solution would be for that but it definitely shattered the carefully crafted illusion of the game on several occasions for me.

I quite liked the story but there were a few issues and the ending seemed to have a few gaping plot holes, which had me reaching for the internet. The characters felt quite well formed and Ripley herself was a decent protagonist. Even though I knew from the films what had happened to Ellen Ripley it still felt interesting and important when Amanda discovered new pieces of information.

In addition to the main campaign there is also Survivor mode, whereby you attempt to escape through levels as quickly as possible while doing optional side objectives to increase your score. You are given a time limit (30 minutes for example) in which to escape and the whole thing feels even more claustrophobic than the campaign. Having a timer running in the top corner adds even more pressure. I couldn’t even beat the first of these challenges so I suspect they are for more hardened/skilled players or people looking to play more of the game without replaying the story.

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It has been years since the last decent Alien game – Alien Trilogy on the PlayStation (1996) and Alien 3 on Sega MegaDrive (1993) come to mind as stand out titles – but Alien Isolation is the best we’ve had for a long time. It captures the feel of that first film perfectly and while it has some issues with plot and overall length, this is recommended – especially if you’re a fan of the Alien universe.

Rating: 8/10

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Aliens: Colonial Marines – Review (PS3)

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Aliens: Colonial Marines has been in development for so many years it almost became a running joke. And then over the last 12 months Gearbox and SEGA really got to grips with the game and showed off some pretty stunning demos at trade events.

Set after the Aliens film and before/during the events of Alien 3, Colonial Marines sees you take control of Cpl. Winter as a group of Marines make their way to the ship U.S.S Sulaco and, later in the game, LV-426 (the planet Aliens takes place on). Their mission is to find and rescue the missing Ripley, Hicks, Newt and Bishop.

So the set up is kind of cool and as someone who loves the second Aliens movie I was really looking forward to finally going on another ‘bug hunt’. Sadly, what follows is a 5 hour trudge through a lot of similar looking corridors with a few open sections to break things up.

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Graphically the game just looks like a pale shadow of what was shown before release. Even if that was on a maxed out PC I’d expect the PS3 version to get somewhere close, look at Battlefield 3 for example. Colonial Marines can look good in places but lacks the polish and lighting of the pre-release stuff we saw.

The AI is quite bad and becomes more noticeable in co-op play because on several occasions all the enemies just targeted ‘Player One’, ignoring the other Marines entirely. For a large chunk of the game you’re fighting human soldiers as opposed to Aliens and it’s just not that fun.

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My main complaint with Aliens: Colonial Marines is the hit detection on the shooting. So many times I scored a direct hit with the red dot sight, only for it not to register at all. It makes the shooting so frustrating because I never felt fully in control of the weapons.

Sadly this also makes it way over to multiplayer, which is even more infuriating. The amount of times I was killed by another player while spraying bullets into them was ludicrous and made the online side of things a disappointment.

It’s not all bad, it has to be said. The pulse rifle sound effect is fantastic and the blips of the tracker are cool. I do wish they had used that to better effect though. Just a dash of horror in amongst the shooting would’ve been great. Some of the levels were enjoyable but the least said about the return of a character from the film the better.

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The characterisation and voice acting doesn’t do the game any favours, with more than one character suddenly having an attack of the ‘Cole Phelps‘ and randomly shouting lines when you’re right next to them. Considering how strongly you care about the characters in the Aliens films it’s disappointing to have no connection with the ones from the game.

Unfortunately somewhere along the line (and the events of that ‘line’ are a hot topic – check out Jim Sterling’s recent post) the game has gone backwards since the gameplay we were shown last year. I don’t ever recall seeing a game look so removed from the demos we saw. I know people always say Killzone 2 didn’t quite match up to it’s initial trailer but at least it was close. And the Aliens demos were GAMEPLAY demos, not rendered trailer footage. See below for a comparison video:

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a serviceable first person shooter with some dodgy hit detection. This is not the Aliens game we wanted or even the one were we shown before release. A massive missed opportunity that could’ve started a series of these games.

Rating: 4/10

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Dead Space – Review

‘In space no-one can hear you scream…’

But in my living room they can.

I’m happy to admit to being a big old scaredy cat when it comes to shocks and jumps. I can take the gore and guts without problem but repeatedly being made to jump is something I find extremely annoying.

So I began Dead Space with positive endorsements all round but a slightly heavy heart with regards to what I was letting myself in for. 😦

It probably would’ve been easier for the game studio to pack this game full of shocks and it still would have been received well. However what they have done is create a tension filled feeling of unease that starts almost as soon as you enter the stranded USG Ishimura.

And it’s that feeling of vulnerability, the pull in your stomach – actually hoping there is a shock around the corner rather than some crazy event that leaves you wondering what the hell is going – that makes this a stand out game for me.

You play as ship engineer Issac Clarke, part of the crew on a repair/salvage spacecraft that is on it’s way to the stricken USG Ishimura, a mining spaceship upon which Issac’s girlfriend Nicole is stationed.

No-one is responding on board so you’ve been sent it to find out what the problem is and see if they need any help.

So far so Sci-Fi, the difference here is that you aren’t a marine or soldier – you’re an engineer. As such you don’t have super-human strength or machine guns, just the tools of the trade. Ok so it’s tools of the trade from the future but nonetheless, it’s not what you”d want (or expect) given the circumstances.

Before I go any further I have to mention the fact that the entire first chapter of this game, and the introductory fmv sequence, is among the best openings I have played in a game. The set up is exquisite and I won’t spoil too much for you within this review.

After entering the ship you become seperated from the rest of your crew, your only communication being over your audio/visual headset.

There is no HUD (Heads Up Display) in Dead Space – your health bar is a strip on the back of your spacesuit and any objectives/information come via hologram projected ahead by your headset.

This makes for a fairly immersive experience. I don’t need to look anywhere other than the action to see how much life I have left – same for ammo, it’s projected just behind the weapon so you can see it as you aim without looking away.

I have often heard Dead Space called ‘Resident Evil meets Alien’ but to be honest I suspect a better description is ‘Resident Evil meets Event Horizon.’

The shocks are broken up by some particularily freakish moments, often involving no input from the player – we merely spectate – as the virus/disease that has hit the ship takes hold. 😐

Another thing I liked about this game was the fact that it also challenged my notion of gunplay. In other games, regardless of whether you’re shooting soldiers in World War 2 or zombies in Resident Evil, a well placed head shot (or two) is sufficient to kill off your enemy. Not so in Dead Space.

Because of the nature of the infected beings you have to dismember them one limb at a time. You shoot it’s head off it still comes for you. You shoot it’s legs off it drags itself by it’s hands to you. 😥

This instills even further panic as you know you’re looking at probably four shots to kill off an enemy. At least with the Plasma Cutter, which is your main weapon.

You also have a glorious weapon called a Ripper which is effectively a circular saw on an extendable rope that you can flail round madly cutting up all and sundry. 😆

Different weapons and equipment can be bought at stores strategically placed throughout the chapters and each of the weapons has a different feel, which is great.

The story is kept fresh with a few twists and turns – along with the introduction of further characters and new enemy types, which helps greatly with the pacing.

There are a few sections of Zero gravity, which show off the game’s amazing physics engine and while these are very well done it was the few moments venturing outside the ship which I found stunning.

As you come outside a clock races down on your back indicating your oxygen level and the sound of the game drops out completely. All you can hear is Issac’s breathing. The view of space at these moments is immense and I often had a mad scramble to get back to the oxygen filled ship after staring too long at the scenery!

Overall Dead Space was one of the best games I played in 2008 and with a playthrough time of under 10 hours is a perfect pick up and play game. Something to run alongside your 40 or 50 hour game of Fallout 3/GTA IV.

I would recommend this to anyone (over 18!) for it’s brilliant gameplay, amazing sound and great storytelling.

Rating: 9/10