Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Impressions: Alien: Isolation (PS4)

It's that time of the year: new titles for PC and consoles all over the place as a nightmare of triple-A titles and their smaller kin flood the market in time for the holidays. Since I have only so much time in the universe to actually play, getting enough time in to properly review a game can take a while. That said, I can get some play time in.....so here's my first impressions of Alien: Isolation a few hours in:

Graphics: wonderful graphics with a very evoactive atmosphere. After playing so much Dead Space the Alien-inspired appearance of the ship and station portrayed in A:I is awfully clean, but then again this is a game about one space station gone mad with a single real alien threat, as opposed to an entire planet being turned into necrites ala Dead Space.

There is something weird about the graphics, though. The developers were so determined to remain faithful to the original movie that we see a lot of retro-tech SF floating around in the form of old CRT style monitors, tape decks and other incongruities. It's a bit off-putting, because it places the game squarely on the side of nostalgic recreation rather than sensible reimagining. The reason Alien used tapes for anything back then...or old CRT monitors....was because that was what we had in the 70's to present the future with. Had the original Alien set design crew been gifted with the power of foresight to stick shiny discs and SSD drives everywhere with flatscreen monitors, I can guarantee you they would have.

Now, instead, we get to play a game about a SF exploration/mining company so cheap it buys all its equipment from the 1970s. Hmmm.

Game still looks great, though.

Story: The story so far is fantastically well done, the voice acting is impeccable and the models of the characters are very decent. However, a couple caveats:

First, there are thematics in the game that suggest the games which inspired A:I's design. Among those games it is obvious Bioshock had a bit of a say, perhaps more so than any other title. I won't try to spoil anything but....SPOILER ALERT....the degeneration of the space station and the behavior of much of the surviving crew is reminding me a lot of a cleaner, tamer version of what happened to Rapture.

This is problematic because the story is so well conveyed in so many other ways that there are moments when I think, "Ripley Jr. would probably try talking to these guys, and they seem reasonable...just scared....so why is my only option here to get shot at?!?!?" Maybe the reasoning will become more clear as I play on, though.

The other caveat is the cutscenes. They have some serious framerate/stuttering issues that are baffling. No idea why, and heard they may try to patch this soon. It should not have released like this.

The Alien: The star of the show, the alien is terrifying in this game. They have without question proven that you can make a game with a real story in the Alien universe and stick a single alien on a single station and that, right there, is more than enough to scare the hell out of you. When it first shows up....it's some of the most unnerving moments I've experienced in this kind of game since....well, a long time now. Massive kudos.

So does this make up for Aliens: Colonial Marines? Yes, yes it does. And I'll be honest, it sets the bar high enough that we can't get low-expectation titles in the Alien franchise anymore. Alien: Isolation has done for the Alien universe what Batman: Arkham Asylum did for Batman games.

Overall: so far its worth every penny I spent, and it looks like it will have a lot of play time. It's actually really enjoyable getting to play a strong survival horror title where the horror is downplayed at times and less frequent....but far, far more intense when it jumps out at you.

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