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Alien Isolation hands-on: In space no one can hear you get frustrated

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 14, 2014
Alien: Isolation has the potential to be the year's best horror game and the world's best Alien game, but only by brute force.

Of course you have other weapons, too. Yes, despite initial indications that Alien: Isolation would be a combat-free game...well, it's not. There are enemies. Sometimes those enemies are humans. Sometimes those enemies are androids. The combat is mostly interesting when it involves both humans and the Alien--multiple times I had humans fire shots at me, only to watch the Alien run in and kill them all. Silly humans.

Like so many horror games, Alien: Isolation is a tender balance. When it's working--when you believe you're in danger and believe in the Sevastopol, everything from the Alien's swishing tail to the hissing noise of the vents is enough to put you on edge.

Just play better, bro
But Alien: Isolation has the same "problem" now as it did the first time I saw it--it's damn hard. Maybe too hard to actually be a horror game. Let me explain.

As soon as I got into the demo I turned it down to Normal difficulty (it was originally defaulted to the hardest difficulty), and even so I died repeatedly. It almost became a joke. I ate lunch with a few other journalists after two hours of demo time--we were given an incredible amount of time with the game, putting in almost four hours total--and the four of us talked about how far we'd made it. I'd made it to the end of the first demo level. Another journalist had started the second level. The other two were still about halfway through the first level.

Now, a perfect run of this level--one where you went start-to-finish without dying--would probably take 30 minutes, max. We'd spent four times as long, and only one of us had finished the section.

Difficult games are not a problem. Difficult horror games? Well, those concepts are at odds as far as I'm concerned. The first time I saw the Alien unfold from the ceiling it was stressful, as I cast about for a hiding spot. The second time I hid was tense. The third time it was tedious. The fifteenth time I retried the same damn section, the Alien was just an obnoxious video game obstacle for me to contend with.

That's not a problem with the game necessarily, but it is a problem with how Sega's positioned the game. Sega's talking this up as a horror game, but it doesn't feel particularly scary to me. It's really hard to feel afraid of something you've experienced a dozen times over.

My time with the game also revealed some issues with the Alien's AI, which has been talked up in the past for being "realistic." Back at GDC I was told that the Alien would react appropriately to environmental cues, such as checking doors, et cetera. Instead the Alien seems consistently unfair, sticking unconscionably close to the player even in wide-open levels, as if it "knows" you're in that area. Even if it's never seen you there. Even if it shouldn't know you're there.

 

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