In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream (But They Can See You Jumping For Joy From Miles Away)

Happy Weekend TAY!

I had a terrible week of insomnia last week which had me roaming around as a zombie. Thankfully I only have acute insomnia and it only crops up badly a few times a year, but it definitely makes life difficult when the lack of sleep causes your brain to leak out your ears.

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This meant little in the way of productive gaming all week (or productive anything), but I did manage to finish off Alien: Isolation at the beginning of the week before the fatigue took its toll on me.

Wow! Really that’s the best single word I can use to describe Alien: Isolation. It might very well be one of the best, if not *the* best, game I’ve ever played.

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Everyone likes different features and aspects in their favourite games, but most of my top games share many of the same features as Alien: Isolation (dark and moody, melee combat, first person, desperate situations, etc). To be truly great is when all those components come together to make an unforgettable experience.

Visually, Alien: Isolation is the best looking game I’ve ever played. People often argue that visuals don’t matter in games, but I’ll disagree with them until my last breath. Visuals don’t often have a huge impact on gameplay, but a game’s graphical qualities define the world and are a huge component in the atmosphere of the game. Nostalgic reactions aside, I think most games would always benefit from better visuals; they are “video” games after all. Visuals don’t make the game, but they can take a good game and make it great.

Alien: Isolation is simply astounding to look at. Creative Assembly have done an amazing job of capturing the look and feel of both Scott and Cameron’s two groundbreaking films in the Alien universe. While the game definitely borrows aspects of Cameron’s film Aliens, the overall template is from Scott’s original film. However, Creative Assembly does so much more than either of those films and I think the game exceeds both films in visual design and execution.

Alien: Isolation is able to bypass a lot of the huge resource overheads of many recent games by being placed on a space station with narrow corridors and little in the way of large open spaces. This of course gives them a distinct advantage over most modern games that are trying for big open worlds. But by restricting the size of the environment, the level of effects and details that can be added to the environment is breathtaking. Similar in design to the Metro series, Alien: Isolation takes those tight levels and crams them full of so much detail that the mind stops looking at individual details and absorbs the scene as a whole; much as you do in real life. The effect on the player is staggering. I can show you all the screenshots I have, but static shots of this beautiful game do it little justice.

On top of all this, the performance that Creative Assembly pulls out of their newly designed engine seems like some forbidden voodoo. Not only do they get the aforementioned visual quality and the amazing game to go along with it, but it all performs better than most games available today. I can’t speak to the console versions (though they get high praise for the visuals and performance as well), but on my PC I can run this game downscaled from 4K to my 1080p TV with all the bells and whistles maxed and I still get a consistent 60fps (the max I can do on my TV with v-sync on). This is something I can’t do with most modern games and most of those have half the visual fidelity.

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Then there is the sound. As a huge fan of the Alien movies, the use of foley and score directly lifted from Scott’s movie is fantastic for the authenticity of the experience. Creative Assembly pulls another rabbit out of their hat and creates new sound effects that not only match the feel of the original movie’s sound but again expands the experience for the player. The soundscape of the game adds so much to the overall atmosphere by creating a real world of sound to accompany the realistic visuals. The overall combination of sound and visuals makes for the creepiest haunted house you’ve ever experienced.

But what about the gameplay? I’ll start off by stating that I haven’t played a good chunk of the “run and hide” horror games. In particular I haven’t played any of Frictional Games offerings or Outlast, which from the outside looks like it might share components with the “hiding” in Alien: Isolation. However, it is my understanding that these other games lack a combat component. Alien: Isolation is a full combat game if you choose to play that way, though on the difficulty I played on, the scarcity of supplies quickly limits your combat options.

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The combat works extremely well in Alien: Isolation. From the varied weaponry to the melee combat options, I always felt that I had a strategic choice with my arsenal. Add to this a great crafting system that can give you health, distraction, and combat items and all this gives the player a suite of choices to fit their play-style.

Then there is the hiding. You can hide anywhere that breaks line of sight. If you can see them, then when they are looking in your direction, they can see you too. I don’t know how many times I spent cowering under a desk while the creature or the station’s androids sought me out. I spoke about this before, but the searching routines of enemies is second to none in my opinion in Alien: Isolation. The realism added to the game by the feeling that you are being stalked by something that feels alive is terrifying. No weird AI exploits here or memorizing pathway patterns to help avoid the enemies. You need to think on the run and pray that nothing saw you ditch behind that pile of crates.

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I played the game on the Nightmare difficulty that was added post release and was initially worried I might have bitten off more than I could chew. However, I think it was the punishing difficulty that really put the game over the top for me. I was afraid almost the entire time. I was terrified to investigate new areas and had a constant physical reaction to the tension with a tight feeling in my chest. I even wonder if this fear reaction had something to do with my current recurrence of insomnia. The game was infinitely fair though at that difficulty. Tough yes, but I never found myself screaming “oh, come on” when I snuffed it. If you are the type of gamer that is alright with lots of death and some repeating of checkpoints, then I can’t recommend the Nightmare difficulty setting enough. The nice part is that with the “random” AI search routines, even the repetition feels fresh most times.

I love the first two Alien movies; they are my favourite films. I can’t separate my feelings of the films from this game. I would hope I would have the same feelings about the game if it weren’t an Alien branded product, but I’ll never know. This isn’t simply the best movie game ever made, or the best Alien game ever made; it is simply one of the best games ever made.

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Creative Assembly definitely has a new fan in me and I hope to check out their past offerings, even though I’m not much of a strategy game player and most of their stuff is in the Total War series, but I simply have to look at what else they’ve done. However, these people should be making more first person games with the same team; it seems a crime that this is their only entry in the genre.

Alright, I’ll end it there with Alien: Isolation. I’ve gushed enough and hopefully inspired some of you to play it. I didn’t even scratch the surface of what makes this game so good (the level design, hacking mini-games, clever game devices that increase the tension, terrifying enemy design, and almost every other aspect). I’m looking forward to trying the survival mode in the game and the DLC after a breather.

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After finishing Alien: Isolation I had planned on playing StarCraft II. I bought it, and while downloading it I suddenly realized I never played the Brood Wars expansion of the original and, when I thought about it, I didn’t even remember the events in the first StarCraft game. So, I figured I would play the old titles before attacking the shiny new (to me) StarCraft II.

I own a boxed copy of StarCraft from when it was originally released, but upon opening my box I found the CD in a blank jewel case. Somewhere through the years my original CD case for the game was either taken or left somewhere. (I’m leaning towards “taken” as I am extremely anal about my games). The jewel case of course has the CD-key on it for installing the game, so I was out of luck there. So after some minor inconvenience (you can’t download the original StarCraft from the Battle.net desktop app but instead have to go to the Battle.net website), I was off and running.

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StarCraft looks surprisingly good for a sprite based game at 640x480. Using my Sony TV’s “Detail Enhancer” option (which I love) to boost the visuals a bit, I was surprised how well the game held up given the age. Of course, sprites age pretty well but boy what I wouldn’t give for a zoom in and out function. The game is tougher than I remember, but I haven’t played an RTS in a LONG time. I’m sure once I get back in the swing of things I’ll be fine. I’m definitely having loads of fun with it.

I also ended up playing some Dungeon of the Endless on Twitch with my buddy. Amplitude Studios finally patched the game so that you can save a multiplayer game. I loved the game when we first played it, but not being able to save a multiplayer game was a deal breaker. I’m glad to be playing it again. I’d recommend it if you like rogue-likes and tower defense games. It is even on iOS now and coming to Xbox One.

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This weekend is my lovely wife’s birthday, so we’ll be having loads of fun with the family. I hope I can get my insomnia under control before Sunday so I’m not a party pooper. Other than that, I’ll be playing StarCraft if I have some time. Why the first StarCraft isn’t on iPad still blows my mind. It would work so well and Blizzard can’t have enough money already can they?

What are you playing this weekend?