Alien: Blackout review – mobile isolation
The follow-up to Alien Isolation might only be a mobile app, but it’s an impressively tense and scary one…
By now we should know better than to say that any game franchise has completely exhausted its chances of a return, given how many have had unexpected comebacks over the last few years. But we feel safe in saying that there will never be an Alien Isolation 2. There’s multiple reasons to think that, the most obvious being that the original wasn’t a hit, but was clearly very expensive; that it had a mixed critical reception; and that original publisher Sega, who also own developer Creative Assembly, don’t have the licence any more.
Nothing is impossible though. Sega did hire out Creative Assembly to Microsoft, in order to make Halo Wars 2, and licence holder 20th Century Fox (soon to be bought by Disney) has recently set up a new games publishing label, called FoxNext Games, which is currently working on what the press release for Blackout describes as a ‘massively multiplayer online shooter set in the Alien cinematic universe’.
Most importantly of all, this new mobile game directly references Isolation, stars the same main character and even uses the same voice actress. So it is a sequel, in the literal sense, even if it’s one fans have greeted with nothing but anger and resentment since it was announced. The uproar was reminiscent of the furore over Diablo Immortal and yet Alien: Blackout clearly isn’t preventing any console-based Alien games from being made and… it’s actually not bad.
Before we continue, we should point out that the connections to Alien Isolation are very minor and will easily be missed by anyone not aware of the game. Sevastopol space station is mentioned but only a vague explanation is offered for how Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, survived the ending. What matters instead is that she’s stuck in the ventilation ducts of a different space station, the sole survivor of an alien infestation.
Luckily, a potential rescue craft arrives at the beginning of the game but reasons are soon invented for why the occupants have to explore the station and not just leave immediately. Meanwhile, Ripley is plugged into a terminal in the ducts, which allows her to track the crew’s movement and use a combination of cameras and motion trackers to look out for the alien.
If it’s spotted, all she can do is shut doors to block its path or tell the crew members to hide or run. She can also plot out courses for them to follow on the map though, a little like a real-time strategy game. The final problem is what to do if the alien comes after Ripley, with the game offering up a first person view where you have to quickly close a hatch – that pops back open a few seconds later – to discourage the creature.
You can’t do everything at once though, both in terms of keeping an eye on everyone or using too many gadgets at a time. Overriding a door or turning on a motion tracker, for example, uses up a unit of energy and you only have a set amount, so you often have to juggle exactly what systems are running at any one time in order to make sure there’s enough power for whatever’s currently most important. In other words, and as if the hatch element didn’t make it obvious enough, the primary influence here is Five Nights At Freddy’s rather than Alien Isolation.
Together with an eight-minute time limit this all adds up to just about enough to keep your interest, particularly once you factor in that only one crew member has to make it to the exit to complete a chapter. So using others as bait is a valid tactic, even if you really need to save up enough to have a chance to complete the extremely difficult final encounter.
In terms of presentation Alien: Blackout is superb. The graphics are excellent, both technically and in terms of recreating the look and feel of the original movie (and, by connection, Alien Isolation). The sound effects are great too – with the game advising you to play with headphones on – and the voice-acting equally impressive. Although hearing all the lines repeated again and again, if you fail a mission, does take the shine off it a bit.
But overall Alien: Blackout is a well-intentioned mobile game on which a considerable amount of money and effort has clearly been spent. It’s repetitive and not very nuanced, and probably a few pounds too expensive (although there are no microtransactions), but we’ve certainly played far worse Alien games in our time, consoles or not.
In Short: Shallow and repetitive it might be, but this new mobile game can prove surprisingly tense and recreates the atmosphere of the first film very well.
Pros: Great graphics and voiceovers, that demonstrate a clear understanding of the original film’s appeal. The tactical options may be limited but they knit together well and can be genuinely scary.
Cons: Slow-paced, shallow, and repetitive gameplay will barely hold your attention till the end. Too expensive, with little replay value.
Formats: iOS (reviewed) and Android
Publisher: FoxNext Games and D3 Go!
Developer: Rival Games and Theory Interactive
Release Date: 24th January 2019
Age Rating: 12+