Review: Alien: Blackout24 Jan 2019 0
Review: Alien: Blackout
Released 24 Jan 2019
The iconic Alien franchise has, like the Xenomorphs themselves, taken several forms over the years. Whether it's scared the living daylights out of moviegoers in theaters or forced gamers to keep a fresh pair of underwear handy, it's a fluid, ever-changing franchise that's constantly evolving, whether we like it or not. The video games inspired by Alien have consistently grown in quality over the years (except Aliens: Colonial Marines. We don't talk about that.) and peaked with the fantastic Alien: Isolation.
So imagine Alien fans' surprise when Alien: Blackout was announced. Murmurs surrounding a sequel to Alien: Isolation bubbled to the surface, and the community was awash with theories on what it could entail – more tense, pulse-pounding encounters with an alien? More gory kills and meaty Alien lore? More importantly, what consoles would it come to? When the hard truth was revealed, and Alien: Blackout was not the bombastic console experience fans were looking for but a mobile installment, fans were understandably miffed. It also doesn't that, really, it's just not that good.
Despite the fact that this isn't the game Alien fans were expecting, it's still connected to the franchise. In terms of canonicity, it takes place after Isolation and before the Aliens film takes place, though this is a standalone game and shouldn't be considered a sequel. Heroine Amanda Ripley is back as well, the same character players took on in Isolation. This time, however, she's taken on more of a "security guy at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza" role.
As Ripley, trapped on a space station teeming with xenomorphs, you send out a warning to other ships in the area to stay away, lest they succumb to razor-sharp teeth and claws of the aliens aboard. Of course, a ship from the infamous Weyland-Yutani Corporation shows up with a four-person team aboard that couldn't leave well enough alone. When they board, Ripley takes it upon herself to guide them throughout the station to find supplies and complete bite-sized missions in a bid to escape their alien-riddled prison.
On paper, this sounds like an exciting way to explore the Alien series beyond first-person shooters and adventure games. Unfortunately, that couldn't be further from the truth. As Ripley, you constantly remain stationary in a makeshift command center with access to a map of the space station's levels. There are several cameras placed throughout the station that you can swap between at will while you watch and guide the crew NPCs throughout the winding corridors.
You spend most of your time watching the map screen instead of the camera, though, because you can only truly see what paths the crew is taking from there. Ripley can issue orders like "Stop," "Hide," or "Sneak" and recall said orders as she sees fit, which is done via simple interface. On smaller phone screens, tapping the correct command can feel like a bit of a challenge, and I routinely had issues closing the command selection screen because of this.
If one character happens to die, you've lost them for the entirety of the game. If you're not careful, Ripley can die, too, which is game over, man, game over. Ripley's death is usually the easiest to prevent if you're vigilant enough about swapping from the map back to your command center quickly enough to tap the doors to close them, thus sealing the alien out. But it can happen so often while you feel you're doing well enough outside the command center that it feels cheap.
Different NPCs are proficient at certain tasks, which you'll get a handle for early on, so you'll be encouraged to make decisions on your feet about who's better suited to search bodies for an ID badge or who's better at scouting the area for the next step.
When an alien is near, you'll be alerted with a red halo around a crew member if danger is imminent. But you can't always rely on that alone. You need to listen to audio cues and pay attention to where they're coming from around the ship. For this reason, it's suggested that you use headphones, since if you're playing this with your phone's speakers on, you won't really interpret the sounds as coming from any specific direction, which makes things especially frustrating.
If you spot the alien or hear it coming, you can try and throw the alien off by tapping parts of the map to open and close doors to lure it away, tell your teammates to hide, hurry up, keep moving, or stop what they're doing entirely. The alien can strike anywhere and anytime, and this changes with each level since there is no set pattern, which means you'll have to stay on your toes.
There's one huge problem with all this, though. Instead of feeling tense or scary in any way, it's extremely boring. Most of your time is spent watching a map screen and empty corridors, and static screens with the occasional flickering lights. When an alien does show up to claim its human prize, there's zero impact for the player or the crew. Okay, it ate a member of your crew, but who cares? You can soldier on, and your group doesn't even comment on the loss. Obviously, they need to do whatever they can to complete their mission, but it's a bit strange that no one misses a beat or bats an eye that they've just lost a teammate.
When it comes down to it, constantly checking cameras and map screens work in games like Five Nights at Freddy's because there's a heightened sense of tension and dread that permeates the entire game. In Alien: Blackout, that's all gone. Instead, you're just waiting for people to get to certain areas, nearly drumming your fingers while they travel there. Sometimes, if you're not quick enough, they can die. Lather, rinse, repeat. You must complete seven levels of this, but there’s just no real drive to do so.
It's difficult to say that the production values are even here. While the voice work is fine, Ripley's being a standout, that's about all that's up to par. The environments look fine, and the pseudo-3D movement in Ripley’s command posts (which she moves around to different areas) are serviceable. However, the character models are stiff and wooden, and their animations hardly believable at that. Beyond that, the story just isn't there – this isn't a tale I want to see play out all the way, no matter how much of a hardcore Alien player I am.
There's far too little interaction and even less payoff, and it all combines to make Alien: Blackout feel like it should have been a quick, free companion to a game like Alien: Isolation instead of the $4.99 mobile translation that isn't quite sure what it wants to be. If you’re looking to get your Alien fix, you’d be better off marathoning the films – but you can skip Alien: Covenant. Trust us on this.