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Alien: Isolation Review

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The franchise of Alien has been through a rocky video games history. While some titles such as the original Alien Vs. Predator games on PC were grand, recent titles have been unable to catch that same spark that wowed audiences in theaters back in late 70s and 80s. Thankfully, with Alien: Isolation, Creative Assembly has been able to bring back that feeling of dread and terror by utilizing an amazing AI system that allows your predator to learn whilst hunting you through the dark corridors of the space station.

In Alien: Isolation, you play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, who has been searching for her mother ever since the events of Alien took place on the Nostromo 15 years earlier. She is offered a chance by the company Weyland-Yutani to find out what exactly happened to her mother all those years ago. Her mission is to find the flight recorder of the Nostromo on the decommissioned space station, the Sevastopol.

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I won’t spoil the story, but it’s by the books Alien. Some twist and turns will be countered, but story is one aspect of the game where it falls a little flat. However the story also doesn’t trample on the canon of the universe, and fans will find plenty of great references to the movies along the way to enjoy through recordings and terminals.

The glory of the game shines in gameplay and the horrific encounters with the real star of the game – the Xenomoprh. Throughout the game, players will have access to different crafts and parts to create items that will allow you to live, such as flares, EMPs, and even flash bangs. The dark can also be a great ally when hiding from different foes, and using your flashlight is a last resort.

There are several different enemy types in the game beside the alien. “Working Joes” the androids on the station, who can be just as menacing as the alien if not more at times, and survivors scavenging for food and weapons. However these can be taken care of as bait for the alien.

I have never been so impressed by an AI system before such as there is in Alien: Isolation. Not only does it learn over time your habits and movements, but it will adapt to your play style as you survive aboard the station. One encounter that still stands out for me – I was sneaking around the corner and spotted the alien. I threw a flare and sneaked to the door on the other side, believing I was free, only to see a large tail impale me from behind, with shock on my face. Isolation is hard, real hard.

The lone alien in the game is open to terrorize the player however it wants. The AI can travel through vents, tunnels, and wait above you as you travel throughout the station. No situation in the game felt the same, every death led to another unique encounter with the alien, which learned from its mistakes when missing its prey. Don’t expect to walk through the same corridor without trouble from the alien.

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Even on normal players can expect a challenge from foes, and the combat is weighted, giving a sense that Amanda is not a fighter – she is only trying to survive. But on the technical side of things, Alien: Isolation made me run into a few problems on my journey.

There were several times throughout the game when the character animations felt off, and the game would freeze or stutter for several seconds, taking me out of the experience, especially in cutscenes. I can only hope that creative Assembly will fix these problems in an update, and these minor hiccups are not horrible enough to ruin the game by any means.

Fans familiar with the orchestral score of Jerry Goldsmith from the original Alien movie in 1979 will be happy to hear his music throughout the game, giving players a sense of nostalgia. Not only does the music lend itself to the experience, but the entire atmosphere and scenery harks back to 80s sci-fi, with old PCs and sliding doors – it felt like I was in the movie itself while I was playing. Everything from the architecture to the sound effects were meticulously created to honor the franchise, with even the torches giving off that familiar sound, and expect a lot of beeping from your sensor.

Alien: Isolation is the Alien game I have wanted for a long time, a title that stays true to the series’ horror and suspense, while complimenting it with a modern survival-horror style. While the game may have its faults, it’s an experience that true horror and Alien fans should not miss. I recommend playing the game with the lights off and the difficulty up for a true challenge. The game is also pretty lengthy, spanning about 20-23 hours of campaign, not including the Crew Expendable DLC or future DLC.

 

Reviewed on the Xbox One, review copy provided by Sega

My name is Tripp Papineau and I am an avid gamer and have a passion for writing. I have graduated from Arkansas Tech University with a BA in creative writing and have been writing as a journalist in the video game industry for three years.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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