Game: Alien Blackout
Publisher: D3 Go!
Genre: Puzzle, Horror
When Alien Blackout was announced, it was met with a very mixed reaction. And who could blame people? Alien Isolation is a fantastic game, and to see the next chapter in the story be shifted to mobile rather than console and PC left many fans worried that what we’d get would be a quick cash grab filled with microtransactions. In truth though, what we have with Blackout is far better than many anticipated. In fact, a lot of what I said for in my trailer reaction came to fruition. Not all of it, but we’ll get to that.
First though, a reality check. This is, obviously, not the same type of game as Alien Isolation. Rather than being a multi-hour survival horror, it is essentially a Five Nights At Freddy’s style game with a focus on micromanagement instead of jump scares. The game runs to seven levels in length, and can be completed relatively quickly once you get the hang of the mechanics and maps.
If that sounds a little disappointing, don’t worry too much, as there are plenty of positives for Blackout. For one, the game doesn’t actually have the dreaded microtransactions at all, and instead simply retails for a reasonable price of £4.99. Given the nature of the game, I’m definitely happy about that, as I really don’t see how you could incorporate microtransactions without wrecking what we have with the game. And believe me, what we have is fun.
While you don’t get the extreme fear of Isolation, the game does a great job of building tension through a quickly escalating difficulty in missions. The point of the game is for you, as Amanda Ripley, to guide four people through the station so that they can repair their ship and get you away from the xenomorph that’s stalking the place. Early on, this isn’t so bad. In fact, the first level is a relatively simply map that serves little purpose other than to teach you the core mechanics. As you progress, you’ll find yourself switching between the map, cameras, and Ripley’s first person view quickly as you try to track down the titular alien. When you’re guiding two of the four-person crew, it’s not so hard to keep them safe. Once you’re looking after all four of them at once though? That’s when it becomes a struggle, especially on the later, larger maps. The same applies to the Ripley sections, with only one opening for the alien to enter your space in the early levels, but multiple in later ones, leaving you needing to scroll across the screen to see where it’s trying to get in.
The xenomorph itself has an interesting AI. It will mostly just stalk around the maps, jumping in and out of vents, and listening for sounds. If your team makes too much noise, it’ll move towards them. If Ripley makes too much noise while trying to guide them, it’ll head straight for her. If you open and close doors, it’ll likely move to investigate. The problem is, you only have a limited power supply, meaning you can only activate five things at once. This means you are forced to manage your power between the doors and the motion sensors located in halls with no cameras. Not paying attention to that is potentially deadly too, as trying to shut a door to block the alien from your team with no free power left will result in a massacre. Throw in that you really need to issue instructions to the crew and there’s really no way to avoid drawing attention at all. It’s a good job there are plenty of places to hide really.
The game is aesthetically really nice. The computerized display is very akin to the design work in the original Alien film from 1979, which is a nice touch that helps tie the game into the timeline. This carries over to the ship based cut scenes too, where you’d be forgiven for thinking that it may have been built using models, just like in said film. Meanwhile, the camera shots also match this era, with plenty of fuzz to add atmosphere. The alien itself is really well done, and looks great when moving about, especially in the first-person shots you get when switching to Ripley’s point of view. The voice acting is decent, especially for a mobile game, and I liked the touch of having the different crew members giving different responses to the tasks you give them. They’re an aggressive bunch at times too, making it clear that it’s entirely your fault if someone dies. The ambient sounds do a fantastic job of keeping you jumpy, with the scrabbling noises in the vents being suitably creepy. In fact, those sounds are incredibly important, so in that regard, this is definitely one to play with headphones on.
Oddly, with the clear focus on making everything look the part, it’s the visuals that do sometimes let the game down though. For one, the opening scene where you’re talking to the crew sees some poorly animated body movements as the different people are talking. I understand why they did it, as you do need to be able to see who’s who, but it’s a little disappointing when compared to the rest of the game. Then there’s the death scenes. If the xenomorph gets into the room that Ripley is in, you get a nice – albeit blood free – little animation of it finishing you off. The rest of the crew don’t get the same treatment though. I tried to get a few of them killed in front of the cameras, but every single time yielded the same result: they get chased off screen. Now, when you’re watching the map and you hear the different characters’ anguished cries of pain, it’s actually quite harrowing. When you’re looking for it on camera and the visuals don’t come though, it’s strangely disconnecting. There were also one or two occasions where the alien was crawling right for me and I’m certain that I hit the door close action in time, but it didn’t register. Of course, that may be me either missing the spot or being slightly too slow rather than the game not working, so it’s not necessarily a major fault.
Looking at this objectively, Alien Blackout may not be the Alien Isolation sequel that we wanted, but it is a lot of fun. You only need one crew member to survive each mission for it to be deemed a success, so there is some mild replayability there if you want to try to keep everyone alive. The gameplay is decent, though I can see it working better on a decent sized tablet than on a mobile phone. The audio and visuals are great for the platform, and the game does a good job in making you panic and worry. If you’re looking for jump scares, you’ll be disappointed, mind you, as the game avoids them for all but Ripley’s death scenes. Alien Blackout is not perfect, but it’s an enjoyable entry in the franchise that is well worth the low asking price, providing you can get over the fact that it’s a different style of game. 3.75 out of 5.