Over the past couple of years there have been an innumerable number of storylines that could be said to have been abandoned too soon. The space-faring TV show Firefly or the ever meme-worthy Half-Life 3 are just some that spring to mind.
But for this writer there really have been only two pieces of media for which hope for a followup still holds out. The first being the colourful TV show Pushing Daisies, which ran from 2007-2009, and whose cancellation left my 19-year-old-self wallowing in tears. The second, and one far more relevant to this review, is 2014’s Alien Isolation.
While the critical response was somewhat mixed (though leaning towards the positive), and total sales were reasonable; it wasn’t quite enough to greenlight a sequel. For a game that, I honestly felt, did for the Alien Universe what Batman: Arkham Asylum did for the Batman universe, this was a bitter pill to swallow.
It was therefore hard not to have a level of apprehension when hearing about Alien: Blackout. Not only was it a mobile followup to the console brilliance of Isolation, but one that was developed by a completely different studio. That said, the final result actually ends up being a somewhat worthy follow up to the claustrophobic classic.
Events kick off with the arrival of the USCSS Haldin at the Mendal Research Station. Four passengers come aboard only to realise that the space station has fallen to a roaming Xenomorph. Fortunately for them, Amanda Ripley, survivor of the events of Isolation, is also trapped on board.
Holed up in the Mendal’s air ducts, Amanda has used rudimentary technology to hack into the station’s holographic maps, motion trackers and surveillance cameras. With said technology she is able to guide the four trapped passengers to complete various mission objectives.
But there’s a catch. The various systems only have enough power to last 8 minutes before shutting down and plunging the entire area into darkness (hence the titular subtitle.) As such, a layered cat-and-mouse game begins, with the outcome being survival or becoming another tasty treat for the terrifying nightmare.
Despite the downsizing in scale, one significant carry-over from Isolation is the brilliant sound design. The hiss of the steam pipes, the slamming of metallic doors, and of course, the panic-inducing roar of the Xenomorph itself. Throw in the chilling musical accompaniment by Tommi Hartikainen, and you have a game that, in terms of fear-factor, does stand tall among the numerous entries in the Alien franchise.
Fair warning though, this is not a game that can be experienced like other “pick up and play” mobile titles. To really experience the game as it was meant to, it would be worth investing in a decent pair of headphones. Do so, and you’ll be treated to some heart-pounding sequences.
Along with the sound, the visuals also punch above the traditional weight of a mobile title. While what little we see on cameras is a clear invoking of Isolation, it’s still great to see the same love and affection in paying homage to the design styles of the original Alien movie.
The gameplay is relatively simple, as you guide the characters to their various mission objectives by drawing a path with your finger. But the cameras and motion senses only cover certain parts of the station, meaning you can never be 100% sure where the Xenomorph might be. As such you can also order each character to either “stop”, “hide” or “hurry up.”
Along with the visual barriers, Blackout also institutes a power limitation; meaning that only a maximum of five objects (either doors, cameras or motion senses) can be active at any one time. With the eight minute limitation mentioned above, each level can become incredibly tense as you try to outwit the rampaging monster.
While there are a few bugs here and there, the biggest issue is that, unlike most games on either console or mobile, Blackout makes no real attempt to institute a learning curve. While the game does gradually increase in difficulty, the first level still more or less throws you into the deep end with only a minimum of direction as to how to do anything. While those that power through will eventually arrive at the engaging gameplay mentioned above, it’s easy to imagine a great many players being turned off before even properly getting out the door.
Clocking in at seven levels spread across 1-2 hours of gameplay, Alien: Blackout isn’t exactly the longest of mobile titles. But with shortness comes intensity and a strong attempt to, not only give us a worthy follow-up to Isolation, but also to present an engaging addition to the Alien gaming universe.
Alien: Blackout is currently available for iOS and Android (£4.99 on both platforms)