Lights off, nappies on! It's Alien: Isolation and The Evil Within
Fear, thinking and vulnerability abound
Game Theory H.R. Giger’s Necronomicon used to be my bedtime book of choice. There’s something about the design of the original Alien that left me with a pseudo sexual queasiness, all moist egg vaginas and huge phallic headed xenomorphs. As the flickering 20th Century Fox Logo fills my screen, like some Videodrome VHS tape, I get a familiar uneasy shiver down my spine.
Another Ripley incarnation, and this time it's Amanda
I play engineer Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley, who was lost when the Nostromo disappeared 15 years ago. It's just about time for a visit from Weyland Yutani, whose rep offers me a trip to find some closure and, as things go, a whole lot of android/alien-related hurt. My destination is the Sevastopol, a big space station Junker, to track down the flight recorder of the Nostromo.
Unable to dock with the Sevastopol, I grab a couple of crew mates, don a spacesuit and embark on what should be a routine spacewalk to access the Sevastopol via an airlock. Here things start to go awry and there’s an overly long cut scene where I was gagging for some button-flicking interaction similar to the beginning of Wolfenstein. Way to lose my attention, Creative Assembly.
The lights are on, but nobody's home. Or so it seems
But soon, all is forgiven, as suddenly the atmosphere kicks in. I’m all alone aboard an eerily quiet space station which looks somewhat like a dodgy Berlin squat – with no way of contacting the ship or my colleagues.
Several levels in and there’s still no sign of the alien but I have had plenty to keep me busy and on my toes or just plain dead. Ah, the tension, bringing on pangs of a coffee-induced coronary due to anxiety and paranoia. I’m already struggling and things never improve, this sense of layer upon layer of unease and angst is Alien: Isolation’s defining feature and what makes it feel authentic... well, as much as a game of hide and seek can be. Move slowly and stay down are the winning tactics, where the odds are never in my favour.
Pesky synthetics: just be sure to pick them off one at a time
Packs of space pirates give themselves away by being chaotic and generously raucous, so I hear them a mile away. Synthetics follow strictly defined patrol paths and timings. They are possible to avoid but getting into a fight with one of them uses lots of risks and resources, trying to fight two will result in instant death and unfortunately they seem to come in pairs.
I find useful bits and pieces such as blueprints and materials to craft items that can act as distractions, such as smoke bombs and flares. And then just as I start to feel like I’m getting the hang of things, here comes the alien and my fingernail grip starts to slip.
The Motion Tracker can be a help and a hindrance
The alien is a clever so-and-so, who cannot be killed and listens for my motion tracker to find and kill me. I have to restart three levels back because all those resources to cause distractions that I wasted are now essential to my progress and survival, and I need to rethink my game. Manual save points in the form of vintage telephone booths are suddenly all too sparse, just like my hiding places.
Like some xenomorphic Einstein, the alien learns that a loud noise is worth scrutinising and if I’m not in the next room, then surely I must be in a locker or cupboard and best to leave no fucking stone unturned. But this seems doubly unfair when there are areas with other humans who don’t seem to agro it at all.
The hiding round a corner taking furtive glances at my motion tracker has become a staple of my evening lately. The fear of the alien behind me is ever-present and just the few seconds needed to enter a passcode have me jittering and fumbling in fear. That said, hacking into doors and computers were fun minigames but on the whole I found there was too much to-ing and fro-ing.
Merciless and obviously intended to be challenging, this is definitely the best Alien game I have ever played. It has stunning visuals, particularly the atmospheric lighting, haunting sound design and feeling of complete immersion into the Alien universe. As I can’t shake the feeling I’m intentionally created as prey, it makes for astonishing and unique gameplay. Well done on such a bold move, SEGA.
Alien: Isolation for PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Prices start at £32.
The Evil Within
Then The Evil Within falls onto my doormat and I’m transported back to my horror gaming origins of Resident Evil. The dark reverie of Alien: Isolation is broken and things start to get messy. I’m suddenly gagging instead of crying with fear and frustration. The tone has definitely changed from Diane Arbus to Wes Craven.
Sparks fly at the asylum
God bless you, Bethesda, for bringing Shinji Mikami and his new studio Tango Gameworks on board. Mikami is a gaming legend and was director on Resident Evil 4 – nuff said. So I’m expecting great things from The Evil Within. Hummm, on first glance though its feeling all too familiar and just plain silly. Can this Silent Hill/Resident Evil mash deliver?
Sebastian the main character, in the employ of Krimson City Police Department, obviously takes himself and his unfortunate situation far too seriously. Boy band hair aside, he’s a dead ringer for Chris Redfield.
"Good evening officer, what appears to be the problem?"
The radio crackles with an APB that takes us straight to a spooky blood-splattered asylum. Everyone is dead apart from two survivors, so it’s time to check the security cams for some sense of how this massacre has occurred.
This gives me the first glimpse of fleet-footed vampire lookalike Ruvik, making me feel like I’m in an episode of The Strain. From the beginning, Mikami’s talented hand in the design is apparent. Those years of refinement make gameplay slick and smooth, especially when it comes to shooting a lumbering zombie in the face – accompanied by some meaty moist sound effects and literally buckets full of blood.
Knife work if you can get it
But trust me, you’re going to need a match to permanently put these Texas Chain Saw Massacre extras out of their misery. It was easy to get drawn in, spending time setting up complex obstacle courses for zombies involving electric bolts from my crossbow, tripwires and bombs.
I am sure to collect all that sweet zombie brain juice to flip through the looking glass and level up in my own personal electric chair, watched over by my own candy striper, Tatiana. Abilities, weapons and storage can all be levelled up.
When not hanging from a meat hook or dragging myself out of a cesspit, there were lulls in the action where I can explore areas and smash idols to gain keys. Still, always keep an eye out for invisible worm faced assholes, as not every monster is defeatable – for example Ruvik the invincible rent-a-ghost in his Assassin's Creed hoodie – so sometimes it’s best to run.
The threat of combat is always present but in no way did I ever feel as truly terrified as during Alien: Isolation. Yet I was often intrigued and excited when strange world events began to take place in Krimson City and the surrounding architecture starts coming over all Inception on me.
The narrative is slowly pieced together by snippets and memories about stem test experimental drugs to synchronise brain waves to create a collective consciousness. It doesn’t take long for me to realise there are much larger things afoot here and Mikami surely has some fireworks up his sleeve.
With Alien: Isolation I knew why I was there and, more or less, what the game had in store for me. The Evil Within holds my attention by being much more shadowy and surreptitious with its agenda and narrative.
The Box Man cometh
Will these two games refresh the horror gaming genre by placing the emphasis on vulnerability? To be sure these two games are disconcerting, spine-chilling, unsettling and very hard. Alien: Isolation has managed to change the power dynamic, which is unsettling and thrilling but it seems my hope that The Evil Within would be more Heavy Rain than a third person Fear was unfounded, alas, as it’s pretty much just a zombie shoot-'em-up. Indeed, Boxman and the chained up Sadist reminded me far too much of characters from Shocktoberfest at Tulley’s Farm. ®
The Evil Within for PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Prices start at £25 (PC).