Alien: Isolation - title

There is no shortage of games that have been based on the Aliens movie. Heck, even Starcraft is basically an unlicensed Aliens versus Predator game! But games that have the Aliens name on them have a very shaky track record. Some have been good. Others have been absolutely terrible. Last year's highly-anticipated Aliens: Colonial Marines (by Gearbox) just might have been the worst of the bunch, and left a very sour taste in fans' mouths.

But this new game is different. It's developed by Creative Assembly (of Total War fame), and its actually based on the first film of the franchise: Alien (singular).

Where the sequel Aliens is a high-octane sci-fi action film about a battalion of macho space marines being put in their place by a hive of aggressive xenomorphs, Alien is a much slower and more cerebral sci-fi horror movie about a group of space truckers who get picked off one by one by a single hostile xenomorph. This shift in focus from the action-packed sequel to its smarter horror predecessor is a welcome change for the franchise and a breath of fresh air in AAA game development. For over a decade now, horror has been on the decline when it comes to big-budget games. This is thanks in part to Resident Evil 4, and the only major horror game that's come out since has been Dead Space. It seemed that the slower, more cerebral style of horror that was popular during the PS1 and PS2 era (with games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill) was all but dead in mainstream gaming.

Alien Isolation - hiding
The motion tracker has a nifty control that lets you change focus between the tracker and the background environment.

So does Alien: Isolation live up to the hype and breath new life into the classic genre of survival horror?

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Amnesia: the Dark Descent game banner

Since Silent Hill Downpour failed miserably to scratch my survival horror itch, I’ve been looking for something else to fill that niche. I picked up Amnesia: the Dark Descent on a Steam sale for pocket change, and am very glad that I did.

Mainstream game companies don’t seem particularly interested in releasing good survival horror games. It’s a very niche market and difficult to find mass-market appeal. Modern horror games mostly ape off of Resident Evil 4 by being designed as an action shooter first, and survival horror game second (if at all). The genre is dominated by fast-paced "boo"-scare games like Dead Space and F.E.A.R., and gone are the days of the deliberately-slow-paced psychological games like Silent Hill 2 and Fatal Frame. The "survival" element has mostly fallen away since resource management is widely regarded as too tedious, and the "horror" is usually just represented with difficult combat.

But where mega-publishers and AAA developers have dropped the ball, the Indie market filled in the gap 3 years ago (Sept 2010) with Amnesia: the Dark Descent.

Amnesia: the Dark Descent - invisible water monster

Amnesia goes to the opposite extreme as Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space. This game is not an action game.

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Dead Space 2 box art

The first Dead Space really impressed me. A lot. I think it was released in the same year as Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4. And Dead Space ended up being my favorite game of that year. Of course, part of that was because I was actually able to finish Dead Space by the end of the year, and Grand Theft Auto took longer. In hindsight, GTA IV was probably better. The first Dead Space game perfectly captured the feel of the classic science fiction horror film Alien, but with a bit more action.

The attention to detail was astounding, and the Ishimura just felt so functional! Like a real spaceship. Other than the artificial gravity, the Ishimura seemed like something you might see on a Science Channel special about hypothetical space mining craft The layout and organization of the ship just made sense, and the use of holographic displays as the game’s HUD and interface was brilliant design. And the space setting made the clunkiness of the character's movements actually work thematically - even though he still performed better than the characters from Resident Evil 4 and 5 anyway!

The concept of dismembering enemies to kill them was novel and added a unique dynamic to the otherwise stale shooter formula. On top of that, every one of the improvised engineering tools that were offered as weapons kicked ass (only, ironically, the military pulse rifle felt weak). And the boot stomp! Oh, the boot stomp!

Dead Space hit a gaming sweet spot for me that would be very difficult to improve upon in a sequel. Everything about it just felt so right – except that asteroid shooter segment – that part blew big time.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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