I, like many of you, was definitely disappointed to hear Alien: Isolation’s Amanda Ripley would be returning in a mobile game as opposed to a more conventional console-based sequel. However, I did recently get to go hands-on with Alien: Blackout and I came away with mixed thoughts, most of which were actually positive. Blackout takes the formula of Five Nights At Freddy’s while putting in its own additional mechanics to set it apart from that game.
First and foremost, Alien: Blackout is not a bad game at all. In fact, graphically, it may be one of the best looking mobile games around. And yes, it actually did have some moments that instilled genuine fear in me. But you may get more scares by wearing some headphones as you play.
I’m a huge Alien fan, it’s easily my favorite film of all time. So it’s nice to know that the team is taking nearly all of its inspiration from the first film. Like Isolation, the environments and overall mood of Blackout are brimming with nods to that film, and the game is stronger because of it.
If you’re not familiar with the Five Nights At Freddy’s gameplay loop, you’re essentially a night guard who has access to a whole slew of security cameras. Using them you’ll have to watch for enemies and ultimately keep yourself alive. With Blackout, Amanda Ripley sits in a ventilation shaft, quite similar to the one where Dallas was offed in the movie. Not only will you have to keep Amanda safe; you’ll also need to guide a group of other survivors through a small area in the space station — keeping them alive while also completing objectives. On top of all that you’re on a short timer, and once you run out you’ll be at the mercy of the Xenomorph.
You’re able to allocate power (which acts a source of energy of sorts) to different doors and rooms that’ll either help you track the Xenomorph or cut it off from reaching your survivors. There’s some very natural tension that comes with the overall gameplay and it works better than I initially thought it would. Which was a bit surprising considering the size of the screen I was playing on.
You use a map in Alien: Blackout to track your survivors, objectives, and of course, the Xenomorph; whenever you can actually see it that is. I think my biggest gripe with Blackout is how difficult it can be to see the Xenomorph doing anything too meaningful besides walking. With the ways the cameras are placed, I found that I couldn’t really see what it was doing to my survivors, I only knew that they were being killed through sound.
I’m actually relatively torn on this criticism though. The Alien franchise is very varied in how it acts as a horror film. With the first movie in particular, pretty much every death was off-screen, it was through sound design as well as the idea of what this otherworldly monster could be doing to its victims that was genuinely frightening. In that regard, Blackout works to honor the first film, but the series has also gotten gorier over time, even with Ridley Scott’s directorial return in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. This made me really want to see what was happening.
Ultimately, I think I just personally felt that Blackout lacked moment to moment scares. There are brief bits that come in the ventilation shafts that are really quite frightening though. You see, the Xenomorph can travel the main corridors you’re guiding your survivors through, or it can come into the ventilation shafts to move more discreetly. If you’re not constantly checking or listening for it, the Xenomorph will attack Amanda Ripley, and in these moments it gets right up in your face.
So the experience overall isn’t 100 percent scary; but like I said these small jumps in the ventilation shafts can feel quite surprising and add to that feeling of terror. Whereas Isolation didn’t really break up the horror between you and other survivors, this game does and that can work in both its favor and to its detriment.
The gameplay itself is solid. Guiding your survivors is easy to execute but made harder by the unstoppable Xenomorph in front of you. In that regard, Alien: Blackout does deliver a fun experience that offers both horror and strategy elements. Some of the earliest missions in the game can feel a bit slow, but they’re quickly ramped up once you begin progressing more steadily.
If there are any improvements that could be made, I think the ways in which the Xenomorph interacts with the environment could be a bit better. As I played, I noticed the only thing we really see the monster doing is walking around outside of the moments where it attacks. It’d be cool to see the Xenomorph jump in front of cameras when you least expect it or taking them out as time goes on. Maybe that will be the case as you get to later missions but I think it’d really add to that overall sense of dread that Alien does so well.
Ultimately, I think it’s safe to say that Alien: Blackout is a solid title albeit definitely not the one fans are hungry for. I myself would’ve preferred to see a console-based sequel to Isolation but it’s definitely cool to know we’re getting this game as well as a new shooter title set in the Alien universe. Additionally, the vice president of FoxNext Games, TQ Jefferson, told me that if Blackout were to come to consoles, they’d definitely think of Nintendo Switch first. While the Alien franchise has suffered as a whole in the film department, its offering of diverse horror-esque gaming experiences is stronger than ever.
Alien: Blackout will launch on January 24 for iOS and Android devices.
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