Amanda Ripley returns in an even more claustrophobic slice of sci-fi horror. Read our Alien Blackout review to see if it continues the good work of Isolation on a new platform.
There’s no denying that Alien: Blackout arrives under a bit of a cloud. Rumors, hints, and teases for the first Alien game after 2014’s superb Alien Isolation led to a certain level of expectation. That level was lowered somewhat when it was found that while Blackout does continue the story of Amanda Ripley, daughter of the legendary Ellen Ripley, it’s not exactly a direct sequel to Isolation, rather, it’s a mobile game. That in itself is perfectly fine, and Blackout does the important thing in making this feel like an Alien game should, but that doesn’t help it shake the looming shadow of the game that preceded it.
What Alien: Blackout brings in terms of gameplay is quite the departure. Taking the framework of kid’s horror fave Five Nights at Freddy’s, a light dusting of puzzling, and draping the Alien aesthetic over it, Alien: Blackout sees you back in the sneakers of Amanda Ripley, who fresh from the hell she encountered aboard Sevastopol station, finds herself in another Xenomorph-shaped mess, and ends up hiding in an air duct, guiding other survivors to safety and leading them to key cards and items important to their continued existence.
This is done via two methods. Watching through the cameras Amanda has hacked into, and checking with the interactive security floor plan. The floor plan is the most useful part as it allows you to see where exactly the survivors are, and you can easily activate doors to block the Xenomorph off or trigger sensors to keep an eye on where it’s coming from.. The downside is you can’t see where the Xeno itself is bar a vague red flicker in the general direction it is coming from. Flicking to the security cameras can give you a horrifying glimpse at the beast stalking the crew, and you can in some instances shut a door in the nick of time.
Naturally, there’s a slight catch to these murder avoidance puzzles. You only have a limited amount of power to play with, meaning you have to open and close doors to juggle the power, and it usually means it’ll leave an easy opening for the Xeno to come through. This is relatively easy to manage early on and you should be able to rescue everyone on a level with minimal stress, but the juggling gets increasingly more hectic and you soon learn a sacrifice needs to be made if you’re going to progress.
It’s wickedly macabre that you can essentially lure a poor crew member to their death just to save another, but wholly necessary at times. Perhaps a little too necessary, as there doesn’t appear to be any design or story choice behind this, it seems more like an oversight that allows you to cheese it through tougher stages. Not a bad thing, but having an easy way out belittles the puzzles challenge to some degree.
The alien can also find your hiding spot, so you have to occasionally look up from your work to check it isn’t barrelling down the ductwork to eviscerate you. You can shut yourself in if it does come calling, but that acts almost as an EMP for the systems on the level the survivors are on, meaning the doors are temporarily all unlocked, leaving them vulnerable to a sticky end.
As you can imagine, things can get intense and panicky. The formula is tried and trusted, and in its own small way, Alien: Blackout captures the fear factor of Alien Isolation, albeit in a more stationary form. The highly expendable nature of the survivors take an edge off that tension, diluting the horror that the game is trying so hard to maintain.
There’s also not enough background on the space station and its history. That was a big part of what made Alien Isolation‘s Sevastopol a part of the atmosphere. It had such a rich background to be discovered, and its internal issues being explained made the pressure-cooker hostility of the place really bubble over with the introduction of the Xenomorph. There’s still some background here, just not as much as I’d have liked.
Alien: Blackout is still a pretty good game though. For a reasonable price you get a competent, occasionally scary (headphones really help) Alien game, and while it’s natural to feel disappointment at it not being Alien Isolation 2, it’s not Colonial Marines 2 either. If anything, it’s one of the better Alien efforts from the past few decades.
Alien Blackout review code provided by the publisher
Alien Blackout is out now on the App Store, Google Play and the Amazon Appstore.