Monday, February 25, 2019
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Hey everybody welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Joint. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and my thoughts on the medium as a whole. You can see everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. This week we're going to be talking about Resident Evil 2 so with no further ado lets get spooky.
Consider this your official spoiler warning: this video will contain spoilers for RE2, and minor spoilers for RE7. If you don’t want those games spoiled for you then stop watching now.
I know that I've mentioned it on the channel before but I have played most of the mainline entries of the Resident Evil series but the only ones I've finished are RE7 and the new version of RE2, so keep in mind that what I have to say is my opinion.
RE2 is in my opinion the best Resident Evil game to date. I don’t think I liked it as much as RE7 but from the outset it was always very clear what Resident Evil was supposed to be and RE2 is a better realization of that vision that RE7. The game looks fantastic, plays fantastic, and most importantly it feels fantastic. All games are supposed to make the player feel something whether that be excitement, intrigue, or confusion and almost all of those are followed by satisfaction. While other games can lean on secondary emotions and other gameplay elements to achieve satisfaction horror games aren't afforded that luxury. If a horror game doesn’t make the player feel tense or scared there is little else that can be done to achieve the satisfaction that games are supposed to provide. RE2 delivers on that satisfaction in a huge way and is a return to form for the series and one I hope to see continued moving forward.
I have always been very specific about terminology when it comes to remakes, remasters, and reboots and as a result RE2 is very confusing for me. The game can barely be called a remake because it's almost an entirely new game. It's almost like RE2 was put into production in the late nineties, there was a script, maps, mechanical concepts, and design documents then the game just didn’t get made until now. It's the same game but different. So I suppose RE2 isn't a remake in the same way video games are usually remade its more of a remake in the way movies are usually remade, the same basic ideas done in a different way.
The overall presentation of the game is nothing short of stunning. From the large scale of looking at the Raccoon City Police Department from the outside at the start of the game to the smallest details like the characters walking animation communicating the players health everything about the way RE2 is presented to the audience is nothing short of breathtaking. Visuals are fantastic, while the game isn't as graphically impressive as top tier games like God of War it does trade blows with the best third parties have to offer like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Assassins Creed Odyssey. More impressively though is the performance that comes with those visuals. Full disclosure I played the game on a PS4pro so your results may vary but from what I experienced that game had zero noticeable technical hiccups throughout my 12+ hours of gameplay. And on the surface of all the technical mastery is an art style that fits the series so perfectly that it makes it difficult to imagine Resident Evil games being any other way. The character models are realistic and expressive, the animations are on point, and the sense of scale is nearly flawless. Seeing Mr. X bend down to walk through doors really communicates well how large he is and gives the environments a sense of realism. Zombies in the game are decayed to the point that they are without a doubt scary but the more grotesque stuff like the lickers, G-type adults, and Mr. Birkin are used sparingly enough that the player never becomes desensitized to it.
Gameplay in RE2 strikes a perfect balance between the two best entries in the series RE4 and RE7. Leaving the tank controls of RE4 behind was a welcome change. Then taking the slower movement and careful gunplay of RE7 and putting it in all in the perspective of RE4 makes the game play the way we have all wanted Resident Evil games to play for so long. All of this fine tuning and combining of existing mechanics and concepts while at the same time bringing the game back to the iconic masterfully established tone of the first three games in the series makes for a new high water mark.
Now at this point in the video I have said multiple times that RE2 is the best Resident Evil game ever but that’s not to say the game isn't without it's flaws. Just like everything else (except Donkey Kong Country 2) RE2 is a flawed experience. The tyrant mechanic, some stiff in game dialogue, and repetitive story telling keep RE2 from reaching it's full potential.
One of the best and most enjoyable parts of the game was the environments that were available to explore. The RPD is a sprawling maze of hallways and connected rooms each with a specific purpose. My first hour of the game was spent in awe at the detail put into every inch of the environment. Roughly two and a half hours into my first play through I encountered the tyrant Mr. X. While Mr. X did fill a void in the game as the big bad presence I felt like the roughly hour and a half to two hours of the game that is spent with him constantly in pursuit is time that I was wishing could have been spent exploring the environment and appreciating the puzzles and inventory management but instead I had to be constantly on the move. The mechanic was a good idea but I felt like the way it was applied in the game was to unforgiving. It felt as though there was this gigantic building and Mr. X was constantly within a hundred foot radius of me. This is obviously comparable to the Alien AI in Alien Isolation but where the Alien was constantly in the area and if I wasn’t careful I would end up face to face with it Mr. X was not only in the area but almost always just a room away. While the Alien pressures the player to move when close by it also pressures them to stay put when its further away, Mr. X only emulates the higher pressure scenario and therefore made the two hours that I had to deal with him before his death unenjoyable.
Story telling throughout most of RE2 is excellent. During the cutscenes the characters motivation, emotions, and relationships are properly displayed and developed. Dialogue during those cutscenes moves the story forward in an intriguing and believable way, dialogue outside of those cutscenes is a different story. Every single time I heard Claire say "what the fuck is your problem?" to a zombie after shooting it multiple times in the face I was left thinking "well Claire, this is a zombie. We've been dealing with them for the last several hours." Throughout the entire game the reactionary gameplay dialogue feels stilted and dumb rather than contributing to the overall experience. A small complaint but one that kept coming to mind all the way up to the end.
Now I know I just got done saying that the story telling was good but there was one major flaw. I am of the opinion that the story would have been better served if the player had switched between Leon and Claire as needed and both stories had been told concurrently rather than playing through the entire story from Claire's perspective then moving through the same story from a different perspective. After having seen Leon on the train at the end of Claire's story and knowing what happens at the end of his arc I had little to no desire to play it again. Once the arc had concluded there was still large portions of the story that I hadn't seen including all of the Ada Wong scenes but I had progressed through the natural motions of a story and felt the satisfaction of finishing it. I know that that’s how the original version of RE2 was developed and laid out but with everything else this version of the game changed I think that integrating the two storylines into one longer story or at least giving the player the option would have been beneficial.
Resident Evil one, two, and three were very intentional and the developers clearly had a vision of what they wanted those games to be. RE4 was somewhat of a reinvention of the series to modernize it for its time which resulted in the game being more action horror than survival horror. RE 5 and 6 both struggled as they leaned way to far into the action and the series as a whole lost it's way. For me the first six Resident Evil games always had a deal breaker attached making them games I couldn’t really get into. The static camera angles and tank controls of the original trilogy, the tank controls that continued into RE4, and the fact that RE5 and 6 were simply not good games prevented me from ever getting really into the series. Resident Evil had become an action series, and it wasn’t until RE7 that Capcom would bring it back to its roots with a true survival horror experience. RE7 reigned everything in, the action, the movement, the scale, and focused on a more consolidated independent experience that is only connected to the rest of the series in the final moments of the game. RE2 keeps the momentum built by RE7 going and continues to establish what the series desperately needs, uniformity.
Resident Evil has varied wildly in tone, genre, experience, story telling, and gameplay. What RE7 and now RE2 have done is establish a clear definition of what a Resident Evil experience is. Tone, gameplay (aside from perspective), mechanics and even UI are all brought over from 7 and applied to 2. Even the change from first to third person isn't enough to make RE7and RE2 unrecognizably related. All this is a great thing and needs to be applied to the series moving forward.
RE2 stands as evidence that Capcom has rediscovered what Resident Evil should be: a scary, tense, claustrophobic atmosphere used to tell an insane sci-fi story. Characters we know and love are modernized for the PS4 and Xbox One and a classic experience has been entirely rebuilt from the ground up. Now at this point I can only hope that Capcom remakes Resident Evil, RE3, and RE4 in this same style then moves forward with RE8 and makes the official canon RE 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 etc and just wipes 5 and 6 from existence.
What were your thoughts on RE2? Would you call it a remake? What do you want to see come out of the series next? Let me know in the comments down below.
Thank you for watching my video. If you liked what you heard don’t forget to subscribe for a new video every week. If you just cant get enough you can check out our gaming podcast HardReset or our movies podcast NoRefunds the podcast that watched bad movies so you don’t have to! You can find everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about Apex Legends so until then just go play some games!
Saturday, February 16, 2019
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Hey everybody welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth joint. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and my thoughts on the medium as a whole. You can find everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. This week we're going to be talking about difficulty in video games so lets get to it.
So that everyone is aware the video accompanying today's essay is what I consider to be a very difficult game and it is actually the level that stumped me. I wasn’t trying to phone it in, I was putting difficulty on display.
Difficulty settings have been a huge part of how we approach playing games for decades. The way we want to play a game and the way we approach a game can vary wildly based on which difficulty is selected at the outset and in the case of many games which difficulty is chosen throughout the game when given the option to change difficulty part of the way through. Difficulty settings can completely transform an experience in any myriad of ways. Difficulty can change the length of a game, change the focus of a game, and in many cases force a player to think more creatively and approach an experience they may have already had before in a different way. Difficulty has the potential to take something we love and make it new again.
Everyone plays games for different reasons, the easiest blanket term to throw over all the different reasons people play games is that they are a form of escapism. There is no doubt that games can function as a way of temporarily escaping the pressures and imperfections of real life but they can also be so much more than that. To me games are a means of connecting with the people around me and building relationships based on common interests. And the fact that a difficulty setting can turn that one experience into four is a magical thing.
And speaking of multiplayer a multiplayer game can change the difficulty variables in completely unpredictable ways. The introduction of the human element can lead to the adaptive strategies that come with different difficulty settings becoming a two way street as each player tries to adapt to the other. If the opponent is more capable in close range you force some distance between you, and if they're faster than you, you had better make sure you hit a lot harder than they do. Honestly with respect to difficulty the multiplayer element has far to much to unpack so that’s a can of worms that I wont be opening right now.
But everyone likes to play games differently and gets enjoyment out of different things that games have to offer. Some people play games for an enthralling narrative, others play for characters they can become invested in and fall in love with, some people play games for the sole purpose of unwinding at the end of the day, while others play to truly test themselves, and some play for the power fantasy of being untouchable. There is a difficulty setting for all of these play styles and a well crafted game can adapt to each play style to offer every individual what they want from the experience.
Bioshock Infinite is one of my favorite games of all time. The gameplay, the characters, the story, almost all of it is nearly flawless. Now I know that will rile some people up but hey we all have opinions. Bioshock infinite has the capability to satiate the desires of everyone I mentioned before by providing radically different experiences within the same game. Bioshock Infinite contains what I consider to be one of the best stories ever told in a video game and it truly did make me contemplate some pretty serious stuff. When I played Bioshock I knew I was there for the story so I played that game on normal difficulty, I wanted to feel like I had earned each new story element as it unfolded but for the most part I wanted to move through it fairly quickly. Those that play games to unwind at the end of a long day don’t want to rush through the experience as quickly as the story driven player so they might play on hard mode for the simple purpose of stretching out what the game has to offer over longer and more numerous play sessions. Players that are in it for the power fantasy are going to play on easy mode and consume all the vigor's they can so they can fulfill that dream sequence of being an action hero. And the player that's looking to push themselves to their own limits will play the 1999 difficulty.
Now not only are difficulty settings good to accommodate different people the whole different strokes for different folks type mentality but they can also completely change the experience for more seasoned players. I've played through Resident Evil 7 on both the easy and normal difficulties and the way that I approached or in many cases didn’t approach each situation changed because of this. When playing on easy I was significantly more bold and felt more in line with the power of the Baker family. My first two or three encounters with Jack were nerve racking but after that I felt confident that with every meeting I would be able to down him faster and more efficiently. After my first few random encounters with Jack playing on the normal difficulty I found that approaching him in the same way I had on my previous play through resulted in such an incredible strain on my resources that I would avoid him if at all possible moving forward. Not only did the difficulty change my play style making me significantly slower and more methodical but it also tapped into and amplified what made Resident Evil 7 so great which was the horror element. Knowing that I was so severely outmatched by Jack made his foot steps and heavy breathing that much scarier. What was a survival horror game with action elements peppered in had suddenly become a survival horror game with stealth elements peppered throughout. Difficulty options changed the entire game for me while I have trouble deciding which play through I preferred both were unique and valuable experiences.
While many games offer explicitly engineered difficulty settings that the player can select in a menu there are some games that don’t. The games that don’t have difficulty options can sometimes be the most fun and interesting to turn the difficulty up on because it forces the player to make cause and effect choices as they progress. Pokémon is a wildly popular franchise that is played by millions but to this day has no difficulty settings. The lack of this feature hasn’t stopped players from taking it upon themselves to play by their own manufactured set of rules that lead to a more intense and difficult experience. Now if you're this deep into YouTube that you found this channel with about 30 subscribers I think it's safe to assume that you're at least familiar with what a nuzlocke run of a Pokémon game is, but for the uninitiated: A nuzlocke run is playing through a Pokémon game and treating each Pokémon that faints as though they have died then releasing them or putting them in the Pokémon storage system forever. And the player is only allowed to catch the first Pokémon they run into in each new area, if the Pokémon blacks out or flees the player does not get a second chance.
I don’t know about you guys but I used to think I was a hot shit Pokémon trainer back when I was playing Soul Silver. When I first heard of the nuzlocke rules I thought for sure I was a bad enough dude to beat the elite four and become the champion. Now I'm being honest with you here so don’t judge me, I'm not even a bad enough dude to get past the second gym. Nuzlocke is a self inflicted set of rules that bring an extreme level of difficulty to a game that otherwise lacks that feature. Another excellent example of the self inflicted difficulty is the three heart run of any Zelda game. I have played Ocarina of Time literally dozens of times but when I finally did my first three heart run I felt like I was a kid setting out on a daunting adventure for the first time all over again.
Where difficulty can go very very wrong though is in spikes. Difficulty is something that should grow with the players abilities and when difficulty spikes it has the potential to completely ruin a game. Kingdom Hearts has a difficulty spike in the late game as the player approaches Chernabog. After what is an extremely difficult boss fight the player then has to move through a gauntlet room of heartless and onto what is arguably the most drawn out convoluted final boss fight in all of video games. I initially had little to no interest in the Kingdom Hearts series and was only playing the first game because I was contractually obligated to by a friend of mine. Had I not had this agreement a difficulty spike like Chernabog would have made me stop playing the game altogether. The difficulty spike in the last three encounters of the game left such a sour taste in my mouth that it nearly ruined what was otherwise a somewhat fun light hearted adventure.
Overall games are made with different priorities in mind. Stories are told, challenges are extended, and connections are formed. Some games like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy are designed to be difficult, a badge of honor to be worn with pride but while not all games carry that level of prestige with respect to their difficulty a challenge can be found in everything. Some people say that easy mode is for people that cant play the game correctly but what those people might not understand is that its simply a different interpretation and experience from the same game. Play games on the right difficulty setting for you and don’t let anyone talk down to you for playing differently than they do; get your own experience from a game and keep an open mind.
What difficulty do you naturally gravitate towards? Let me know in the comments down below.
If you like what you heard don’t forget to subscribe for a new video every week. Also don’t forget to check out our gaming podcast HardReset for more free form video game discussion and our movies podcast NoRefunds the podcast that watches bad movies so you don’t have to! Both of those can be found on most major podcast services and right here on YouTube. You can find everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I will be back next week talking about Resident Evil 2 so until then just go play some games.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Hey everybody welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the video game industry as a whole. You can find everything we do including both of our podcast's over at ColdNorthPro.com. This week we are going to be talking about the role expectations play in video games.
Expectations are something we all have and sometimes can play a critical role in our level of enjoyment of pretty much anything. Setting realistic expectations can go a long way in helping to mold an opinion and also can help you not look like a moron in front of all your friends. Both my parents really enjoy good food. I love great food but I have also been knowns to get down on some taco bell alone in my car as I cry into a burrito and my steering wheel. So anytime my parents fly all the way across the country to visit me and they ask which restaurant we should go to I always make sure to tell them that this is what I like but it's just okay. Then if they don’t like it its no problem but if they do they really love it because they went in with low expectations! The same principal can easily be applied to video games.
There were a lot of all time great games that came out in 2018. God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, Celeste, Monster Hunter World, Smash Ultimate, the list goes on. But one of the games I enjoyed the most of last year was Far Cry 5. Far Cry has always been a series that is good but has arguably only reached greatness once and that was Far Cry 3. I went into Far Cry 5 with very low expectations and while the game is undeniably not as good as pretty much any of the games I listed earlier I would say my low expectations for it are what made it one of my favorite games of the year. I went in expecting first person shooting and what I got was…well it was first person shooting but it was really good first person shooting! The movement, the story telling, the stellar gunplay, the open air adventure, all of it was quality that I would expect from a game like Uncharted or Halo but never from Far Cry. I ripped through Far Cry 5 and loved every minute of it and when I went back to it to record the intro for this video I found myself wondering if I can fit a new game plus play through of Far Cry 5 into my schedule all because it was so good and I expected so little. Far Cry 5 was a good game that was turned into an awesome game because Ubisoft set the correct expectations.
There have been plenty of games that for whatever reason fell victim to false expectations being set. Halo 2 is the one that springs to mind first. I'm not sure I have ever been more hyped for a video game than the summer of 2004 when I was 13 years old and I had downloaded the E3 demo and would watch in several times a day between playing Halo Combat Evolved. My hype for Halo 2 was through the roof and whether it was Bungie driving that hype or Microsoft they were doing both me and themselves a disservice by setting expectations that would be impossible to reach. The day the game came out my friends dad picked us up from school and drove us to the mall where we both bought our own copies of Halo 2 collectors edition in that stupid aluminum case. We went back to my house and waited two and half hours for the game to install on my xbox…im just kidding shit didn’t work like that back then we put that disc in and played immediately! And I distinctly remember at the beginning of the first Arbiter level thinking to myself that this wasn’t great but I didn’t want to say that out loud because that would be admitting it to myself. Of course in the 14 years since that day I've played through the Halo 2 campaign dozens of times and now it's one of my favorite of the series. My point is is that Microsoft and or Bungie set my expectations way to high for Halo 2 and when I was a punk ass 14 year old that thought he knew everything I didn’t like it.
A more recent and more positive example of how setting expectations can change the way we consume video games is Recore. Recore is a relatively low budget action adventure game that was released on the PC and Xbox one in 2016 and you might not have known that because there wasn’t a ton of effort put into marketing that game and as a result I went in with almost no expectations. What that game is is an awesome 3D platformer adventure game that feels like a fine tuned evolution of the games we were so used to getting during the sixth generation of consoles like Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and of course the best of the bunch Blinx the Time Sweeper. Granted Recore doesn’t have nearly as much personality as those games but the gameplay was sweet and I'm glad I bought and played that game! Recore is an excellent example of a developer and publisher playing the expectations game a bit on the safe side and over delivering which is always better than the other way around, I'm lookin at you Anthem.
Speaking of games that haven't come out yet one game that seems to have been struggling with the expectations game is Days Gone. Now I'm no games journalist nor am I some sort of mind reader but I don’t think you have to be either of those things to read between the lines every time the dev's do an interview and are practically begging their audience to control their expectations and not anticipate a masterpiece on par with other Sony Computer Entertainment properties like The Last of Us and God of War. My prediction is that Days Gone will be a good game in the same way Far Cry 5 is a good game; everything about it will be well thought out and executed on but when push comes to shove it simply wont be able to trade blows with the titans of the industry. The problem Days Gone is currently facing is that by simply being an SCE game the expectations are through the roof and no matter how hard they try Bend Studio just cant seem to get those expectations under control.
Now I'm not saying that we should lower our standards and expect less from game developers because oftentimes our assessment's of games end up being valid criticism rather than expectation driven disappointment. Sometimes we come around to games like I did with Halo 2 but then there are games that disappoint because they were genuinely disappointing. I'm a huge Uncharted fan and when the announcement trailer for Uncharted 4 came at the end of the PlayStation event the night before the PS4 was released I literally jumped out of my seat to cheer like Sting was making his WWE debut. I was crazy excited for Uncharted 4 and my expectations were high. But when the game came out I found that I of the four main line Uncharted games it was my least favorite. Now this wasn’t because it failed to live up but because I didn’t like the direction Naughty Dog took the story in focusing on Sam rather than Nate, Elena, and Sully. My opinion on Uncharted 4 is exactly that, an opinion. It's subjective but then again most things are and while expectations have the potential to get out of control that doesn’t mean that just because you have high expectations any criticism you have for game is invalid.
All of this nonsense about expectations can be blamed in part on the audience because they feel the need to get so hyped, and in many cases like with basically any Peter Molyneux game, the developers are partially to blame for making promises they knew they couldn’t fulfill. But who or more so what I think is to blame is social media. Everyone constantly sharing every thought they have, picture they take, or profound quote they read on social media has turned that entire aspect of our society into one massive dick measuring competition. Extreme opinions are the ones that get the clicks therefore there is a constant stress on everyone to consider everything they consume to be either the greatest thing of all time or an absolute crime against humanity tantamount to the Armenian genocide. We very rarely play games or watch a movie or TV and walk away with a lukewarm impression then share that on social media and because the conversation is not happening around those things they are easily forgotten. Don’t let social media pressure you into thinking that you need to make hyperbolic declarations that you will soon be replacing in 2-6 months. The expectations game has poisoned social media or maybe it's the other way around but either way don’t feel bad about tweeting that you thought Far Cry 5 was good but not great and that you really enjoyed it. Not everything has to be the best of all time or the worst of all time and that’s okay.
Expectations have come to play a significant role in how we approach not only video games but almost everything in life. My goal is not to tell you what to do but to simply share with you how I want to live my life with regards to expectations of course. Take everything at face value, don’t constantly compare everything to everything else, and don’t let what someone else thinks impact your opinion. Cynicism and hyperbole got us to where we are today and if we can just approach games with a bit less gravitas then we will have more experiences like Far Cry 5.
What are your thoughts on expectations and how they effect how we play games? Is there any particular game that burned you or was a pleasant surprise because of expectations? Let me know in the comments down below!
Thanks for watching my video, If you liked what you heard don’t forget to subscribe for a new video every week. If you want more free form discussion on video games you can check out our gaming podcast HardReset or our movies podcast NoRefunds the podcast that watches bad movies so you don’t have to! Don’t forget that you can find everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com, Ill be back next week talking about difficulty in video games but until then just go play some games.
Saturday, February 2, 2019
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Hey everybody welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. This is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the video game industry as a whole. You can find everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. Now this week we're going to be discussing Alien Isolation so as usual now is the time when I issue the official spoiler warning. If you don’t want this game from five years ago spoiled for you stop watching right now…there are multiple aliens, now that that band-aid has been ripped off lets begin.
The Alien franchise is one that I was introduced to at a very young age and while the first movie scared the hell out of me and left me thirsty for more the follow-up's left something to be desired. Unpopular opinion alert: not only is Aliens not nearly as good as Alien but I actually consider it to be a mediocre action movie at best. Alien 3 was a hodgepodge mess that to this day is a black mark on David Fincher's otherwise stellar career. Alien: Resurrection was an ok slasher movie that was simple stupid fun. And the AVP movies were lacking in the heart that made either of its respective franchises solo outings so good. I eventually gave up on the series after seeing Prometheus in 2012 and feeling what I can only describe as overwhelming disappointment. Now I do understand that my attachment and love for the first Alien movie has caused me to be overly critical of almost everything that has come from the series since but I couldn’t help but long for a sequel that took the series back to the roots established in the original movie. Then on that fateful day in January of 2014 Sega announced a new game in the Alien franchise.
Upon it's announcement Alien Isolation immediately looked as though it was going to be a return to form for the series in how nearly every aspect of game was being handled. Gone were the days of loud action scenes leaving dozens if not hundreds of Xenomorph's dead; Alien Isolation takes the audience back to a claustrophobic monster movie type horror experience and utilizes the medium of video games to produce the most memorable and well polished end result the franchise has ever seen full stop. Not only is Alien Isolation better than all the sequels and spin-offs that have been made since the series' conception in 1979 but it outpaces the original in ways that only a video game can. Alien Isolation is the Alien sequel I had waited almost 20 years for.
Of everything that Alien Isolation does right the stand out is without a doubt atmosphere. Creative Assembly put on a masterclass of building an environment that felt so incredibly real that it was able to function as a foundation for the entire game. Space's felt lived in, every console, room, corridor, and hatch felt purposeful as though it was meant to be used for more than just game mechanics, and the color pallet makes the player feel the cold of space as they play. The game perfectly mimics the aesthetic of the first Alien movie. As the series has continued the newer entries like Prometheus and the AVP movies haven't been able to resist the urge to implement more advanced looking technology in an effort to enhance the sci-fi feel. While this temptation is obvious it does, in a way, break continuity and abandons any feeling of consistency from one entry to the next. Alien Isolation bucks this trend by committing to putting a 70's looking aesthetic on all technology within the game. Computers are encased in off white plastic, keyboards are large dark gray and sound very mechanical, thick monochromatic displays are everywhere, and the lighting is unapologetically fluorescent. Moving around the Sevastopol station allows players to feel like they are moving around the cramped hallways of the Nostromo from the first movie, everything looks spectacular but where Creative Assembly took their biggest risk was in the dark.
Lighting in games is a tricky balance between revealing to much to the player all at once and allowing them enough light to be able to move around and accomplish their objective. Alien Isolation takes the dark, a key element of horror in any medium, and completely covers the entire experience in it. By designing a large majority of the game to be played in the dark then limiting not only what the player can see but also how long they can see it with the flashlight Creative Assembly was able to draw out a specific type of fear that I haven't felt since I was a kid. Throughout the game being aware of ones surroundings becomes a knowledge that is no longer taken for granted; the flashlight becomes a weapon to reveal information and the batteries are it's ammunition.
Sound design and dynamic music also stand out as a means of contributing to what is arguably a perfect atmosphere. The game utilizes not only music to build tension but environmental sound effects. Some of the scariest moments throughout my two play throughs of the game were moments in which I didn’t even see the alien but I heard it. Hearing a cup fall off a counter two hundred feet down an empty silent hallway, or the metal of the ventilation system buckle under the weight of the alien as it crawled around overhead, Isolation embraces and utilizes simple sounds making them just as important as sight. And in a fairly unpopular feature the game utilizes either the microphone built into the PlayStation camera and Kinect, or the microphone in any standard headset to detect real world noise and alert NPC's to your presence. Many people hated this feature but for me the added tension of literally holding my breath as I watched the alien walk past through the slats in the locker I was hidden in made for a unique and extremely memorable experience.
After establishing such a strong foundation Creative Assembly then move onto story and once again knock it right out of the park. Like that of the first movie the story of Alien Isolation is small in scale and well contained. The writers don’t concern themselves with meaningless things like the origins of the xenomorph species or how the colonies function, they simply take a premise build justification for why it's enacted and execute on that premise in an almost flawless way. Now I wasn’t in the room when the idea for the original Alien movie was pitched but somehow I don’t think it was any more complex than "a crew of people are adrift in space trapped on a ship with a vicious alien" and when that was pitched I don’t think studio executives were raising questions about xenomorph society and how that can be expanded upon to make money.
Isolation feels like the perfect sequel to Alien because there was reasonable justification for Amanda to get on the Sevastopol station and once she's there the writers seal the doors (for the most part) and let the entire story play out on board the space station. No sub plots about government coverups or big business pursuit of wealth just a woman looking for her long lost mother locked in a room with a monster.
One of the primary complaints that I hear leveled against the game is the length. Many people are of the opinion that Isolation overstays it's welcome by about six hours. I don’t want to discredit anyone's opinion because everyone is entitled to their own but I think that the length only contributed to the horror. Just like movies horror games are a series of sprints. There will be extremely intense and terrifying moments that leave the audience sweaty and out of breath followed by a moment to of tranquility to regain their composure. The length of Isolation leads to pure exhaustion in the best possible way. Every time I caught myself thinking that I was surely nearing the end I would be given a new objective and would have to get ready for another four or five sprint moments of absolute terror. By the time I actually did finish the game I had become so accustomed to the routine that when it was over all I wanted was more. Alien Isolation is a marathon of sprints and if you're anything like me then by the end you'll want to keep sprinting but will have no where else to run.
And finally the gameplay. Some genres of video games naturally lend themselves to good gameplay while others do the complete opposite. Last week on the channel we discussed Detroit Become Human which is a good game with a good story but gameplay clearly took a back seat during development. Horror games usually strike a similar balance to choose your own adventure games in that story and scares are the priority while gameplay can easily fall by the wayside. This cannot be said about Isolation. The game controls beautifully! Movement is tight and fluid and Amanda always does exactly what I intend. The player spends the vast majority of the game completely underpowered and when they finally acquire the flame thrower even the power to repel the alien long enough to die another day feels downright powerful. A complete lack of power combined with an AI controlled Alien that learns from my previous attempts and very few scripted sequences emulates the original movie and adapts it into a video game perfectly.
For the first half of this console generation Alien Isolation was legitimately a contender to be my game of the generation. It's a game so good that I don’t even consider it when thinking of movie tie in games because it stands out so well on its own as an entirely separate experience. Alien and Alien Isolation function perfectly as a two part story without a need for a third. The game bucks the trends of the industry and its own franchise and is without a doubt a must play. As soon as the game was over I was on google checking to see if there was a sequel in development but after letting it sit with me for four years I can safely say I don’t even want a sequel, to the game or the movies. Isolation is the perfect bookend to wrap up the entire franchise and as far as I'm concerned that's what it did. Alien is over for me and Isolation was the perfect experience to go out on.
Which Alien or Predator movie or game is your favorite and what would you want to see come out of this series in the future? Let me know in the comments down below.
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