Steven Martinez / Reporter
A popular way to get in the spooky spirit of Halloween is to watch scary movies. But an even better way to feel the thrills and chills of horror is to experience them first hand in two of this month’s video game releases.
The “Alien” movie franchise has had a lasting impact on both science fiction and horror since Ridley Scott’s original film and James Cameron’s action packed sequel. The games based on the popular franchise have not had such a storied history, with last year’s “Aliens: Colonial Marines” being one of the worst received games with the “Alien” name. Producer Sega and developer Creative Assembly aim to fix their missteps with the recently released “Alien: Isolation.”
Set between the events of the original film and its sequel, players step into the shoes of Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter who has followed in her mother’s footsteps as a deep space engineer. When word reaches Amanda that the flight recorder of the Nostromo, the ship from the original film, had been found, she jumps at the chance to find answers to her mother’s disappearance. This puts her straight into a life and death situation aboard a decaying space station where the same kind of creature that stalked her mother is now on the hunt for her.
Creative Assembly went a long way in recreating the look and feel of “Alien” with the cramped hallways, 1970s era computer tech and atmospheric use of lighting and sound. They put much effort into retaining the aesthetic of the original film and it pays off in setting up a familiar setting for fans to experience. One other nice nod was to include the original cast for a special game mode called “Crew Expendable.” While Sigourney Weaver plays only a small role in the main game, it was great to see the original Ripley give her support.
Unlike “Colonial Marine’s” gameplay that focused on twitch shooting and waves of easily killed xenomorphs, “Isolation” pits you against, most often, a single invincible killer who uses heightened senses to track you down and end your life in one quick encounter. The game does take its time introducing its main antagonist as you first encounter disgruntled humans just trying to survive the alien and creepy malfunctioning androids that will attack you on sight. This does play well with the game’s pacing as it slowly introduces the setting and characters and then quickly ratchets up the tension as you hide from a grisly fate at the hands of the extraterrestrial terror.
As you first begin to encounter the alien, you are ill equipped to try and fight back. Blueprints found around the station will give you access to several helpful tools you can create with parts littered in nooks and crannies. They range from noisemakers that can distract an enemy, EMP mines that disable electronics like synthetic enemies and Molotovs that are perhaps one of the best defenses against the alien.
It isn’t until a few hours in that you receive a more powerful arsenal like a shotgun and flamethrower. Fire is one of your best friends in “Isolation” as the flame thrower and Molotov are one of the few ways to get the alien to back off should it see you but, it can never be killed.
Most of the gameplay consists of you staying out of sight of the creature while completing objectives around the station, hiding in lockers, holding your breath and leaning away from the door to avoid detection should he be searching nearby. You will die, a lot, especially as you learn all the ins and outs of the best ways to hide and move without being detected. The not so conveniently placed save points are your only checkpoints so frustration can quickly set in as the alien sends you back to a load screen every time you die. Still it does play into increasing the tension as the stakes are higher for a game over.
“Alien: Isolation” is one of the few games to carry both its name and spirit faithfully from the films. While it can be frustrating to face an enemy that you cannot kill, if you are looking for an experience that will keep you on the edge of your seat in pools of sweat, “Isolation” is one of the best “Alien” games in recent memory and a great horror game to boot.
‘THE EVIL WITHIN’
On the other end of the horror spectrum, producer Bethesda Softworks’ and developer Tango Gameworks’ “The Evil Within” is the new title from “Resident Evil 4” director Shinji Mikami. Regarded as one of the greatest games in the “Resident Evil” series, it is no surprise that his newest title borrows heavily from its influences.
The game takes place in fictional Krimson City, where you take on the role of detective Sebastian Castellanos who answers an emergency call to the scene of grisly murders at a mental hospital. Things quickly go from bad to worse as you are thrust from one insane situation to another, fighting, running and hiding from horrific creatures, always questioning your sanity and grip on reality throughout.
A survival horror game at its roots, “The Evil Within” plays much like Mikami’s previous games, with an emphasis on shooter mechanics and stealth. The stealth element is introduced first as you are captured by a bloody butcher who you must avoid and hide from. But it isn’t long after that when you begin to accrue a massive arsenal of upgradeable weapons such as a pistol, shotgun, crossbow, rifle and grenades. While this should make you feel like an unstoppable force, the limited ammunition you find along the way forces you to think carefully about every situation, making the choice of a stealth approach or going in guns blazing a large part of the tension.
The enemies you face range from easily dispatched zombie-like creatures, to larger “boss” enemies who can only be killed at certain times, such as The Keeper. One of the more interesting encounters in the game, The Keeper is a large human like enemy with a barbed wire wrapped safe in place of his head and a large meat tenderizer with a huge spike on its other end. While he can be killed, he can respawn with the help of other safes in the area and will actually kill himself just to appear right next to you where he can quickly send you back to your last checkpoint after a grisly demise.
While jump scares are the focus of “The Evil Within’s” horror, the lighting and sound create an atmosphere that sets you up for the more common cheap frights. And the amount of detail put into every dilapidated wall, creepy forest and bloody corridor pulls you in much further. The blood and gore factor is ratcheted up to the extreme, with body parts and viscera spraying every which way so those that feel queasy at the sight of excessive violence may wish to avoid this one.
The similarities to past survival horror games are evident in “The Evil Within” but don’t detract from enjoying its creepy atmosphere and tense gameplay. From not being able to move while aiming down the sights of your weapons, to the focus on upgradeable equipment and skills and the familiar behind the shoulder view of “Resident Evil 4,” the déjà vu I felt playing “The Evil Within” wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just felt a little too familiar.
And despite a narrative that makes as much sense as a “Resident Evil” title, I was thoroughly engrossed throughout the game and often needed a break just to catch my breath from its breakneck pacing. If you like your horror games where the main character can fight back and stand a chance at survival, “The Evil Within” may be right up your dark and bloody alley.