It may be a mobile game, but don’t hold that against it.
On the news that the next video game set in the Alien universe was to be on mobile devices, there was some understandable vocal disappointment. We haven’t had an Alien game since 2014’s (divisive) Alien: Isolation, and that game was good enough to leave fans hungry for more of that idiosyncratic cat-and-mouse tension. The good news is, then, that Alien: Blackout is going all in on delivering that tension; albeit on smaller platforms and on a smaller scale.
Set between Alien: Isolation and 1986’s Aliens – it’s not a direct sequel to Isolation but it does take place some time after it – FoxNext and D3 Go!’s Alien: Blackout sees Amanda Ripley on a broken space station, once again isolated, with a stalking xenomorph on board. A small crew of four with a broken ship stumble across the station, and essentially it’s up to Amanda to keep them and herself alive, from the confines of a security terminal with a limited power supply, across seven levels. She’s also doing it all against an eight-minute timer; once the clock runs out, so does your power. Blackout.
Five Nights’ at Freddy’s absolutely comes to mind; its bones shape Blackout.
The idea was born from, of all things, Alien Covenant, Senior Producer Josh Austin tells me. “You know that part with David closing all the doors to funnel the alien through? I thought: this would be an extremely fun mechanic.”
Five Nights’ at Freddy’s absolutely comes to mind; its bones shape Blackout. But there’s more going on here, thanks to the unpredictability of the alien and of course, the sense of urgency that comes from shepherding NPCs through a labyrinthian infrastructure that includes a network of vents and hiding spots.
You can draw paths with your finger for these NPCs to travel, as well as affect basic behavior using ‘stop, hide, and hurry up’ commands. There’s a temptation to maintain a constant eye on their progress to speed things up, but it’s more important to track their nimble and often invisible foe. This can be done, imperfectly, in a couple of ways: while juggling your power supply, you can attempt to locate it on your terminal through floor-based motion trackers, which, if triggered on the right floor, will show her as a red dot on your screen. You can also attempt to see it through cameras, though you won’t see it while it’s in vents.
Sound is a big part of Blackout.
“You're always trying to keep an eye on him and trying to keep your NPC’s alive,” says Austin. “We set up specific blind spots sometimes that would make it more intense, and add to the atmosphere. It’s a security terminal –it’s not supposed to have everything tracked.”
You can also hear it. Sound is a big part of Blackout, as it was in Isolation, and can be used in a number of ways. The xenomorph is triggered by sound, so you can shut doors in random parts of the station to throw it off the crew’s scent. Conversely, if you make too much noise while directing your crew, the xenomorph will come for you, in which case you’ll need to trip the emergency door and power down the entire station.
“The Xenomorph doesn't do the same thing twice.”
In other words, it’s a classic Alien cat-and-mouse dynamic, and that means it’s hard. Though you carry on if you lose a crew member, if you lose all of them, you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the level. “The Xenomorph doesn't do the same thing twice,” says Austin. “So you might play a level and it might come from here or it might come from somewhere else. It’s very unpredictable but we fought very hard to keep it that way so that we could make it a really good Alien experience.”
From what I played, Alien: Blackout certainly looks like it could be a really good Alien experience, and what’s more, it’s a full game without the baggage of microtransactions that we have come to dread from mobile titles (to be clear, there are zero microtransactions. It's $4.99 for the game and then you're done). I certainly spent some time panicking while playing it, but not because of the reasons I thought going in.
Lucy O'Brien is Executive Editor of Features at IGN. Follow her on Twitter.