Alien: Isolation Isn’t For Me (Game Review)

Alien: Isolation Review - The classic sci-fi enemy, the Xenomorph.

Alien: Isolation Review - Why the game simply isn't for me.

This week, Alien: Isolation has been nominated for a lot of BAFTA awards; in fact, that’s an understatement, as apparently the tribute to Ridley Scott’s franchise has picked up the highest number of nominations at this year’s awards ceremony. And I find myself sitting here wondering: WHY?

As a disclaimer, I’m generally not a huge fan of games that rely heavily on stealth, and I’m not going to say it’s a bad game, because evidently a lot of people enjoy it and it has a lot going for it for it to have received so many nominations for awards. However, it’s clear that nominations are not based on quality of game design, as a large number of players have a game-breaking bug not two minutes into the game, completely preventing progression without repeatedly restarting and crossing your fingers and toes in the hopes that maybe this time the door will be unlocked. I encountered this bug while streaming the game and it took 45 minutes of trying various “fixes” posted on the forum before a few game restarts finally seemed to resolve the problem and allow me to progress.

The fact that this has not been fixed, or at least hadn’t when I played a month or so after release, is absolutely astounding. Perhaps it has been fixed now, but the game has left a bad taste in my mouth. Because of my horrid first experience with the game, I just can’t seem to see it being an award winner.

I did persist after finally getting past what my friends have deemed as “Door-Gate 2014”, and honestly my opinion on the game didn’t improve. I feel like the gameplay is pretty lazy, as it seems so far that my entire purpose is to simply avoid vents with acid dripping from them, and walk relatively swiftly in the opposite direction of androids. Don’t get me wrong, I got a few decent scares out of being grabbed unexpectedly, but it was always a case of me not seeing the vent or not knowing an android was coming round the corner, and I corrected it next time I attempted the same corridor.

Alien: Isolation Review - Artificially inflated difficulty grinds my gears.

The one thing that really grinds my gears, however, is the lack of saves. I’ve had a big debate with others who enjoyed the game, who feel that infrequent saves are a good thing and should be preserved particularly in a survival horror setting. To some extent, I agree: the feeling that if you screw this up that’s it is incredibly powerful. However, I don’t feel that punishing your players is ever a good idea, regardless of genre. And frankly, the infrequent save points felt incredibly punishing. If I complete a significant milestone that was difficult for me to accomplish, then enter an elevator and return to my start point to tackle the next task, I expect there to be a save, either autosave/checkpoint style, or a save point for me to use when I’m about to enter or exit the elevator. Several times I accomplished multiple milestones, only to make a silly mistake and have to go back to the beginning where my last save was, which was unfortunately several milestones back because there had been no opportunity to save between.

One might say that it’s my fault for making a silly mistake, and sure, I’ll grant you that. But what if it weren’t? What if I encountered yet another crippling game bug like the door that never unlocked at the beginning of the game and required me to restart? What if my game crashed? Should I be punished for those too despite them not being my fault? To me, as a gamer and not a game designer, it just seems like good practice to include regular save points, at the very least after each major milestone is completed.

I’m not saying that games shouldn’t be difficult, but this practice of withholding checkpoints from players and making them replay long portions of the game if they screw up feels like a lazy way to artificially inflate difficulty, rather than making the game truly difficult and terrifying in itself. There were parts that were difficult, but most of the time I found them frustrating rather than challenging, as I mostly had to hide behind objects or in rooms repeatedly to wait for patrols to pass.

Again, I want to reinforce that I don’t think Alien: Isolation is a bad game. It has been nominated for awards in gameplay, music and design categories, and I know plenty of people who have played it through and enjoyed it immensely. However, that is not to say that it is above criticism, and I feel like there are a lot of areas the game could be significantly improved. I can even see how enjoyable it might be to try and play cat and mouse with perhaps the scariest sci-fi creature of all time. Sadly, from my poor first impressions of the game due to a game-breaking bug plus having to repeat the same 20 – 30 minute section of the game due to making a mistake or getting lost and not having a save to keep me going, one thing has become quite clear: Alien: Isolation just isn’t for me.

First Impressions: Darkest Dungeon

First Impressions: Darkest Dungeon - A gothic roguelike RPG which is strangely punishing & still fun.

First Impressions: Darkest Dungeon - How will your party members die?

When I heard about Darkest Dungeon, I was dubious. I’ve tried plenty of roguelikes and self-proclaimed “hard games” in the last year or so that have either not lived up to their claims, or have been decidedly un-fun. But people kept talking about this gothic, dark RPG and it got me all interested, so I read some reviews on Steam and couldn’t help but cackle at some of the funny ones. After reading about someone’s paladin becoming a kleptomaniac and stealing from the party, I was sold.

Darkest Dungeon is all about failure, death, and losing everything you’ve worked hard on. You recruit a squad of heroes whom you send out to fight for you, and inevitably they die. A lot. And you get to watch as that hero you actually kinda liked just keels over after somehow surviving on zero hitpoints for the last three battles. On top of that, there’s the “Stress” mechanic which fills up as bad things happen to your heroes and party. When it reaches full, your hero will gain an “Affliction”. These will have negative effects on that adventurer, such as causing them to retreat further back through the party, skip their turn, or even harm themselves.

For a start, the gameplay is fun! I was surprised that I didn’t find losing party members frustrating. I was a little sad when my Crusader died as he was really awesome and the real hard hitter of the group, but I’m hoping another one comes up in the village to be recruited in the future. Hopefully soon, too. The combat is quite slow but that works for the game style, and each adventurer you recruit will have the potential for different abilities, which can make your party feel like a different make-up every time.

First Impressions: Darkest Dungeon - The dark art style suits the gameplay.

The art style is gorgeous, and fits perfectly with the dark, gothic theme. It’s not a particularly happy game, and that works immensely well with the rough 2d character and environment artwork. Atmospherically, it’s excellent.

Like I said, combat is slow, and the game is not at all forgiving. It is quite possible that you’ll fail quests and lose an entire party of adventurers you’ve been working with for a while, including rare items such as an accuracy boosting ring I’d put on my highwayman shortly before he got critted in the face one room over. If you make the mistake of getting attached to any one hero in your party, prepare yourself for the worst or be sorely disappointed (though we all know you’ll likely be disappointed even if you steel yourself against the pain of loss).

All in all, I would totally recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good dungeon-crawler. Darkest Dungeon is in Early Access on Steam which I generally dislike, but it’s in a great state for play, and considering how much fun it is I would absolutely encourage you to pick it up if it sounds like your kind of thing.

First Impressions: Darkest Dungeon by Red Hook Studios.

Game Review: The Sims 4

Game Review: The Sims 4 - Sim interactions & relationships are very much improved.

When a company comes out with a follow-up game to an incredibly popular, long-standing series like The Sims, there’s always the risk (and arguably the reality) that they won’t be able to please everyone. In fact, there’s a very big chance that they won’t end up pleasing anyone. Luckily, that doesn’t seem like it was entirely the case with The Sims 4.

I’m a long-standing fan of the series, and have been playing ever since getting my first computer as a preteen. I owned nearly all of the expansions, and invested countless hours into Sims legacies, often documenting them on various community sites for other people’s (and my own) entertainment. So, when The Sims 4 was announced it seemed like a no-brainer that I’d pick it up and continue where its predecessor left off. Except…there was a lot of content missing from the most recent game in the series. Among some of the most shocking of these missing features are swimming pools, toddlers, and a lack of open world to name but a few.

However, I picked it up all the same and gave it a try, and frankly I’m really glad I did. A lot of the changes they’ve made have been vast improvements, such as their self-proclaimed “smarter Sims”. It’s now easier to see what’s on your Sim’s mind, what they want, and how they’re feeling. This also directly influences your Sim’s personality; if your Sim is in a bad mood, that’ll be reflected in the actions they take. Angry? Maybe your Sim will take that out on their little brother, or in my case, on the giant teddy bear upstairs in your little brother’s bedroom. Your Sims also have goals, not just one single aspiration, giving a lot more options for development of a character. This isn’t even scratching the surface; there’s a lot of new career options including professional gaming and livestreaming, games development, and a more dedicated author career path.

Game Review: The Sims 4 - Building has been made a lot smoother, with emphasis on making it easier.

Building is also a lot smoother. I don’t personally use the room-building method — which allows the player to modularly build their house by slotting in rooms one at a time — but it’s definitely made things a lot easier on people who aren’t comfortable with normal building in the game. I’ve found myself inspired to make prettier houses all over again, whereas by the time I’d reached the third game I was bored and using the same style of house over and over.

There’s no doubt that when it comes to the player’s Sims themselves, though, they’re the focus of the new game. The character development and relationship options are much more realistic, the facial expressions making the characters seem more approachable and lifelike (without bordering on Uncanny Valley!), and the social interactions far more fleshed out than they’ve ever been at all ages.

Game Review: The Sims 4 - Missing features & bugs can get frustrating.

That doesn’t mean that The Sims 4 is perfect. The missing features do get to you after a while. Most of them are unimportant: I don’t really miss swimming pools (except for the chance to kill unwanted Sims off easily…), and toddlers were an annoyance to me more than anything. But things like the lack of open world do get frustrating, and I can’t fathom why so many careers are missing. Since I’m playing a sort of legacy, it’s bothersome that there’s no particularly expensive, large lot to waste all my money on, and that babies are just objects that can’t be moved from their bassinet. They’re also incredibly annoying!

I also didn’t like some of the changes they made that were meant to be improvements, such as only having three traits to begin with and having to unlock more traits as you play. That sounds like a great idea, but I’ve been playing the same family for over 20 hours and none of my Sims have unlocked additional traits yet. They haven’t got enough lifetime achievement points to do so! That makes me wonder how it’s possible with a normal Sim lifespan, as I currently have it set to “Long” just to make sure I achieve everything I want to.

Some of the lacking or “crippled” features do make it feel like the game took a massive step back, sometimes back as far as The Sims 1 if you remember the babies there. I’ve also encountered quite a few bugs, such as my recurring maid never showing up unless I exit the game and restart, in which case she apparently “showed up” while I was gone, but she still hasn’t actually cleaned anything. The game is meant to be pretty stable, but first of all, I’ve had several crash-to-desktops that have resulted in several hours of lost gameplay, and secondly it only utilises 4GB of RAM as it’s a 32-bit executable.

All in all, the game is fun, and I’m glad that I picked it up. But frankly, I’m more glad that I got it for a reduced price from a third-party retailer. As much as I love The Sims and am enjoying its fourth installment, I don’t think it’s worth shelling out the €60+ for it through Origin. Maybe if they fix a few of the issues and implement a few more features without them being DLCs, but otherwise I’d suggest waiting to pick it up from somewhere on sale if you’re interested in playing it. Otherwise, you can watch me streaming The Sims 4 on my Twitch.tv channel beforehand, if you’d like to see what it’s like before you buy.

Game Review: The Sims 4 - I'd recommend picking it up, but not for the current price tag.