About 3 minutes into Alien Blackout I exclaimed “Holy Sh*t, it’s Double Switch!" While my wife and 4 month old were not nearly as amused by this revelation, I was sold… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Full disclosure: Alien is my favorite fictional franchise of all time. I will take Ridley Scott’s recent attempts at horror-relevance over your “Gotta Throw this Ring into the Volcano" buddy-flick any day of the week. I love Alien. So, when the teases for a new Alien game started to surface, I was over the moon.
Then, they announced it was a mobile-only sequel to 2014’s Alien Isolation and I wasn’t so sure. I loved Alien Isolation, but it was very much a “game for fans of the series", not everybody. It completely captured the ambience and character of the 1979 classic, but there were times where it just wasn’t fun to play. In addition to that, Alien Isolation was a Console/PC game. How could a mobile-only sequel live up to that?
Well, funny you should ask…
Alien Blackout takes place an indeterminate amount of time after the ending of Alien Isolation. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of series heroine (and all around bad-ass) Ellen Ripley. Amanda Ripley, interestingly enough, was not invented for this series. She made a brief appearance in the Special Edition of 1986’s Aliens. Alien Isolation and Blackout try to fill in the holes of what Amanda Ripley did after her mother disappeared. Unfortunately for Amanda, the bug problems run in her family.
I won’t go too deep into the story of Alien Isolation (you should play it), but it ends with Amanda escaping the station as it explodes (this is somewhat of a theme for the series). Alien Blackout picks up an indeterminate amount of time after that. You are on a different station (brought there by the crew you escaped the last station with), and hey, guess what, there is an Alien here too! That’s the only setup you get for Alien Blackout. You’ll get some thin exposition throughout the 7 levels of the game, but they don’t expect the next great Alien story.
You are directing four unlucky visitors through a now-derelict station in the hopes of repairing their ship so that you can all leave. You follow them (and anything else that may be around) via cameras and motion sensors in the corridors. You can tell the survivors to hide or hurry up, as well as draw a path for them to follow on the map. Your goal is to complete the objectives of the floor that you’re on, and get everyone out alive.
The sticking part here is that Weyland-Yutani (the corporation in the Alien lore, and owner of this station) was cheap and only installed the minimal amount of cameras and motion sensors. While you have constant knowledge of where the survivors are thanks to the overhead map, the lack of comprehensive visibility means that you often have no idea where the Alien is until it is too late. Survivors will sometimes tell you if they hear the Alien, and you can instruct them to hide until it goes away, but the Alien is almost always an unseen threat.
On top of that, the station’s power…station(?) was damaged, meaning you have limited power, and therefore cannot power everything at once. Cameras will always be powered, but you have to choose carefully between which doors you want to close and which motion sensors you have to activate, because they both share a limited pool of power. You also only have 8 minutes to complete each level before the station’s power cycles (creating the titular Blackout), ending your game.
The final complication is that you (Amanda Ripley) are also vulnerable to the Alien. Much like Five Nights at Freddy’s, you are monitoring this situation from another location in the station (the vents). At any point, the Alien can find you in the vents, and you have to reroute all power to close the vents to protect yourself. This leaves you completely blind on the ground for 5 or so seconds.
But is it any fun?
Yeah… actually, it’s a lot of fun.
You’ll probably hate it at first – I did. The power situation feels like a cheap tension builder (it is). The survivors sometimes take the dumbest paths to an objective. Sometimes, they just walk right into the Alien. You’ll have a good run going, and then you’re survivors will get picked off, one-by-one, seemingly beyond your control. It can be really frustrating.
But then you’ll put down the game to go do something else, only to find yourself thinking about a different strategy in Blackout.
“I know the crewman code spawns on the body in the upper-right. I could send one person to that, and send another survivor to the spot that I know they will need to be for the next part of the mission. That would save a bunch of time."
The game has stuck with me in a way that nothing since the original Rainbow Six has. I imagine, if you are into these types of games, it will stick with you too.
While I don’t want to focus too much on it, I will say that this game lives up to the aesthetic accuracy of Alien Isolation. Everything from the look of the game to the sound feels like Alien, which is remarkable for a mobile game. You can tell that the teams that made this game really did care about making it faithful to the series, as well as making it fun. This isn’t a cash-in – it’s a legitimate entry into the Alien mythology. Play it with headphones on and you may accidentally poop yourself the first time you hear the Alien scurrying through the vents to come kill you. I won’t comment if I did or not.
It’s crazy to think that a mobile game in 2019 would live up to a PC/Console game’s legacy, but I really believe that Alien: Blackout does. It may not have been the sequel I wanted, but that didn’t stop me from it being a sequel I enjoyed.
I mean, it’s a Double-Switch knockoff for Pete’s sake.