Release Date: January 24, 2019Platform: iOS (reviewed), AndroidDeveloper: Rival Games & Theory InteractivePublisher: FoxNext Games & D3 Go!Genre: Survival Horror
It’s safe to say that just about no one expected the follow-up to Alien: Isolation to be a mobile game inspired by the Five Nights At Freddy’s puzzle-horror formula, but that’s exactly what developers Rival Games and Theory Interactive bring us in Alien: Blackout. It’s easy to dismiss mobile games or view them as a downgrade from console experiences, but this $5 sequel is worth every penny and then some, with engaging gameplay, atmospheric presentation, spot-on voice acting, and just enough scares to do right by the franchise.
Blackout takes place shortly after the events of Isolation. You play as Amanda Ripley (daughter of Ellen Ripley, of course), who is hiding in an air duct from a slimy, sneering xenomorph, which has eviscerated everybody else on space station Mendel. Ripley’s trapped with no hope of escape when a ship, whose unwitting crew is in dire need of supplies, docks with the station seeking assistance. Ripley strikes a deal with the crew, agreeing to guide them to the supplies they need using the station’s radio and security systems in exchange for a ride out of dodge.
The game is divided into seven levels, in which you camp out in the station’s vents, use a tablet to communicate with the crew and help them avoid the xenomorph by drawing routes for them, opening and closing doors, and watching the station’s security cameras and motion sensors to track the monster’s movements and keep your comrades safe. Each device requires a certain amount of power, and you’ve only got so much electricity to delegate, which demands strategy and quick thinking. In addition to having sharp eyes, your ears have to be on high alert as well–at any point, you may hear the xenomorph stalking after you in the vents, and the only way to protect yourself is to shut the vent door. But you’d better make sure you only shut it as a last resort, as this uses up all of the security system’s power.
The gameplay is simple and tight and everything works smoothly, which is always a must with mobile games, especially when there are dozens of other, easier-to-use apps on my phone or tablet. Blackout is well-designed and a breeze to navigate, which allows you to concentrate on implementing strategies and keeping you and your fellow survivors alive without having to fight unintuitive controls. The game is challenging at first and requires a lot of trial and error, but once you get the swing of things and learn to play efficiently, the difficulty decreases precipitously.
Blackout’s greatest strength, without a doubt, is its presentation. The visuals are terrific and don’t signal a budget price tag whatsoever. Environments and character models look crisp (particularly the xenomorph, which is guaranteed to make your heart skip a beat the first time it lunges at you in the vents), but what’s really impressive here is the sense of mood and atmosphere the developers have created. You really feel like you’re planted in the Alien universe we’ve known and loved for years, which can’t be easy to achieve.
Sound design is on par with the graphics (headphones are a must), with immersive ambient noise and voice actors that make the characters feel like real people, something of a rarity for games of this scale. The voice acting is quite literally a game changer: sacrificing members of the crew is an effective strategy, as you don’t need all members to survive to clear a level. What’s brilliant about this is that it can actually feel terrible serving one of your new friends up on a silver platter to the xenomorph in order to save another’s skin.
All elements of Alien: Blackout conspire to create a slick-looking, tense experience that stands as one of the best mobile game tie-ins I’ve ever played. The replay value is low on this one, and it isn’t exactly a game you’ll obsess over and get sucked in for days and days (you can probably beat it in the amount of time it takes to watch any of the Alien movies). The Five Nights at Freddy’s comparison is unavoidable, but it’s arguable that Blackout pulls off the security-cam horror gimmick more effectively. For the price, it’s hard to complain about a game so polished and fun.
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.