Impression: Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation: alien behind burning gas leak
I’m probably safe behind this burning gas leak.

Alien Isolation is like owning a big, black cat, that hates you

It’s beautiful and you love it, but as much as you want to, you can’t keep it because it always tries to trip you at the top of the stairs.

Alien Isolation is probably the best looking game I have played so far. I am a fan of the original Alien movies (yes even the fourth one – shut up!) and no game in the Alien universe came even remotely close to capturing the look and feel of the movies (in this case, especially the first movie) so perfectly. That is why it’s utterly frustrating for me that Alien isolation is a survival horror stealth game – even though it’s a fitting choice. Again it’s not a genre I am particularly fond of (but I like to keep an open mind), especially if it’s so well done as in Alien Isolation. The intentionally cheap looking droids for example are a horrifying trip through the uncanny valley for me. Being spotted by one of them and starting to run straight into the arms of another one is impressively unpleasant. The sound design is great and knowing by the rumbling of the air ducts that a big, terrifying creature will probably turn up around the next corner, or from the ceiling or from a vent behind me, is exciting up to downright exhausting.

Alien Isolation: Alien running towards you
Wait a minute…

If it wasn’t so good, I could enjoy it more

The game is so well done it had me at the edge of my seat most of the time I played it. It’s just that I really don’t enjoy feeling helpless and hunted all the time. I like games to provide me with the means to live out my basic power fantasies – stealth and horror games usually can’t provide this. Yes, there are ways to fight back, but most of the time firing a gun got me into more trouble than running away screaming or just sitting in a locker, being grateful that the black monster does not seem to have a functioning nose.

Alien Isolation: alien close up
…that’s not a cat!

It’s not just playing monster bait that bothers me, but I find that waiting in a locker, or a dark corner, or a vent, is rather boring. Especially in a game where you die often and that doesn’t allow you to save anywhere. I understand that it’s a design choice to only be able to save at certain points, because it adds a lot to the tension, but for a player like me it becomes frustrating fast. I don’t enjoy finding the perfect route to get unseen through that corridor. I want to know what happens next. Stop killing me all the time and let me enjoy my space adventure!

Alien Isolation is a great game if you are into survival horror, and it’s a masterpiece when it comes to set-design and atmosphere. Some time in the future, when I’m all grown up, I’ll give it another try.

Alien Isolation: death by alien
Mr. Tinkles!?

Impression: Alien Breed 2: Assault + Alien Breed 3: Descent

Alien Breed 2: Assault
Alien Breed isn’t like Forza at all.

I remember reading about the first Alien Breed game in a (printed – on paper) PC-gaming-magazine – and by ‘first’ I do not mean the direct predecessor to the game, that I will be talking about shortly, but the original game released for PC in 1993. The screenshots promised a dark alien top-down-shooter full of violent action and suspense, which made it frustrating that it took me some time to get a copy of the game through the usual schoolyard connections. When I was finally able to install and launch the game on my trusty 386 (21 MHz, 2MB RAM) excitement quickly gave way to disappointment. It wasn’t what I had hoped for. The graphics and gameplay became bland and repetitive fast.

I didn’t play the first entry in the remake series, ‘Alien Breed: Evolution’, but since the first two games where released suspiciously close to each other in the same year (2010) I’m guessing the experience won’t differ that much. This is certainly the case with Alien Breed 2 and 3, which is why I decided to put them into one article. Team17 managed to transfer the series very well in the spirit of the originals. After a really nice comic intro, I quickly felt unimpressed again. The graphics are nothing to get excited about. They’re functional, which would be okay for me if they didn’t use the same mud-color palette all the way through. It all feels too familiar. Abandoned on an large space ship infested with (standard, run of the mill) aliens and some rouge AI talking too much. Which is about all the narrative we get. I felt myself reminded of Dead Space most of the time. ‘Go there to repair the bridge/reactor/door/cart that brings you to the bridge/reactor/door/cart, that you went out to repair in the first place’ – just less exciting, uglier and without the ultra violence. I realize that this is an unfair comparison because Alien Breed clearly didn’t set out to be another dead space and it’s certainly not a AAA production, but that’s what you get for being so unoriginal and having no depth at all.

Alien Breed 3: Descent
What really sets the three Alien Breeds apart from each other is the elaborate recoloring of the HUD (in this case a bold brownish-orange in Alien Breed 3: Descent).


I guess apart from the bland setting it’s an okay, but very superficial top-down shooter, which might keep you entertained for a short while. It probably works best as a coop experience. I probably won’t try to confirm that and instead play ‘Dead Space’ or ‘System Shock’, or even the also not very good, but still better game ‘Space Siege’. At ten Euros per game they are fairly priced, but if you buy all three entries you might feel that you bought the same game thrice.


Review: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Alan Wake's American Nightmare: a typical alan wake riddle
Now, which of these three switches should I pull?

Not just an American nightmare

Unfortunately, playing games in alphabetical order means that ‘Alan Wake’s American Nightmare’ was next, trying its best to undo the semi-good impression that ‘Alan Wake’ had left me with. The spinoff to the original game was released in 2012 and supposed to tell a more action oriented and less serious episode.

As I already stated in my review of the original, the action part of ‘Alan Wake’, while solid, grew boring fast on me and it was the same with the spinoff. Yes, they expanded the weapon arsenal, but that didn’t change the point-flashlight-then-shoot mechanic. Very much like in the real world, fighting gets much easier if you are handed a machine gun, which is either a good or a bad thing – the fights are boring, but they are over fast.

No more madness

I was hoping they’d go for all out weirdness story wise, but there isn’t much story to begin with. Everything feels much cheaper compared to the original. Instead of an insane Heavy Metal shootout, we only get a regular shootout with some Heavy Metal playing in the background. The game looks worse. It has a lot less cinematic cut scenes. The writing is bad and the voice acting bland. The only thing that made me happy, was that they kept the guy who did the puzzles – they are still so insultingly easy, that it feels like the one good joke in the game.

I did a lot of running from A to B and back, only to find out that they used the cheapest trick in game writing to not only reuse all of their three locations, but also had me basically do the same stuff I had already done there, again – and again. At that point I decided I didn’t want to spend another minute with this game, but I had to return and make a screenshot and finished it anyway. It’s probably not as bad as I make it sound. It’s just that you shouldn’t play this right after the far superior original game.

We might not have become the best of friends, but you deserved better Alan Wake.

Review Part 2: Alan Wake

Alan Wake: riding a mining car in darkness across a bridge surrounded by birds
Alan Wake continues the old gaming tradition of making birds most annoying

Not the brightest bulb on the porch

Welcome to finishing off ‘Alan Wake‘. I liked my adventure with him, but I am also glad it’s over. The second part of the game felt less like a chore than the first three episodes, but it still felt artificially stretched in many places.

I enjoyed how the game left me in the dark (ha!) about what’s really going on. There are multiple ways to interpret the story, but fortunately the game never explains what’s actually ‘real’ in the game. This serves the atmosphere quite well, and leads to some clever moments.

Which stands in stark contrast to the dumber than dumb puzzles the game still feels like throwing at me. ‘Press B to solve’. Then again, more challenging puzzles probably would have ruined Alan Wake’s pacing. Remedy should have left them out completely. They fulfill no other purpose than to insult the player’s intelligence, which the game doesn’t hold in high regard anyway. The hints the game gives via Alan’s inner monologue are as subtle as a fat man charging at you with a chainsaw: ‘The viking boat looked imposing – almost like a battering ram’.  Gee, I wonder how I’ll get the door open.

Alan Wake: Car driving on a road
It’s like Forza Horizon 3, but more stable.

Who are you?

While ‘Matthew Porretta’, the voice of Alan Wake, clearly has never been drunk in his live and thus fails to voice act appropriately, the game designers and writers certainly didn’t lack the experience. I appreciate that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to wink at you at the right moments. That is until the second half, where the tone of the game goes all over the place. From completely over the top weirdness in Episode 4 (heavy metal concert shootout) to a more Hollywood action comedy in Episode 5. Yes, that pump action shotgun is fun, but a wacky sidekick added on top of that and your already brittle horror mood evaporates. Even though these episodes felt out of place, they still were a lot of fun. The finale on the other hand felt like a couple of end battles strung together that ended in an underwhelming boss battle (but at least it was over fast).

This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay twelve hour game. Still I enjoyed my time with ‘Alan Wake’. It’s pretty looks (even for an seven year old game) and the interesting story kept me entertained til the end.

Review Part 1: Alan Wake

Alan Wake staring at a bed
Finally – all the repetitive shooting had worn me out.

Confessions of a writer descending into madness

First the good news: Alan Wake is good enough to make me want to play the whole game. The bad news: it’s too long (more on that later) and thus it keeps me from writing on this here blog. I decided to split my review into two pieces. Alan Wake consist of six episodes. In this part of the review I will tell you about my experience of episodes 1 to 3 and part two will tackle the rest. I will probably use this method again in the future – Alien Isolation lingers right around the corner.

About the other guy (Alan Wake)

Alan Wake is a third person horror action adventure released by Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Quantum Break) in 2010. The story focuses on psychological horror elements with a good dash of mystery thriller. For reasons I can’t explain, I am enjoying it – it’s really not my kind of genre (neither the perspective, nor the setting). Maybe it’s because as a fan of video games I am just thankful for any story that had at least some thought put into it. Also the writing is decent and the voice acting great. The sad thing is, that it’s rather hard to get to the story bits. For some (probably wrong, business related) reasons, they get interrupted by repetitive fight sequences and a lot of running around in the woods. The combat system is entertaining, but after killing your 50th possessed woodworker with a flashlight and a shot gun it just feels like a grind. The same goes for the woods: they’re dark and atmospheric (even though littered with uncharged batteries and ammunition), but after a while you start wondering why they didn’t just let you jump to the next cut scene. It’s a gripe I have with many of these games, whether they be Max Payne, Uncharted or Tomb Raider. Entertaining, movie-like stuff, cut to pieces by repetitive stuff. The actual gameplay often feels tacked on.

Another thought on atmosphere – all the shooting of ghostly burly men doesn’t feel scary. I think Alan is a bit too much of a bad ass.

I am now getting ahead of myself by predicting the conclusion for the second part of my review: This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay (at least) twelve hour game.

Impression: Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers

Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers: a wwII fighter plane trailing the remnants of a shot down enemy plane
It certainly didn’t stop after three.

Luckily it’s not just about Carriers…

Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers is an air combat arcade game with an unfortunate name. It was released in 2012 by Games Farm and is part of a series of other Air Conflict games with less silly names.

As the name suggests, it’s set in the pacific, in World War II, and you either destroy Japanese or US ships and airplanes. You do this via ultra simplistic controls (‘hold ‘Y’ to take off carrier’), which don’t get in the way of the arcade appeal. If you want to, you can switch to ‘simulation’ controls, which will then get in the way of the arcade appeal. If you’re at it: switch to the beautiful cockpit view, that takes away two thirds of your (preferably TV-) screen and you are set for disappointment. This goes well with the boring multi stage battles, which make up the game’s campaign.

But if you take the game for what it is – a simple arcade game – you can actually have fun with it for some short intervals. It even looks pretty if you stay far enough away from the ground and any naval vessel. Sometimes the graphics glitched on me, but it remained playable.

It’s not the game I asked for, after enduring some Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Especially since it lacks the ridiculous and cinematic story telling, but gameplay wise it’s a little bit more up my alley. I might return to this if I remember it at the right five minutes of boredom.

Impression: AI War: Fleet Command

AI War: Fleet Command: a scene of a space battle
I like the ship in the middle best.

Remember my last post? The one about Age of Empires II – HD Edition, where I told you, that right now I’m not in a situation where I want to spend hours upon hours in strategy games, because of life? A life I mainly want to spend playing hours upon hours of CRPGs I already put hours upon hours into when I was a teenager? Well, lucky me – next entry is ‘AI Wars: Fleet Command’ by Arcen Games, released in 2009. A deep, ultra complex, hardcore space RTS with a lot of text, and even more text. If a game offers you three different ways to execute a command in the first tutorial, you should be wary. After 45 minutes I was still stuck in the tutorials, and after I understood, that this is mainly a co-op endeavor, which wants to be played with other humans (boo!) I stopped trying to get into it. Which is a shame, because it felt like there’s a really good game hidden beneath all the samey looking buttons, boring menus and ‘practical’ graphics. This goes straight on the ‘when I am a pensioner’-pile.

Impression: Age of Empires II: HD Edition

Age of Empires 2 - HD Edition: camel riders attack foot soldiers
Kill, camels!

Ah, the mighty ‘Age of Empires II’ by Ensemble Studios. It’s a classic Real Time Strategy Game – resource gathering, base building, killing of all enemies on the map – with a bit of ‘Civilization’-like progression on top. I bought this purely for nostalgic reasons. As a teenager I probably put hundreds of hours into this game (without ever getting any good at it) back in 1999, as I had done with its predecessor two years before. The HD Edition, by Hidden Path Entertainment, makes it run smoothly on newer systems and seems to add a lot of content, which is a shame because I really don’t feel like putting time into it. I used to really like the more realistic look of AoE2, compared to its competitors of the time, but the game certainly aged worse than I did. It’s not just the looks though – it just feels old. There’s still a certain charm to it, but it doesn’t manage to recreate the same magic for me as, e.g. a ‘Baldur’s Gate’ manages to do again and again. It’s a clear candidate for the ‘I will come back to this, should I ever get unemployed and/or alienate my social environment enough’-pile.

Impression: Ace Combat: Assault Horizon – Enhanced Edition

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon - Enhanced Edition: hand shielding from incoming fighter jet
Just grab it at the right moment!

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon – Enhanced Edition was originally released in 2011 for consoles and it only took Namco two years to port it to PC. I already played the game for a short while after I bought it – it happens – and only remember being unimpressed and slightly disappointed. I now relived those emotions. The game looks like a really (really!) stupid action movie from the 80s or early 90s, which I regard as a thing of beauty, but it just doesn’t deliver. There’s not even a volley ball scene with pilots all oiled up in sunscreen.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon - Enhanced Edition: sweaty protagonist shield eyes with hand
That’s no sunscreen… !

The tutorial is fun. You shoot rockets at planes and the results are beautiful, but as soon as you realize, that you have to engage half the enemies in ‘dog fight mode’, it becomes clear how extremely dumbed down the controls are. It’s a really basic arcade game. This comes even more apparent in the second mission, which lets you play as a door gunner of a helicopter just pointing the mouse at everything that moves.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon - Enhanced Edition: A devastated village and burning wrecks from the perspective of a helicopter door gunner
After bringing peace to the region, the locals will probably celebrate me as their hero.

Speaking of controls – why is this game easier to play with a keyboard than with a controller? Who cares! It got repetitive with Mission 3 and I consider this ‘done’. Is there something similar out their, that feels less like an arcade game and takes a more realistic approach, without being a hardcore simulation? That’s what I want.

Review: ABZÛ

ABZU: protagonist swiming with blue wales
Those ain’t fish!

ABZÛ is an underwater walking simulator by Giant Squid, released in summer of 2016. I knew what I was getting into, because I had heard and read a lot about this game beforehand. I pretty much got what I expected. You steer your diver from one location to the next and that’s basically it. For me ABZÛ worked best, when it tried least to be a game and focused on being a beautiful trip through a lovingly crafted underwater world. There are passages that nearly take all control from you and just let you bathe in the glory of it’s art design and huge masses of fish (put your fish settings on ‘Ultra’!). The orchestral soundtrack is fantastic. At some points the game even managed to trigger some childhood-Disney-movie-emotions in me. Well done! As soon as the game made me do it’s over simplified ‘puzzles’, especially in its second half, I got bored. I can accept that it’s more about style and atmosphere, than story or gameplay – so why shove those tedious elements down my throat? Still, if you happen to own a large TV, a decent controller and manage to buy the game on a sale, I think it’s worth to dive in for it’s roughly two hours of play time.

ABZU: protagonist swiming with a swarm of fish
So long.