In this month's Dream Sequels segment, where we conceptualize a sequel to a game that doesn't have one, I thought of no other game I'd rather be writing about than SEGAs surprise horror hit Alien: Isolation. The game made huge waves in 2014 for a variety of reasons we will go over, granting it unabashedly positive reception and a flurry of game of the year consideration (it was my personal No. 1 pick, that's for sure), so Alien Isolation 2 is high on my wish list.
But, all was not meant to be. Like many a movie that blows the audience away with little to show for it, Alien: Isolation showed that good video games can also flop. Despite excellent development by Creative Assembly, taking a break from their usual Total War mantra, Alien: Isolation failed to resonate with audiences enough to get them to purchase it with any regularity. The game apparently broke even, if that, and SEGA has been publicly skeptical about investing more in a sequel to a game that didn't show it could be a financial success.
And that is a travesty, with no exaggeration. Alien: Isolation is one of the most memorable games I've played in my lifetime, with truly formidable foe that can't be easily outsmarted. It's AI is truly revolutionary and a far cry from other game's enemies who have a simple-to-understand pattern. The Xenomorph hunting you will do so based off sounds, map layout and pure gut instincts, it seems. You'll be following behind him one way only to have him turn around for any or no reason whatsover - just like someone who was actually searching would do.
But artificial intelligence isn't all Isolation had going for it, functioning as a wet dream for Alien fans. The folks at Creative Assembly certainly did their homework, as showed by their absolute nailing of the production design. This looked and felt exactly like an Alien movie, right down to the coffee cups used in the original. So a sequel to Alien: Isolation wouldn't have to do much different to be worth a purchase. Just a fair warning, spoilers are about to ensue.
Amanda Ripley was one of the best characters of the year and in years since. While you could argue that everyone around her wasn't nearly as developed, they also didn't really matter in story telling language, as they were shoved to the side and slaughtered as quickly as humanly possible.
More importantly, though, she's still alive. The end scene shows her floating around in space, unconscious, just as a search light shines on her space suit. On one hand, I can see an argument could be made to move on from Amanda Ripley, not because she was a bad character, but because her story arc had been completed. She only went to the Sevastopol station to retrieve a message left by her mother Ellen Ripley (of course, played by Sigourney Weaver in the movies). Amanda got the message and got out alive, seemingly being rescued.
So her story's over right? Well, not exactly. As the movie series showed us, a completion of a story arc doesn't have to be the end. After Ellen Ripley heroically survived the disaster aboard the Nostromo, she gets roped in once again to a world of Xenomorphs. With Amanda, this could play out very simply with the ship rescuing her needing to make a quick stop at a space station or planet with more perfect alien creatures. Heck this could also lead her closer to discovering the secret of what happened to her mother.
One of the main attributes that separated Alien: Isolation from any other game that tried to tie-in with that universe was its difficulty. It was necessary for a game featuring a Xenomorph, literally described as a killing machine unaffected by outside sources, to be difficult, something games like Colonial Marines just didn't grasp. If you're able to kill Xenomorphs en masse, the effect of seeing just one of them dissolves faster than if it came into contact with their acidic blood.
But more importantly than the difficulty of its main adversary, which I'm sure SEGA and Creative Assembly wouldn't compromise, they need to hang on to its save system. Probably the most controversial aspect of Alien: Isolation was its use of traditional, stationary save points as its only method of saving the game. No criticism of any other game's difficulty - not even Dark Souls - has made me want to shout at the top of my lungs from the top of the highest mountains "get good," more than with Alien: Isolation.
The save system was one of the best aspects of Isolation, as knowing that one false step can have you lose loads of progress ramped up the tension tenfold. You had to be hyper cautious and ever-aware of where the alien was at all times and be able to successfully either avoid him or ward him off. And I've never felt such a sense of relief like I have when I hear that little beeping sound of a save point that leads me to the phone box. Afterwards, you hold your breath until the next one. It's truly a fantastic design for a survival horror game and removing it would be akin to Dead Rising 3's removal of the 72-hour mode.
Room for Improvement
With all the high praise I've been heaping on Alien Isolation, it was not perfect. Luckily, sequels first and foremost provide an opportunity to fix the problems of the original (Gears of War 2, Assassin's Creed 2, i.e.), and Alien Isolation 2 could fix do the same.
For starters, a remember a whole, overlong sequence that had no logical reason to the game. The brilliant minds Amanda Ripley run into get together and decide that she needs to lure the Xenomorph into a section of the ship and then seal it off. When the concocted this plan, I had the obvious question "how is she going to get out?" So when she got there, it hit her "how am I going to get out if we do this?" Now, another character was using her as bait, so that makes sense, but it's really something that Ripley should have seen coming, and she likely only didn't see it coming as a plot contrivance.
Alien Isolation also tried to put its AAA budget on the screen one too many times, culminating in a completely useless segment where Ripley traverses a giant catwalk outside of the ship only to press a button and come back, but hey look at the pretty stars and planets. The horror in Alien Isolation worked so much better when it was intimate and subtle.
Alien Isolation is ripe for a sequel, that's for sure. It was the best game of its release year, in my opinion, and its lack of sales is the only thing holding it back. While the game could use a few spots of polish, that just makes the prospect of Alien Isolation 2 even more enticing, since we'd get to experience the same, insanely difficult and innovative experience only better.
And keep the dang save system the way it is.