In your computer room, only your family will hear you scream. In September of 2019, Roger started a series looking at the “rights and wrongs” of fanservice in anime. Today, we continue that tradition with Violence in Video Games. Today’s focus… Alien: Isolation.
What’s the Deal?
You know the 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien? The one where Sigourney Weaver immortalized the role of Ripley? You play Ripley’s daughter and you’re searching for mom. Needless to say, you’re going to encounter one of the most famous Aliens in movie history. And some androids. And a whole lot of hiding in dark corners…
Why it’s not ok
Well, you know how last week I was saying “it’s the same old story” about killing? Yeah, that’s not the issue here. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to take down an android with a stun-stick in this one. See, androids are notoriously resilient what with them being made of synthetic bits and bobs. And that says nothing of the xenomorph itself. So you spend the game in stealth mode! You think you had to sneak into the cookie jar when you were a kid? This game makes that look like… well, I guess it was child’s play, wasn’t it? The point is, this game is scary; really scary. I recently went back for a replay and realized about halfway through that I was subjecting myself to stress for no readily apparent reason! See, once the xenomorph knows you’re around, you never know where he might turn up. (I say he, which isn’t fair; I’ve no idea if xenomorphs even have a gender!) As a “for instance” I was skulking out of a room, pretty positive that the creature was down the hall but when I saw the shadow, I raced back into the room like a terrified cat in a room of sentient rocking chairs. Alas, I was stopped in my tracks by the tail sticking out of my stomach because our xenomorph was coming out of a vent in the room I was running into. I jumped physically, misplaced my fingers on the keyboard and yelped… a little. If stress is a killer, this probably isn’t a good idea! In fact, if someone accidently slipped valium into your evening brew, this might be a good way to combat that!
Why it’s ok
The movie Alien was a classic suspense-horror movie and the sequel, Aliens, was an amazingly good action sci-fi. Both are fan favorites and well worth the movie experience. So if you’re a fan, you may not be content stopping there and, knowing that the sequels after Aliens just don’t hold up (even the one with Paul McGann), finding another, interactive way to dive into that universe is immensely fun. The story continues the legacy of Ripley, maintains the fear factor of the first movie with the science fiction of the series and does so with style. The game play is smooth and the story is engrossing. (Or I was too scared to stop playing, but I’m pretty sure it was engrossing!) Most of all, it required you to think and to use tools to get around. Some of those tools could be used as makeshift weapons, but you’re not killing and the only fighting you’re doing is the fight for survival. I am a fan of thinking games and when you make it exciting… that’s a win! Add some great visuals and a good story… you don’t want to turn that down.
Let’s dispense with the “it depends on the kid”. That’s true of anything. Peanuts are ok to eat, depending on the kid. You’re not going to feel that way if the child has a peanut allergy. So let’s be clear: of course it depends on the kid. And you’re probably not going to even consider playing this game if you’re not familiar with the Alien franchise anyway. If you’re thinking of allowing your kid to play it, chances are it’s because the child has some experience with the movie franchise, so the battle is already half-won! Alien remains popular with new prequels coming out and graphic novels turning up all the time. So if you know the franchise, you’re going to be interested in giving the game a shot. Just, maybe not right before bed.
From an artistic point of view, the aesthetic is done to mirror the 1979 technology, complete with grainy computer screens and all the old “future tech” we saw during that original movie. Hacking a computer on the Nostromo is suspiciously like working with your dads first computer from 1980… with good reason! The developers capture the look and feel of the “time period” from the movie with precision.
The first movie managed an R rating for “sci-fi violence, gore and language”. This game gets an M rating. While the aforementioned death wasn’t pretty, it was far from over-the-top. There is blood to be seen but if you played better than I did, you probably could go the whole game without dying. There’s very little language to speak of largely because it’s a single player game with very few words to be spoken anyway. (Not to say there is no language, but it’s minimal.)
So the question really is: is the violence a showstopper? No. I wouldn’t consider Alien: Isolation a violent game. It’s a scary game. The violence that occurs is not the result of the actions you undertake. Yet the story, the significance to a science fiction franchise and the artistic design are all worth exploring. I think those things outweigh the fear factor. And what’s the worst that can happen, you yelp from time to time while playing? “That’s It, Man. Game Over, Man. Game Over!” ML