It’s Better Late Than Never time again, the review series that takes a deeper look at the gaming titles we have unforgivably overlooked in recent months. This is the second installment, featuring the likes of the immersive and cinematic Alien: Isolation, the mindbending The Talos Principle and the ever addictive OlliOlli.
I only got to play Alien: Isolation very recently and, I must admit, it is one of very few truly innovative titles to come from 2014. This statement might be a bit biased as I am a great fan of the Alien film series (and I’m very much looking forward to Neil Blomkamp’s take on the franchise). But I’m sticking to it.
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Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of the Alien films. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and you are investigating the disappearance of your mother. You have been told the flight recorder of the Nostromo (the ship your mother was on) has been located and that it might contain details that gives you closure on what really happened to her.
This recorder is being held on Sevastopol space station, which will become the setting for the game. As you enter, a series of unfortunate events leads to you being separated from your crew and you are left to explore the ship on your own. Not before long you discover that space station is in total chaos. Its inhabitants have turned on each other and there is speak of strange creature picking them off, one by one.
Alien: Isolation is one of the most marvellously tense games I’ve experience, playing much like an outer space version of Red Barrel’s Outlast. In most cases you are totally helpless and you will have to rely on stealth and cunning movement to make your way through the ship and stay alive. You will have a few weapons at your disposal, which mostly turn out to be useless. You will locate a revolver early in the game but bullets are scare and firing it off might attract some unwanted attention.
And yes, the alien. Encountering this bastard is one of the most nerve-wrecking moments of my life. First off, there is no way you can kill the alien. I’ve unloaded a revolver straight in its face and it didn’t even flinch. Stealth will be your only weapon here.
You will have to take great care to manoeuvre around the creature as it has extremely sensitive hearing and smell. You think you’re safe hiding in a closet? Think again. Whenever it approaches your hiding spot, which it will do at a creepily slow rate, you will have to lean back and hold your breath. Then you might not be discovered and turn into space beast breakfast.
Fortunately, you will also have a motion sensor to track the movement of life forms close to you. But be careful, not only does this device require batteries but its motion tracking sounds can lure the creature to you.
If you are a fan of the Alien films and you like shitting your pants then this is definitely the game for you. It masterfully recreates the atmosphere of the films while still providing a unique and interactive gaming experience. Be warned though, it is a considerably challenging game.
Release Date: 7 October 2014
Developers: The Creative Assembly
Engine: Custom engine
Genre: First-person survival horror
Playthrough Time: 15 hours
Platforms: PC (review platform), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
The Talos Principle
The Talos Principle is brought to you by the creators of the popular Serious Sam titles. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of this game, but mostly because I’ve never played something quite like it before (though I have been told it shares many similarities with Portal). It was a refreshing and unique experience that quickly became extremely absorbing.
You play as a nameless robotic android that wakes up in a mysterious post-human world with no recollection of your past or how you came to be here. The mysterious world that you find yourself in is a beautiful mix of ancient structures and futuristic technology.
As you explore this new world you soon discover the presence of “Elohim”, an ethereal voice that claims to be the creator of you and this world. This followed by a deep and intriguing story that strikes many philosophical chords, like exploring what it means to be sentient and the history of mankind and its demise. Your trust for Elohim will strengthen and waiver regularly throughout the game as you explore these thoughts
Under the instructions of Elohim, you will have to complete over 120 increasingly difficult puzzles to reach “enlightenment”. The objective of the puzzles is to locate sigils that will give you access to various other parts of the world. But to reach these sigils, there are many obstacles you will need to overcome such as robots, turrets, lasers and even time.
At first puzzles will seem considerably easy but that is only to give you the chance to wrap your head around the mechanics it consists of such as the behaviour of the technology or the assembling of certain objects. After that the difficulty curve drastically starts rising and your wits will be seriously tested. There will probably be quite a few times you will find yourself staring at the screen in mindless frustration.
I don’t think this will be the Talos Principle will be a game for everyone. It’s very slow paced with over 15 hours of game play, there is not much action or destruction and it will regularly leave you in a helpless fit of frustration. But it boasts a captivating and introspectively challenging narrative that will push you to make it to the end.
Release Date: 11 December 2014
Engine: Serious Engine 4
Genre: First person puzzler
Playthrough Time: 17 hours
Platforms: PC (review platform), PS4, Mac, Linux, Android
OlliOlli is the oldest entry on this list by almost a year. There isn’t really much I need to say about this game except that it is a truly entertaining and surprisingly addictive waste of time. And that is exactly why I wanted to add it to this list.
It just fits in perfectly into a certain part of the gaming world. Its simplistic nature means it doesn’t have much of a learning curve. But it also combines the game elements in such a way that it provides a challenging game experience. It doesn’t demand a lot of time and can be played in short bursts, yet provides enough satisfaction to keep you busy for hours. At its core, OlliOlli has a lot going for it.
Levels are divided into terrains such as “Urban” or “Junkyard”. Each level consists of 10 stages (5 Amateur and 5 Pro) and has its own unique level design and obstacles. If played right, one level won’t demand more than a few minutes but there is a lot of action crammed in this short time and it will probably take a few turns to get the feel of each stage.
Objectives to achieve are expectedly in the form high scores with challenges such as “Land a Hard Flip” or “Do a Perfect Grind”. Your skater will constantly be moving forward but can accelerate by kicking himself forward. Many times this will be necessary as a sloppy landing will drastically slow you down.
Obstacles, or opportunities in the eyes of a skater, will mostly come in the form of staircases, rails and drops with a few stranger various appearing as you progress through the game.
Navigating between these obstacles while focusing on achieving goals can quickly become a handful and the difficulty rapidly increases after each stage. You will need to time your jumps or landings near to perfect in certain moments to assure you don’t go tumbling down a 100 step pixel staircase, which will make you start the stage all the way from the start again.
Admittedly this OlliOlli isn’t really an award magnet (except for when it comes to bagging BAFTAs, that is) but it doesn’t need to be, a game that will entertain whenever others don’t. It’s perfect for that dry-season in between game releases and still scratches that gaming itch that not a lot of games do. I don’t know if it is the absorbing game mechanics or the fact that I love skateboarding games, but OlliOlli definitely delivers.
Release Date: 21 January 2014
Developers: Rollingmedia Limited
Engine: Custom engine
Genre: Retro side-scrolling skateboarding game
Playthrough Time: –
Platforms: PC (review platform, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Mac, Linux, Android