Ryan Lambie has loved videogames since he first stared up in awe at a Gaiaxian arcade cabinet in his local chip shop. 28 years on, Ryan writes about gaming for Micro Mart. He’s still addicted to chips and still useless at Gaiaxian.
Plug & Play
There have been numerous games based on the Alien movie franchise and its spin-offs, but few have managed to capture the first film’s creeping sense of terror. In fact, the only title to come close to recreating the atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film was a 1984 adaptation for the ZX Spectrum, a strategy game where the titular xenomorph was capable of popping out at any moment and killing the player’s characters.
It’s just possible, though, that Total War studio Creative Assembly will be able to succeed where so many other developers have failed. For the past three years, the team’s been working on Alien: Isolation, its first attempt at a game outside its usual strategy genre. Set 14 years after Alien, it’ll place us in the shoes of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of the film franchise’s luckless heroine. On a search for her missing mother, Amanda heads to a space station called the Sevastapol, where a familiar, eyeless face waits in the shadows.
On 7th January, the first trailer appeared, giving us the first proper idea of what Alien: Isolation has in store – and that’s survival horror. Viewed from a first-person perspective.
Alien: Isolation will place us on a spaceship with only a motion tracker for company. The chattering machine guns and explosives of last year’s Aliens: Colonial Marines are nowhere to be seen here.
Unarmed and defenceless, you instead play mouse to the xenomorph’s deadly cat, hiding from the creature wherever you can finding a way – if there is any – of getting the hellish thing off the ship. Aside from the promise of its back-to-basics concept, Alien: Isolation really looks the part. It’s said that Creative Assembly was given access to 20th Century Fox’s Alien movie archives for the game’s scenery and props, and it really shows. Like the original film, the space station has a real retro 70s feel, complete with outdated computers and brown fixtures and fittings.
After the colossal disappointment that was Colonial Marines, it’s fair to say that rights holder Sega has some work to do before the shine returns to the Aliens brand, but there’s a sense that Creative Assembly has approached Isolation with real affection – its visuals and sound effects are impressive, and there’s even a button that makes your character hold her breath. It’s touches like this that could mark Alien: Isolation out as something truly special.
Alien: Isolation is due out this autumn.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen game developers attempt to look beyond some of the tried-and-tested formulas in multiplayer shooters. One of the relatively fresh ideas we’ve seen in recent years is of having two very different factions of players face off against one another – a concept commonly described as ’asymmetrical multiplayer’ among designers.
The most prominent example of this could be seen in Left 4 Dead’s Versus mode, where teams of four players took turns to play either human survivors or infected zombies, with each faction having its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s an idea that’s also been seen in shooters like Natural Selection 2, where players can either compete as heavily armed humans or more agile, stronger xenomorphs, or Aliens: Colonial Marines, which attempted a similar style of gameplay with ropier results. The creators of Left 4 Dead are returning to the asymmetrical concept in next game, Evolve. In it, four alien soldiers team up to fight a fifth player, who takes on the role of a fiercely powerful monster that evolves after each successive bout. According to a video interview over on YouTube (youtu.be/CwFZWSViSK4), in which developer Turtle Rock talks to the American magazine Game Informer, Evolve was born partly out of frustration with traditional online games.
“Most of my other multiplayer experiences are of going online and getting battered,” one designer confides. “Ugh,” he adds wearily, “I don’t really want to do this again.”
In Evolve, players take turns to control the gigantic monster, which should mean that those with lesser skills can enjoy a sense of power too. It’s still early days for the project, with a collection of toothsome concept art all that’s available to look at so far. But it’s an exciting concept from a studio with a gleaming track record for multiplayer shooters and, appropriately enough, it sounds like an effective evolution of the ideas Turtle Rock introduced in Left 4 Dead.
Working along similar lines is a forthcoming game called Outrise. Like Evolve, it’s still in its early stages, but it also sounds like a compelling twist on the usual soldiers- versus-soldiers multiplayer. In Outrise, a squad of 15 players gang up on one giant robot (player controlled, of course), which can stomp around the battlefield squishing its enemies with its hulking feet.
The game’s creators, a group of industry veterans called Team Outrise, describe it as “A multiplayer Shadow Of The Colossus meets Left 4 Dead and with [an] old-school sci-fi look and feel.”
Outrise is in its early stages too, with the team awaiting player feedback before they go further. If demand is sufficiently high, the plan is to take the project to Kickstarter to secure the requisite funding.
With games like Outrise, Evolve and the forthcoming Titanfall (due out this March), the multiplayer shooter could be heading in a fresh new direction. “I think both Titanfall and Evolve are opening doors with fresh experiences,”
Outrise’s creative lead told Eurogamer. “Everyone is going to benefit from a much needed wave of shooter innovation.”
A decade after Tecmo first rebooted it as a third-person hack-and-slash series, Ninja
Gaiden is still going strong. Bringing its own brand of sword-heavy, gory ultraviolence and a rock-hard challenge to boot, it’s stuck to its tried and trusted formula ever since. The awkwardly titled Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z is the latest instalment, a spinoff headed up by Team Ninja, Comcept (the studio belonging to Mega Man designer Keiji Inafune) and Lost Planet 3 creator Spark Unlimited.
The result is a game that, even by the standards of the series, is hyper-stylised, with anime-style cel-shaded graphics and acres of violence. Its hero, the titular Yaiba, is also the most obnoxious central character in recent memory, with a foul mouth and a head full of sexist epiphets. The idea, it seems, is that you’re playing the villain, an assassin out to avenge himself against series hero Ryu Hayabusa. How the barking mad story will pan out is anyone’s guess, but we get the sense that beneath all the swearing and anime graphics, it’s the same old Ninja Gaiden engine humming under the bonnet.
Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z is out on 28th February.