I’m still alive, just been enjoying two weeks off of work. Now I’m back and miserable, I can write again like so many of my contemporaries through history.

I tell ya folks, that last week of work just sucked with a capital SUCK. Just could not wait to get the hell out of the office and enjoy sixteen calendar days of nothing to do with road safety at all. Was caught in the torrential rainstorm that afternoon on the way home from the dentist so came back to the office stinking of London air and sweat. Fortunately, not an example of pathetic fallacy.
Gaming news then. Firstly, I bought me two new Xbone games – Alien Isolation and Rare Replay. Have finished the former and dipped in and out of the latter. Capsule reviews methinks rather than a full one:
Alien Isolation – Survival Horror, FPS perspective which is reminiscent of the first film with its dark corners, eerie music and bone-chilling moments. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter to Ellen Ripley who is looking for evidence of what happened to her mother seventeen years previously. There is evidence waiting for her aboard a distant space station called Sevastopol on the edge of explored space but there’s more on the station than the flight recorder of the Nostromo.

First of all, I want to say that this game has caused the most swearing, cussing and loss of temper I’ve ever had from a game. Although controllers weren’t thrown (after what happened a few months ago…), sofa cushions were mercilessly thumped and there was a lot of rage-chocolate eaten. I’ll explain why in a moment. As Amanda Ripley, your method of control throughout the game is to use your smarts to outwit, fool and otherwise hide from your opponents. There are few opportunities to go on the offensive so this really is a true Survival Horror game. There are elements of all the films in the game and fans will smile when they recognise the references. Chances are, there’ll be few opportunities to admire the wonderful design of the Sevastopol as all-too familiar cues will tip you off that danger is on the way.

There’s far more going on than the usual “Alien running amok” theme – there are other people stationed on Sevastopol but you do not know who is friend, who is foe and who will switch sides and allegiances will change. There are also puzzles to solve, items to craft from rare resources and to use to give you a momentary advantage and a good story which you only get occasional hints of but once you start to put it together…

And yes, there’s a Xenomorph on the loose, natch. It’s a smart bugger, it learns as you play. Keep doing the same actions over and over and you’ll regret your repetition so you’re forced to mix up your style in order to maximise your chances of survival. It’s also random in its movements which means there aren’t predictable patrol patterns to learn and dodge. But – and here’s where the wrath comes in – this randomness can be totally unfair to the player as it can appear without warning (normally there are visible or auditory cues if nearby) and there’s no escape from the damn thing. Furthermore, if Ripley is doing _something_ like being logged onto a computer and an unfriendly pops up, you have to waste precious seconds abandoning the activity before responding to the threat which often sees an unfair death. It’s a bad gameplay mechanic which reduces the fun-factor. And yeah, there are no save checkpoints either. Really ought to be patched.

Rare Replay – thirty game from thirty years of Rare. The cynic in me says that the majority of the best ones in the collection were not released for any Microsoft platform but am not going to let that interrupt the fun. Now I’ve only had this title a few days and played but a small handful of the games but they’re looking great in HD, particularly the N64 titles. Smooth scrolling, lovely graphics, faithful sounds – and £19.99 to boot. Big, fat bargain. Also, if you own any of the titles that were released on the 360, the achievements carry over to the new game so you don’t have to worry about replaying the games for the in-game unlockables!

More soon.