Edit Friday 1800
So I let the bilious, hateful, smartarse part of my inner monologue loose on the internet yesterday, and this was unfair and frankly rude.
I chose to frame a reaction to Calum Marsh’s work in terms of straight up meanness to ‘the author’ because I thought I was being ironic and funny.
Then I saw his reaction to this and I apologise to him for what I now realise was a badly judged attempt at snark that is, for all intents and purposes, a personal attack.
I won’t deny that was the intention, because that would be dishonest. It was just… Bad faith I guess. I regret being publicly, personally mean and vicious about a real person just for a cheap laugh, and that I knocked a critic whom I felt ‘lacking’, for no good reason at all except spite and some unedifying intellectual bullying/snobbery.
I could have disagreed civilly, I didnt, I dished out some bush league snark instead, and I apologise.
I’m going to take the piss now. I’m going to take the piss out of this AV Club ALIEN ISOLATION review, by @calummarsh, which amazed me for being the first review I can remember agreeing with not at all. Not one bit.
No undue offence to Mr Marsh. I’m just enjoying being a bellend here. But damn, do I disagree with his review which I quote here basically in its entirety. Let’s start with your opening rhetorical gambit.
I like the way space looks in Alien: Isolation—the inky blackness of the void outside, the amber starlight spilling in through a window. It’s resplendent. But you don’t get to see much space in Alien: Isolation.
Of course you don’t. Why would you? I like the way the clouds look in Mario Kart. Unless of course, you wanted to create a high contrast device for your next point?
Instead you get to see the monochromatic hallways of the Sevastopol space station, variously scorched and graffitied. You get to see a lot of dreary offices, abandoned and indistinguishable, as well as any number of sleek metal access tunnels, disused elevator shafts, and dimly lit vents.
Ah, there you go, it’s used to highlight the relatively non-resplendent, claustrophobic, canonical Alien interiors. Perhaps we will now get The Point, given the rule of threes in classic rhetorics?
But what you get to see most of all in Alien: Isolation is lockers.
Bingo. Hang your hat on that, sunshine.
The interiors of lockers, more specifically—person-sized coffins of the same dull gray steel, each fitted with a narrow window of horizontal slats.
Evocative vocabulary, working it.
Forced, mind. Is free will too much to ask for in a survival horror game?
…to spend many hours standing in these lockers, waiting, staring ahead at the same postcard tacked to the inside door, at the same Post-it note bearing the same message—Please order more of above—stuck on every one of what must be many hundreds of lockers littered throughout the station.
Many hours! What kind of game makes a player look at repetitive post it notes for many hours, I ask you.
All you can do is get used to it.
That all sounds terrible! Here’s hoping this is hyperbole serving to reinforce the lede and create the space for a confirming conclusion, hey?
It would be fair, I think, to describe these lockers as suffocating –
Coffins, suffocating, narrow, ok. Good.
Finding yourself relegated time and again to the Sevastopol’s invariable refuge…
Relegated? To a refuge? In a survival horror game? Well, ok, go on.
…simply isn’t interesting, let alone fun.
Hmm. You don’t like hiding from the Alien, do you?
The game is unreasonably, punishingly difficult, even on the easiest setting…
Aaah right. I see. You’re shit at it, yes?
…to the degree that I frequently abandoned it mid-mission in frustration, returning only when I mustered the patience to soldier back in.
From what you’re saying here, I’m not sure you realise you can hide in various places, like crawlspaces? And tactically distract the Alien in various ways?
And yet, as far as I can tell, this is all very much the point.
Bingo! It is! And you missed it!
It’s apparent that Alien: Isolation is frustrating by design.
Yes. Tell us why.
It is also unfair by design, oppressive by design, and perhaps even—frankly—unfun by design.
Ok don’t tell us why, just whinge that it was too hard and, increasingly, betray a lack of critical awareness of how the genre works. But do go on. Unfair and unfun, that does sound bad.
This is a game whose chief objective is to authentically simulate the experience of surviving in the presence of a Xenomorph, the acid-blooded, razor-toothed, virtually invulnerable creature at the heart of Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Yes, yes it is.
Fifteen hours and probably a thousand deaths later…
You really are shit at this game aren’t you.
I emerge from this simulation convinced of its accuracy: If I ever find myself alone with one of these things, it’s safe to say that I will die—swiftly and brutally.
A bold, ground-breaking statement: if I met the scariest on screen monster ever written, it’d probably kill me. Go on though.
This enlightening conclusion…
Phew, that was irony, good, good.
…was reached after little more than an hour—with more than a dozen left to go. Scarcely has a game conspired so transparently to inflate its running time.
So you’ve mistaken your ironic ‘conclusion’ for the entertainment value of this work. That’s just dumb. But leaving that aside, that does sound serious. Like it was padded out with shit. What could have led you to say that?
Straight pathways are conveniently obstructed to redirect you along a needlessly protracted alternate route.
So the levels aren’t all straight lines? Or a to b linear affairs? They have multiple routing, triggered hazards and route unlocks, pseudo realistic non-minimal layouts, and deliberate obfuscation for dramatic tension? That sounds… Terrible…?
Save points are staggered at distances just far enough apart that I often died before reaching them.
You really hate how shit you are at this game don’t you.
Even the simplest primary objectives are divided into compartmentalized sub-objectives and diversionary tasks…
So… should they have just called the things you do in the game ‘objectives’ and had none of them branch into one other in a hierarchy culminating in a solution? Because that’s… your… point… what?
…as if the game were an apathetic school teacher assigning time-filling busywork.
So you’re saying the things that comprise the actual gameplay are… filler? This is odd. Tell us why, go on.
Early on, a routine quest to retrieve medical supplies for an injured companion becomes Sisyphean.
Nice reference. Sisyphus just had to redo the same task over and over as punishment by gods etc.
You begin, naturally, by investigating a nearby medical facility…
‘Natural’ beginning, all is good with the world, this we like.
where, you expect, medical supplies will be readily found…
That certainly sounds like the opposite of what you’d expect, but yes. Go on. Our equilibrium is established. Break it now, break it!
Well, not on the Sevastopol.
Bingo! No! Those un-fun bastards! Why didn’t they just give you the fucking medical supplies straight away goddammit!
Instead you are introduced to a certain Dr. Kuhlman, who informs you that, while he has no medical supplies on hand, he does in fact know where to find some, if only you’ll help him with a few brief tasks…
Yes, that accurately describes a narrative framework that moves the plot forward while giving your character the ostensible motivation to do the things. Then what?
It’s obvious where this is going.
Yes, yes it is.
It’s a cliché of the 16-bit era…
Is it, now? The 16-bit era specifically? How so?
…find the widget to give to the man to receive the map to find the key to open the door to the cave where the treasure is kept, and so on, ad infinitum.
And press the button to jump on the platform, shoot the enemy, match the colour ad infinitum. Do you *like* video games? And you only have to look at 8 bit DIZZY and current gen DEAD SPACE to realise you are badly out of your depth at this point.
After recovering what the good doctor Kuhlman asks of you, by the way, you do soon come upon the hotly anticipated medical supplies. But then, the elevator you need to take breaks down, and you’re asked to find another one, and when you do it’s missing a part, which you’ll find in a nearby wing, guarded by—well, never mind.
Ok I won’t. Seriously what is your point? That video games themselves are pointless?
In total, primary missions 5, 6, 7, and 8 (of 18) are dedicated in their entirety to bringing medical supplies to your wounded colleague—to the completion of a single objective.
So there were lots of sub missions that were all interrelated, justifying your need to explore the game world, leading up to an important part of the story arc? Why are you upset by this?
It got to the point that I hardly had any idea what I was doing, or why, beyond the immediate task in front of me.
You’ve just spent several paragraphs explaining exactly what you were doing and why, all ‘to the completion of a single objective’ as you put it.
Does the game intend to articulate something with this ambiguity?
What ambiguity? All the ambiguity is yours at this point.
That the world is chaotic? That survival involves a great deal of unglamorous work?
Unglamourous, right. So getting the medical supplies immediately would have been more glamorous? Or perhaps killing waves of Aliens with a machine gun would be glamorous? Perhaps Ripley could be in stillettos, freefalling through the open window of a plane while shooting topless dudes holding a champagne flute. In fact, just play SAINTS ROW instead, yeah?
Through all of this…
To wit, this game.
…there remains Alien: Isolation’s main attraction: your locker-bound encounters with the Alien himself, that slobbering tumescent creeper.
You didn’t realise there were other hiding places than lockers, did you.
You first enjoy a glimpse of the jet-black baddie when it slithers down from a ceiling duct, piercing the man in front of you in a helpful demonstration of its lethality that, unsurprisingly, you narrowly escape.
Yeah, it should probably just kill you and end the game immediately at the start. Because that would be awesome.
The Alien apparently doesn’t take this defeat very well…
In that cutscene, you don’t even see it, let alone defeat it; you barely glimpse it at all. Also, it’s the fucking Alien.
…because from there on out, it’s after you with a vendetta, popping up periodically to chase you around whatever office or laboratory you happen to be roaming unawares at the time.
To wit, it’s an enemy in this game, and that’s apparently bad for some reason.
Not that it proves very deft at this whole hunting business. Simply crouching under a table…
Hang on, so you DO know it’s not just lockers. This is bullshit isn’t it.
…or, as already bemoaned, shoving yourself inside a nearby locker is usually enough to throw it off your scent…
But… But… Two minutes ago you said it was ‘unreasonably, punishingly difficult, even on the easiest setting’!
…and it’s all the Alien can do to putter around the place aimlessly hoping you’ll give up and wander out.
The Alien, aimless. Sure. Why not?
Is any of this scary? Often, yes, insofar as I remained terrified of being killed…
…and forced to replay the 30 minutes since the last save point.
In other words, you failed at the game – with that dumb Alien that’s easy to avoid, but that’s also so hard it’s no fun – and it didn’t just let you win anyway? Who knew?
Mostly, it’s just annoying.
That is the first thing you’ve said that actually makes sense. It IS annoying when you’re shit at a hard game and just. Keep. On. Dying!
The Alien isn’t a particularly gifted hunter, but it does have certain advantages over you—namely that it is faster, stronger, and cannot be killed.
If it sees you, you die. If it hears you, you die.
Not, you know, true, strictly speaking, but true often enough to be fair comment.
Sometimes it doesn’t see you or hear you but you die anyway, for some reason.
You really are shit at this game.
And all the while, you’re resigned to standing still inside a dull gray locker…
No you aren’t, as you’ve said yourself. But hey, I dig your writing chops in resolving the narrative you set out at the start of your stunningly awful review.
…hoping that the Alien will trot off long enough for you to dart out of that one into another. Horizontal slats. Picture postcards.Please order more of above. These are the perennial accoutrements of locker-bound living. If I ever see them again, it will be too soon.
My advice mate, is that you stick to Call of Duty.