Saturday, 11 August 2018

Gaming's Best Levels #8: San Cristobal Medical Facility - Alien: Isolation

A journey through some of video gaming's greatest levels. Or, the ones we like at least.

By Sam Graham

So, in 1979 a film came out that was full of phallic imagery and today its main fanbase are a bunch of sweaty blokes. Think about that for a minute. Go on, have a good, long, hard, throbbing think, then watch Alien again and you’ll see that it’s chock full of dicks.

Well, sausage-fest or no, I do love the Alien franchise (except for Covenant. Never Covenant. See here for more details). Over the years there’s been a plethora of games based on, revolving around, and ripping off the films, and the ones that I’ve come across have mostly been alright... Mostly. My love for Alien was mostly rewarded in 2014 when Alien: Isolation came out. An unofficial apology for Aliens: Colonial Marines, the game served to remind us all of just what made the original film so shit-scary.

Alien: Isolation sees Amanda Ripley at the mercy of some 20th Century Fox exec’s obsession with shoehorning familiarity into a standalone project. As the daughter of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver from the’ 79 film), this poor woman who, having first lost her mum to deep space, travels out there and comes face to face with the same thing that caused her mum’s disappearance. This all happens because of her surname like it’s some Ripley family curse. Plot armour is great protection and all, but sometimes just putting it on can be a bitch.

The game is survival horror at its highest peak since Silent Hill 2. The Alien is a constant, unkillable menace, other crew members are massive tossers, and those blank-faced robots and their grabby, grabby hands make me realise what it must be like being a woman in a nightclub. The threat is never ending. Danger is everywhere, just waiting to deepthroat you to death.

The game is tense and engaging pretty much the whole way through (even on the space walking sections), but there’s one area in particular that stands out for me as its apex. Hospitals in games have always scared the shit out of me. I blame Silent Hill and its nurses for making me feel confused, so when Ripley Jr is tasked with venturing into the Sevastopol Station’s Medibay, I knew shit was about to get intense.

As it turns out, Sevastopol Station is about as well-funded as 2018’s NHS. Hospital beds lay strewn about the corridors, dead bodies litter the gangways and are ripe for mugging, lights flicker constantly, the areas you have to go are usually under darkness and you can always hear that thunk, thunk, thunk as the Alien lurks in the vent shafts above, waiting for you to trap yourself down a dead end corridor like a sexually aggressive co-worker.

Sure, you can mug enough corpses to make a device that will lure the Alien away from you, but he’s a tenacious little sod. Avoiding the Xenomorph is a bit like cunnilingus: You have to mix it up to be good at it. Keep doing the same thing over and over and it’ll get stale, you won’t get the effect you’re after, and before you know it you’ll be relegated to hiding in the cupboard, watching through the vents while someone else has a pop.

There’s just something about hospitals and horror that goes so well together. Maybe it’s the existential dread over the frailty of life? Maybe it’s because hospitals are where the vast majority meet their end? Maybe it’s the business-like attitude to Human life? Or maybe it’s just because that massive Eileen head in Silent Hill 4’s hospital shit me right up? Who knows? It’s a question I don’t want to answer. All I know is that after hiding under a gurney for forty damn minutes, the Alien had finally gone away leaving me to crawl towards the exit, then the shit appeared behind me and one-shots me. Think of what else I could have done in that time...

Enjoyed this piece? Then 'like' The Crusades of A Critic on Facebook. Sam also has a Tech Noir novel, 'An Inside Joke', which can currently be viewed herehis first novella 'Iron Country' is available to buy herea horror short story, 'We Must Never Found Out', published here; and finally, another short horror story 'Eagal' available to buy here. Phew.

And for good measure...