After the shambles that was the announcement of Diablo Immortal, people were pretty prickly when they first heard about Alien: Blackout, with yet another sacred series getting a mobile game when at the end of the day fans are waiting on the real deal. In the case of Alien, we last got a taste of the good stuff when The Creative Assembly put together the slightly-too-long-but-otherwise-bloody-excellent Alien: Isolation, and ever since we escaped from Sevastopol we've wanted a direct sequel. However, that sequel never materialised.
So when the hype started building around a game that was set to star the hero of Isolation, Amanda Ripley, it was only natural that fingers were crossed and wishes were made that we'd be about to get some sort of direct successor. Alien: Blackout is not a direct successor, however. It is, in fact, a mobile-only stealth game in the same vein as Five Night's at Freddy's that sees you play the role of Ripley the Younger, orchestrating events aboard a space station where a xenomorph stalks the metallic corridors in search of prey. So, it's not the game we wanted, but is that a such a bad thing?
Well, to an extent, yes, but we also don't mind admitting that despite that fact that this absolutely isn't Isolation 2 or even anything similar, we enjoyed a lot of what Blackout has to offer, and the game actually does a decent job of taking advantage of touchscreen controls, and the tried and tested game mechanics work rather well when wrapped around the Alien theme.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept, here's how Blackout works. The player oversees a team who've found themselves in a spot of bother (that's putting it mildly), directing them around a base out in the depths of space, all from the relative safety of a vantage point, in this case, a hidey-hole in a maintenance shaft. By issuing simple instructions it's up to you to steer your people away from danger and towards their objectives, but of course, things are made considerably more dangerous because of the giant alien that's prowling the corridors and sliding through the air vents.
Some parts of the levels are covered by security cameras and at other times there are motion detectors (as befits the Alien theme) that reveal the whereabouts of the xenomorph, but you can never truly see everything at once. Blackout is fairly straightforward when you know what's going on, but the tension rises quickly as soon as you lose track of where the alien is, and as the objectives get more spread out and your overview diminishes, you'll lose sight of it with increasing frequency. If you're careful and attentive you can keep track of things for the most part, but doing so can be quite time-consuming and eventually things will get stressful as the timer in the corner of the screen ticks down - if that runs out so does the power and the next thing you'll see is a close-up of an alien's face. Game over, man!
Just because you're sitting in your hiding place, it doesn't mean your safe. At certain points, the alien will use the maintenance tunnels to move around, and sometimes it'll find you and swoop in for a kiss. This rush attack is signified by an audio cue, and when you hear the beast coming you've got to drop what you're doing, look up and swipe the tunnel shut to save yourself (with later levels featuring more tunnels for the alien to appear from - cue the frantic swiping). What we enjoyed most about Blackout was those "holy crap" moments and those times when we knew that the alien was catching up with our followers as they moved around. The game might be very different to Isolation, but that sinking feeling when you're confronted by an alien and a restart is just a second or two away is pretty much intact from its console predecessor.
The game itself isn't particularly long, and you'll complete it in an afternoon if you stick with it, but for around a fiver that's perfectly reasonable. You'll get more out of it if you play it how we did (at least for the first half of the game) and restart each mission until you complete it with all of the characters alive, but you can also lose a couple along the way and still watch the credits roll if you're less of a perfectionist. We're not sure you'll want to go back for a repeat play, though.
All told Alien: Blackout looks pretty decent, although the animations of the characters can be a little wooden (and the pathfinding looked a bit unnatural at times). The atmosphere of the franchise has been captured pretty well and there weren't any performance issues of note (we played on a standard 2018 iPad). The audio is decent too, with the eerie sound effects integral to your experience (make sure you wear a good headset - it makes a difference). Overall, you'd have to say that the whole thing has been executed pretty well and the presentation is good - this feels like an Alien game even if it's not the Alien game we were hoping for.
When it's all said and done, a game in this storied franchise is supposed to make you tense, and thanks to the structure of Alien: Blackout, that's exactly how we felt for much of our time with it. We're still waiting on Isolation 2 (or whatever) and this certainly fails to scratch the same itch as CA's modern classic did, but there's an edgy little adventure here that works well on touchscreens and makes good use of the platform's unique benefits, even if it is somewhat limited as an experience. Blackout is a solid mobile game and a perfectly acceptable use of the license, but now we're done with it we're back to wanting Isolation 2 once again.