Nottingham, Oct 2017
iLocked’s first game was highly automated, and Alien takes the level of technology a step further. The setting and story here is of course a nod to the movie, with the players as the crew of a small spacecraft woken from stasis after an attack from an unknown lifeform.
I’d been a little apprehensive that Alien might be non-stop dark corridors, flashing lights and jump scares, but those of a nervous disposition needn’t worry – no spider-legged critters are going to leap at your face, and this is more of a space theme than a horror theme.
The owners are very proud of the level of technology used in the game, and it is indeed very sophisticated in that respect, with most puzzles involving custom mechanisms of one sort or another. A particular central section impressed with its authenticity in a way that will likely impress anyone with the right background to recognise it. For most other players that section could be intimidating and off-putting, but depending on the group an alternative more accessible puzzle may be swapped in instead.
Puzzles follow the narrative of escaping from a distressed spacecraft, involving bringing particular systems back online, overriding alarms, and charting a course for an escape pod. Most of these are designed in a realistic style, and have you dealing with ship consoles and wiring in an immersive fashion. Where the game uses a more metaphorical style of puzzle, that tends to be in a good way, with for example one fun wall-mounted game that uses a more physical task to solve a ‘navigation’ requirement on your checklist of things to do.
A couple of steps use a certain amount of trial and error to reach the correct solution. I thought that was fair enough – the puzzles concerned were perfectly good ones. It did mean that I then resorted to that approach more readily, and on a different puzzle ended up using a brute-force approach when there was a better way to solve it.
Alien is not a small game, and has a layout that gives a great sense of movement throughout the space. There’s also a lot to do. It’s designed for a team to divide and conquer, and it would be very challenging to complete in time without doing so. In fact, in its current form it’s a game I’d recommend to enthusiasts much more confidently than to less experienced groups, who could find it a little overwhelming. We visited very soon after its public launch though, and I get the impression that small adjustments are still being made; I suspect that it may get tweaked to lower the difficulty a little, or to make it more accessible to the general public in other ways.
There’s a plot that advances as the game progresses, though I fear we were a little too busy scrambling to get everything done to take it in fully! Perhaps because of that, I felt the ending could have been a bit more dramatic – not that it was bad, just that there was an opportunity for a bigger climax.
I reliably like space-themed games, and I liked this one a great deal. It’s high tech but more importantly the technology is used well, to present interesting and varied puzzles that are a natural part of the game setting. The whole environment looks great, and my two favourite parts of the game are both related to its physical structure, one being the starting sequence and another being the way you transition to and from a particular area. Be prepared for a tough game with lots to solve, and (if you’re reading this at time of posting) perhaps consider giving it another month or two to settle in further, but with those caveats it’s an excellent game, deeply atmospheric, imaginative and fun.