Alien: Blackout packs a few terrifying moments — even on the small screen of a smartphone — and they all come from the mouth and claws of a murderous Xenomorph, hurtling through a vent towards my static position. I’m doomed at this point; it’s almost always too late to survive once the alien is in full sight.
If I pick up on an audio cue, however, like the frantic rustling through the vent, I might have a brief moment to close the vent opening and buy a few more minutes. These intense encounters are rare, however. I’m the narrative core of the story as Amanda Ripley, daughter of iconic film heroine Ellen and star of 2014’s Alien: Isolation, but hardly the primary focus of this mobile spinoff.
The game begins with Ripley, the lone survivor of yet another alien attack, holed up in a vent. She has managed to cull enough power from the decrepit station to yield eight minutes of sustained energy that can be used to control certain parts of the environment. But everything will go dark, and she’ll be helpless, once those eight minutes are over.
Things become more complicated when a ship docks at the station, and suddenly it’s up to me to remotely guide four Weyland-Yutani employees from that ship through the station to complete tasks and ultimately escape.
Alien: Blackout, a $4.99 iOS and Android game without microtransactions, riffs on mobile smash Five Nights at Freddy’s, and I must view the area through security cameras and scan an interactive map to help those crew members safely navigate the alien-infested space station. It’s a tactical game, even if my tactics are limited.
The good news is that Alien: Blackout captures the aesthetic of the films, much like Isolation before it. The ancient computer interfaces are familiar, I’m intimidated by the threat of the alien’s imposing presence, and Mendel Station has the eerie atmosphere that was conveyed so well by the first two films in the franchise.
Each of Blackout’s seven missions work within that eight-minute limit of my available power, as I swap between fixed cameras and use the overhead map to monitor the positions of the humans I’m trying to save and the alien that’s trying to kill them. I can activate motion trackers in a few key terminals and close doors from the terminal, but I only have enough power to perform a few simultaneous actions. I’m blind in the areas between the cameras and motion trackers, and have to rely on calculated guesses to keep everyone safe.
The missions are straightforward and nearly identical in flow once I get the hang of the interface, which includes the ability to draw routes for the human characters to follow and to tap verbal commands like “hide” or “hurry up.” I guide one or more crew members towards an objective, then to another, and then finally to a destination that ends the mission before I move onto the next challenge.
I’m always hiding in some vent, directing the action from a portable terminal, but there are also gradually more openings for the alien to scramble through. The alien will sometimes pop up into the vents and try to pounce on me, immediately ending the mission. But my primary challenge is keeping the other four humans alive as they’re hunted by the alien. I might be able to briefly isolate the alien in a room or block its path by shutting doors, but most run-ins with the alien are fatal unless I manage to tap the “hide” button immediately.
The alien may kill a survivor, or more, without ending a mission, however. Each human character is apparently expendable as long as I have at least one that’s still alive to complete tasks through the end of the campaign. I manage to burn through my spare crew members in the game’s opening missions, leaving myself a single survivor who can do what I need to be done to finish the game. The final mission seemed much harder without the buffer of extra warm bodies with which to distract the alien.
Sacrificing other humans for my own goals is one interesting element of the game, but Blackout doesn’t stick around long enough to develop many more. I flew through the first six missions in a little over an hour, and then spent another hour repeating the final encounter until I was able to finally outwit the alien.
That final mission would have been easier if I had been more careful early on, and I can always aim for a “clean” playthrough with no deaths if I want to make the game harder. But I found my second run to be more tedious than challenging; there isn’t enough variety or choice in how to tackle each mission to make the repetition worthwhile.
Alien: Blackout’s compelling premise never evolves past the basic ideas of the first mission, nor does it inspire the same sense of dread I felt with Alien: Isolation. Those unexpected, startling vent attacks might stick with me, but Blackout doesn’t offer much more.
Alien: Blackout is available Jan. 24 for Android and iOS. The game was reviewed using an iOS download code provided by FoxNext Games and D3 Go. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.