6 Things I Learned Playing 'Alien: Isolation' for 16 Hours
Alien: Isolation, billed as a Ridley Scott survival-horror game instead of a James Cameron first-person shooter, boasts over 15 hours of unblinking gameplay. Not being much of a gamer myself, to me half a day seems needlessly excessive. Especially since the original Alien that scared me shitless was just under two hours. How could anyone possibly sit in solitude for more than the length of all three Lord of the Rings films without eventually growing numb to the terror?
Well, being both an Aliens fan and a large child myself, I decided to power through this beast and give you tips on how to fully absorb the experience. But don't worry; there are no spoilers in this article.
Get Into the Head of the Character
Packing for 15 hours worth of pants-shitting game horror, I decided to start at a brisk 8 a.m. on the Saturday after the release. That way I could theoretically finish before midnight. That meant buckets of morning grogginess to hone in, and so in the spirit of terror I opted to up my nerves with a series of 5-Hour Energy shots administered once every three hours. This overlap seemed both logical and economic, because buying bulk shots would give me the efficiency and stamina of 25 hours worth of energy compacted into the span of 15. And to sweeten the deal, it would cost less money for nearly a third more energy in my bloodstream. It's just good math.
Along with feeling like the ever-tense Amanda Ripley, daughter of the films' Ellen Ripley and the protagonist of the game, I wanted to experience her dread of death as well. But how does one simulate something so intangible and ultimate? For that, I used a 5-liter jug of garbage-cheap El Mezcalito that Robert Evans jokingly brought me from Mexico. In retaliation I had been slowly and systematically drinking the joke over several months to spite him.
Even looking at the image feels like seven deaths.
Despite being a weak 28 percent alcohol by volume, the vile liquid tastes like someone poured Everclear into a drug dealer's moist curb-kicked carpet and then wrung out the result. This would be my death analog: a swig for every time I lost Amanda to the alien. Finally, I needed props to get me in character. I figured it couldn't hurt to keep a semiautomatic AK-47 next to the desk so I would feel like a space soldier ...
... and I strapped on an LED headlamp similar to what Ripley's kid would be wearing in the game.
It was this prop that turned out to be way more useful than any gun, considering that I would be playing the game in absolute darkness.
Don't Buy Cheap When Walling Yourself Away From the World
Being appended with "isolation," I figured the game would come with some kind of window-blackening kit right there in the box. This was not the case, so I headed out for supplies the night before. Here was my list:
A case of store-brand energy drinks
Astronaut ice cream
Foam board (not to be mistaken with a foam beard, which I already have)
Bed sheets (black)
7 headlamps (they're surprisingly fragile)
4 military-grade MREs
1 foam board (I realized I needed a backup)
Obviously, the first sore thumb you'll notice is that I chose store-brand energy shots instead of 5-Hour Energy drinks. I feel like this might be controversial among the 18-to-25, more brand-aware survival-horror gaming community. While my primary defense is financial, it would be a lie to say that I wasn't also seduced by the promise of a "zippy sip."
It's the Bill Cosby of energy shots.
I'm also aware that 12 jars are way too many for their intended purpose (more on that later), but being a noob I went for safe. The key items are the bed sheets, duct tape, and foam board. Because I have only one window in my bedroom, shutting my life out from the caring warmth of the sun would have been remarkably easy, had it not been for some unfortunate aesthetic choices I made while shopping:
This decorative pink duct tape was as joyous to the eye as it was not tape.
The pink duct tape wasn't fit to wipe a dead man's taint. If there were a tape Jesus, then this pink duct tape would be tape Judas. I can't stress enough how terrible this pink duct tape was despite being such a jazzy hue. When you're walling up your room and covering your desk with coal black, light-canceling sheets, don't be drawn in by novelty when it comes to your adhesives. Get real Gorilla Tape, or your gaming situation might end up looking like this:
Pathetic. But in my defense, my efforts did yield a passable fear containment chamber, into which I went the very next day ...
Remember to Improvise Inside Your Fear Chamber
OK. My phone was placed in whatever "airplane mode" does, my lights turned off, my door locked, jars in place, AK-47 by my side, water and food supply high. Time to sit back and enjoy my new video game.
Upon Amanda Ripley waking on the courier ship Torrens, I immediately hit my first snag of the game: I totally forgot to buy enough heaters for my MREs. This can be filed under "Don't Buy Cheap," because I had mostly purchased individual meals instead of entire MRE packages that come with self-heating implements. I also lacked any kind of heavy object to properly weigh down my now-heating breakfast, as described in the instructions, but to my favor had mindlessly left a candle on my desk during the preparation of my chamber.
BAM! You've been improvised, baby.
I didn't expect to remember every little thing on my first try (all you hardcore gamers are probably rolling your eyes right now), but the important thing is that I learned from adversity in the horror tent.
For example, my second mistake was becoming impatient during the 10 minutes of cooking time. While exploring the ship, I accidentally advanced the game and found myself preparing to board Sevastopol Station. This meant that I would have to abandon the cooking process altogether and eat my cheese tortellini lukewarm.
I took solace in the fact that Amanda probably never had the luxury of fully heated MREs either.
Still, it was a delight, topped off with a hermetically sealed chocolate chip cookie, which was probably too sweet for breakfast. The same could be said for the two energy shots I had between then and lunch at 12:45 p.m. This time around, a more seasoned and world-weary Dave was planning meals ahead. After four hours of waiting for the game's namesake (part of the thrill is the alien appears randomly, so you never know when to expect it), I had a brief encounter with my new alien friend before finding an unbothered air vent that I could spend at least 20 minutes of mealtime inside.
Spoiler: Air vent.
Going with an Italian getaway theme, lunch was penne pasta with vegetarian crumbles. In my haste I used the second heater, this time with different and much more vague instructions.
Question for all you regular survival-horror gamers: when cooking your MREs, does using your console as the "or something" hurt it over time? Please email me with the answer, because waiting for the meal to warm meant being politely suffocated by the growing waft of melting rubber. My concern wasn't as strong as my need for a hot meal, so I endured the smell -- and was glad I did.
Now, I'm only about a quarter Italian, so I try not to throw up shit like, "Che buono!" when dining with my extended family of Tony Danzas around a plaid tabletop in a basement rec room/initiation area -- but I know fine Italian versus Olive Garden butt-fuckery when I taste it. And these motherfucking pasta MREs were the cat's lacy "let's fuck" pajamas. I now see why our brave men and women in uniform eat these. I felt pumped, ready to line up and backhand the Gods like they were Stooges.
Before blasting back off I needed to clean my mess. Since breakfast I had kept Ziploc baggies in my pocket to store leftovers so as not to leave a scent. Sanitation wipes were also used to clean my face and hands and proved extra useful when it came time to piss in the jars.
When Pissing in Jars, Sanitation Wipes Are Your Friend
The jars were for pissing, yes. There's not much to say about this particular tip beyond how useful having something to wipe your hands with is when you're urinating in jars and storing them by your feet. Any kind of sanitation product will do, but I recommend using wipes over gel because wipes double as a surface cleaner.
See, this is why I was so surprised when I heard that Alien: Isolation is so time-consuming; while a seasoned survival gamer might be able to hold it for nine hours, 16-plus hours requires the consumer to spend extra money for either diapers or human-waste canisters. I considered buying one of those kiddie training toilets but decided to hold in any service-exit business until the game was over.
Pro Tip: The most flattering angle for shooting jars of your own urine is from above.
The third and final plus to having the sanitary wipes was how fresh they made me feel when applied to my face. At five hours in, the darkness shroud had gotten somewhat ripe, and the sweet chemical smell reminded me of better society. Still in the game vent, I added the MRE's orange flavoring to my water supply.
It was a risk, I knew then -- and a regret, I know now.
Imagine drinking Pixy Stix for a day.
Despite being jittery as a squirrel, I topped off lunch with an energy shot and got back into the game. My character's next mission was to get a keycard from Dr. Morley, which sounds easy enough ...
Learn to Embrace Fear Like a Worn Blanket
[Transcript: iPhone Audio Recording #1]: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. [inaudible garbling] I am hiding in a locker eating the first of my astronaut ice cream for emotional support. It tastes like Heaven chalk. If I were to stay in this locker, would the game just eventually beat itself? Shit on my mother, it's in the room with me. I can hear it! [two minutes of silence] It's gone! I'm gonna run. I'm gonna run, here I go- no no no no no no the stomping! Ah the stomping! The- oh damn oh damn. Ohhhhhhhh damn. [sounds of death] COME ON! No! Give me a checkpoint you trashy fucks! [30 seconds of silence, followed by disgusted gulping] Ugh, it tastes like watered-down ammonia. OK, going to the office again to hack this stupid shit. Look, I already know the goddamn door code because I'm Edge of Tomorrowing this bitch. Fuck. OK, so I have the code and I'm walking to the- [sound of alien dropping from the ceiling] I hate you, devil dragon. Where are you going this time? OK -- under the gurney. You can't see me because you're a stupid half-lizard- oh what? What? No! No, ah shit on toast. SHIT ON MY CINNAMON TOAST it's- no. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
From then on, every fear-fueled moment with the giant, oily serpent was unpredictable and primal thanks to the insane work put into both the A.I. and the creature's cat-like attributes. Having known this ahead of time, I began the day by inviting both my own and my roommate's cats to share the vast darkness with me. The former had recently been out of surgery and was missing the bottom half of her ass hair, which created an eerie alien-like effect.
Had I realized that it would mean a day of testicle-clenching hisses and thuds coming from both my television and my room, I might have rethought this strategy. Deep, sweaty fear became a routine part of the day, occurring at least once every half hour for the 16 unstoppable hours I played. Another safe lesson was to abandon all remnants of hope for escape or solace, best learned when meeting the first and one of the only non-evil Artificial People in the game.
I immediately hid in a nearby vent to fully contemplate the fleeting meaninglessness of this puppet fart dance we call life. On the real-life side of my TV, I discovered an old Halloween mask on my desk, which I then used to simulate the hollowness of it all.
Know That Humanity Is Just a Vice
[Transcript: iPhone Audio Recording #2]: 7 p.m. Food is an incidental irritation. Considering their convenience and taste, I plan to order MREs bulk upon transitioning back into the human world. The first hour of wearing my new face took some adjustment but was equalized by acquiring a flamethrower to ward off the specimen until the company would be able to properly contain it. Congruently, I have also contained my cat in a laundry basket until I can decide how to proceed with proper grooming and possible annihilation.
[Transcript: iPhone Audio Recording #3]: 10 p.m. Unable to contain the menace, it was eliminated by my hand. Correction: I eliminated the alien; the cat managed to escape after tricking me into granting 30 minutes of dedicated petting time, only to squirm away when I attempted to possess a bag of Whisker Lickin's inside of my desk drawer. Strangely, the creature's expulsion from the game did not mark the end. Why? It does not seem fitting for my character to survive once her task is completed. The story turned into evasion and eradication of the Working Joes, which I found displeasing. My first instinct was to approach these synthetic divinities as a servant, but, unfortunately, this resulted in having my neck snapped. Next, I attempted to casually walk next to them like I was supposed to be there. Unfortunately, this resulted in having my neck snapped. Killing civilians resulted in my termination from the game. I don't understand. The Joes are clearly the primary beings aboard this ship. They feel no fear and had immunity from the now-vanquished villain. They were Gods among the cowering flesh. [long pause] What must I do to become one of them? Must I become the dragon serpent?
It was midnight, and for the first time, I stepped out of my fright shroud and looked in the mirror.
In that moment, I realized that regardless of the rolling credits on my TV, the game had won.
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For more from David, check out 6 Technologies Conspicuously Absent from Sci-Fi Movies and 5 Characters Who Totally Missed the Moral of Their Own Movie.
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