It would be ok if everyone made their video games shorter.
I’m playing Alien Isolation and absolutely love it. It’s a first-person game set in the universe of the movies that has you exploring a far-flung, corporate-run space station where things have gone very, very wrong. A nigh-invincible Alien™ stalks the station’s remaining survivors and you. The alien can pop out from air vents throughout the station at any moment, and loud sounds lure it closer. Your only hope is to hide, or to use various tools to trick it into going somewhere else, especially when it’s hunting between you and where you need to go. The game’s artificial intelligence for the alien is scarily competent, and often crashes into other game systems in exhilarating ways.
One time I heard the alien closing in while I was searching through a room with a central, long row of desks. I quickly ducked out of sight under the first desk and the lithe, but tall alien stomped into the room. It quietly growled and stood in front of the desk where I cowered, and suddenly I was gripped with the feeling that it knew I was under there. I scooted backward out the other side of the desk, and crawled over and behind the second desk. The alien ducked to search under the desk I had just left. This proceeded from desk to desk… until I had reached the last desk with nowhere else to go. The alien began to stoop to search my last hideout, when a fellow human, one of the few remaining survivors of the space station, at that moment tragically walked through the door in search of supplies. The alien screamed in rage as it ran toward him and away from me. That poor guy was EVISCERATED and so were his friends who were standing further down the hallway. They gave me the chance to get away.
This little scene wasn’t “supposed” to happen. The alien doesn’t often check under desks. Computer-controlled humans aren’t in every area and their behavior isn’t scripted. This was a case of the video game’s systems coming together in a horrifyingly perfect scenario.
Between these systemic collisions, and Alien Isolation’s other positive attributes—like a well-rendered world, excellent voice acting, an interesting story hook, and more—the game has got me looking forward to each little window of time when I can afford to play it.
However, after a dozen or so hours of play already, I’ve made a mistake. I looked up where I am in the game, and according to general internet consensus, I still have at least a dozen hours of play to go.
Ugh. I know this path. I’ve been here before with other video games. The game will not introduce significantly different mechanics or styles of play after this point. The levels will just get bigger. There will be even more “elevators that are broken and I need to go through hell to find the one part that’ll fix them”. The alien will become more aggressive and harder to avoid. The story will be stretched and padded out to the point where I’ll stop caring what happens next.
Big, high-budget games like Alien Isolation always do this. So much of video game culture equates volume with quality and it’s infuriating. I’m loving this game, but it’s a forlorn feeling knowing that I won’t love it by the time I reach the end; if I reach the end.
Most video games would be better if they were shorter experiences.