Babies And Badasses: New Alien Isolation Difficulty Modes

Baby.

Xenomorphs? You eat ’em for breakfast. Scraping out its carapace with a spoon, between mouthfuls of acidic meatgoop you try to launch a lecture on how actually “xenomorph” isn’t its name. That’s just how tough you are. For you, dear friend, I have a treat. Alien: Isolation has added two new difficulty modes, including one aimed at making everything a whole lot tougher.

Alternatively, if you’ve steered clear of Isolation because the very idea of it send a chill down your spine and sets your skin a-crawling, the other mode makes it all easier so you can more freely tour and world and follow the story. You’re never wholly safe, though.

Novice difficulty makes the alien less aggressive, a slower learner, easier to distract, and not as good as searching hiding places, while turning other enemies easier to defeat, making Ripley tougher, and throwing more items at her.

Nightmare mode, hooo. The motion tracker is wonky and often unreliable. The flamethrower gets less fuel and burns it quicker. You’ll find less items and ammo. Systems are harder to hack. Androids hit like, well, mechanical men should. No health bar, no ammo counter. And a more clever, more aggressive alien. That’s not even all of it. Good luck with that.

If you dig those ‘posters’ in that blog post, by the way, you can download hi-res versions over here.

36 Comments

  1. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    No health bar, no flashlight battery indicator, no ammo counter—dumb design choice.

    If the game had visual and aural feedback of being low on health, and of losing health, then getting rid of the UI would be fine—but it doesn’t, not consistently. If the game had visual feedback of your torch battery getting low instead of it suddenly no longer working, getting rid of the UI would be fine—but it doesn’t. If the game had diegetic feedback of how much ammo you’d collected, getting rid of the UI would be fine—but it doesn’t.

    I’d like to compare this positively to Metro’s Ranger mode, but I can’t—that game is designed with diegetic feedback so that turning off the UI is viable. Alien: Isolation isn’t.

    • drinniol says:

      You could, oh, count your shots. And real flashlights don’t often come with battery indicators either. And I imagine on that difficulty losing health probably means you’ve died already.

      • Volcanu says:

        Yeah the health thing in general is a funny one. I dont even think medpacks are that useful in the game, as conflict with enemies is pretty ‘binary’ and over quickly one way or another…

      • sinister agent says:

        The fact that you can think of a workaround doesn’t justify the flaw. “Count your shots” is hopelessly optimistic in a panicky situation, and I don’t know about you, but if I was in a survival horror type situation I would be counting and re-counting and obsessively touching and holding my ammunition constantly. When I wasn’t crying and soiling myself, anyway. And torches tend to fade long before they go out.

        Games that have no UI absolutely should have feedback to compensate for it. Indeed, even games with a UI should have more feedback than that anyway – it’s often the difference between a dissatisfying, frustrating experience and an immersive and intuitive one.

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          Harlander says:

          If a game with guns but no HUD doesn’t allow you to check your ammo like in Receiver, it’s a failure

        • Synesthesia says:

          RO2 has a good system for this, in which you check your mag, and gives you an approximate count: “The magazine is almost empty”

          • Munnrah says:

            Sorry kind sir/madam, but what game is RO2? That system you sounds like a good one, and I pretty interested in trying it out.

          • phelix says:

            @Munnrah

            RO2 stand for Red Orchestra 2. Highly recommended, though it has a rather steep difficulty curve. Expect to die often to unseen enemies over 200m away.

          • Munnrah says:

            Ooooohhh, OK. Actually, I have it on my Steam Library (who doesn’t eh?), but never played. But being a tough multiplayer game, I guess that I will reload every two shots, just to be sure. Hehehe

          • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

            Don’t do that, you’ll be throwing away half full magazines! You’ve got a lot to learn. Enjoy! It’s great!

        • Niko says:

          Guns don’t work really well in panicky situations. With a revolver you need 6 headshots (I think) to destroy an android on Hard difficulty. After downing two of them I’ve realized that stealth is a better option.

    • JohnnyPanzer says:

      Had it been an overall choice, it would have been bad design. I agree. But now we’re talking about ONE out of several difficulty settings, and one that aims to simply make the game as hard as possible. So it’s not bad design, it’s just MORE design.

      It’s not for me, since I don’t have a competetive bone in my body and I take no pride in “beating” a game. I’m one of those who always choose the easy setting so I’ll be able to enjoy the game without getting stressed out. But considering how often I hear fans of difficulty mention health bars, ammo counters and battery indicators as a negative, I think they made a very GOOD choice while designing this new nightmare setting.

      • Horg says:

        I would have preferred it if they had done what Thiefourf did, making the extra difficulty settings enable through individual check boxes. I’d like the smarter Alien, and maybe the limited resources for a second play through, without having to hide the UI.

    • All is Well says:

      I dunno about bad design. I would tend to evaluate design decisions like this on a “realism” or “immersion” basis – that the game should be designed in such a way as to give you a sense of actuality, to represent what it would be like to be in that scenario.

      I agree that because the game uses a gradient (am I using that right?) system for health and not a strictly binary “alive/dead” one, they should have some sort of feedback for health (how can you not know if you’re injured?), but I think removing the rest of the HUD is a good move. The no-ammo/battery-indicators approach feels more real or intuitive – guns don’t generally have displays like that, nor do flashlights, like someone pointed out (the one you’ll probably use the most, the flamethrower, does though – it has that analogue meter showing the fuel tank level).
      If I understood the poster correctly it’s just the HUD indicators that are gone, so you can still press Q (or whatever button it was) to see how much ammo and other stuff you have, sort of like an abstraction of rifling through your pockets. If the game didn’t have this, I could see where you’re coming from, but it seems that all they are removing is the ability to at any given moment know how many bullets you have in your gun and in your inventory.

    • Zaraf says:

      Agree with life bar and ammo counter. I’m fine with no flashlight battery indicator though. Never saw one on a real flashlight, and that not a very big deal anyway.

      Would be great if we could customize the difficulty level. I would choose enhanced AI, tougher ennemies, less fuel and items, and perhaps greater difficulties for hacking and the broken motion tracker.

    • Sic says:

      It’s called “nightmare” for crying out loud.

      Stop being such a wuss.

      It’s not a problematic design choice at all, since it doesn’t concern anyone that doesn’t want to torture themselves on the highest difficulty setting possible.

      The health bar is useless, as you’re dead if anything happens; one normally does not have access to a visual representation of battery life on things like flashlights; likewise with ammunition (this is the only point I will concede that could have been bettered by having a manual check of cartridges and such).

    • bp_968 says:

      Lol, this comment reminds me the first time I took an avid gamer to his first IPDA style firearms match (it’s a course of fire with multiple targets you have to move to different locations to engage). He would fire a couple of rounds and then whenever he had a “lull” in the action (moving from target set to target set for example) he would change magazines. When he was done the other shooters were like “um, why did you reload 5 times to shoot 10 targets with a gun that holds 20 bullets?” He laughed when he figured out what he had done but “muscle memory” from gaming had trained him to reload his gun whenever he had a lull in action (since most games always stealth refill magazines from your pool of ammo).

  2. Volcanu says:

    I very badly want to love this game. But so far I just dont.

    I’ve probably played about 10hours of the game and have just reached Section 6 (the lower hospital) and to be honest it’s just getting quite repetitious. The Xenomorph has ceased to be scary, and is now more of an irritant – sort of like a toddler that just wont leave you alone whilst you are trying to read a book. The AI doesn’t seem all that revolutionary to be honest. The Alien is clearly just doing a small ‘loop’ around your position – regardless of whether it has seen or heard you, and there is only so long that you can spend hiding under a desk or in a locker before it just becomes tedious.

    Anyway I will stick with it a bit longer, as on paper it’s exactly the sort of thing I should like and many people seem to love it – so am hoping it will all ‘click’ soon. I’m playing on ‘hard’ (which is my usual setting for games) but am considering dropping it down to normal to see if that helps the frustration factor.

    Regardless, my cap is doffed to CA for trying something genuinely interesting and new.

    • Vandelay says:

      I’ve heard people say this quite a bit, but it does go against my experience. I never found it to be a frustrating experience and I never wound up sitting under a desk for much more than half a minute or so. I died a few times, but perhaps only 2 or 3 times at most in any given section, so I wasn’t constantly replaying parts. This never meant the Alien stopped being scary though. It is a bit repetitive with the tasks it gives, but the game is so unique that I found I never got bored (except in the section where the Alien takes a backseat.)

      I do think difficulty might have something to do with this. I played on the middle one (assume it was called normal,) and found that to be a good balance. Perhaps on hard, the Alien lingers in areas for longer and has a better understanding of where you are. I would definitely recommend lowering the difficulty by one and it makes me ask how much fun this new setting could actually be.

    • All is Well says:

      I’ve sort of felt this way. I was first annoyed by the game when you get onto Sevastopol and it’s got all that stupid graffiti and overly catastrophic tone, and also when it turned out the alien wasn’t all that scary. But it got better!

      I think a lot of it has to do with expecting “horror” in the sense that Amnesia was horror – the type of horror that’s in scary movies. A:I is rarely, if ever, scary in that sense. It is a lot more about survival, like being locked up in a confined space with a predatory animal that you have to deal with. Once I stopped wanting to be scared it became a lot easier to appreciate this. In short, I think it ‘clicks’ when you get into the right mental state and learn to think about the game in a certain way. This gets a LOT easier when you find the flame thrower, because having it really emphasizes that the Xenomorph, while extremely dangerous, is just a big wild animal. I also recommend switching to medium difficulty, like Vandelay said. I played it on hard first and switched, and it got a lot more enjoyable. So first playthrough is definitely best on medium.
      (Sorry if this got a bit inarticulate, still waiting for my coffee to kick in)

      • Zaraf says:

        I finished the game in hard difficulty. I agree the AI was sometimes a bit too much omniscient (always in your area), but somehow I liked the randomness of the Alien “patrols”. It felt believable. I think maybe in normal, the alien patrols are less random, and it needs a bit more time to react after spotting you. But it should indeed be a good idea to put down the difficulty if the constant presence of the alien becomes more irritating than anything.
        What I like in this game is that once I reached the end, I watched some let’s play and I still discovered some reactions of the alien which didn’t occur during my playthrough.

        Anyway this is my GOTY 2014 (not much an achievement considering it’s the only 2014 game I got, but still).

    • Volcanu says:

      Thanks guys- useful to hear some other impressions. I’ll knock the difficulty down a notch and see if I get on with it any better!

  3. AshRolls says:

    Game of the year for me. Sevastopol is still vivid in my mind weeks after I finished playing, an absolute masterclass in atmosphere, level and sound design.

    I definitely don’t have the chops for nightmare mode though. I was hoping they would add a mode with no alien or aggressive humans at all so I could just explore without constantly shitting my pants.

    • DarkLiberator says:

      There’s probably a mod or something that disables the NPCs or something. The level design is beautiful.

      • stele says:

        Also LOVED the level design – hated the Alien. I played it on easy which helped (I really care more about the story and exploration and enjoying the space station), and I also found the alien to become annoying and tedious, but still scary. I would have opted for the “novice” mode, even though I’m definitely not a novice for sneaksin’ around.

  4. Joga says:

    Well, as someone who finds horror games generally too stressful, Novice mode sounds much better. I’m much more interested in the explorey and story bits, and less in the stressful monster chasing you bits.

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      Sinomatic says:

      I’m interested in all of it, just a huge wuss, so novice sounds like I might be able to even attempt it in the first place.

      Maybe.

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    Henke says:

    Finished this last night (on Normal, PS4). I had my share of issues with the game (especially the late parts with a lot of the squeezy crawlies), but just how well it captures the feeling of the Alien movies overrides all that.

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    heretic says:

    I’m playing it on easy but I still find the experience amazing, spent 1 hour in medical the other day (mission 6?) just going from room to room when the alien gives me breathing space and didn’t die once but had very close calls.

    Sadly I had my first frustrating moment last night, when you get to Dr. Morley’s office, hiding in the locker is no good, the Alien found me twice in a row so I’ll try another strategy.

    Thought it was a bit unfair considering I’ve hidden in lockers many times and didn’t have a problem. Think it’s either scripted to find you there (I can’t seem to do the hold breath QTE), or the room layout makes it walk directly in the locker and find you (its head actually clips the locker just before it find you lol).

    Let’s hope there aren’t too many of these moments… still happy they added an even easier difficulty, the world and environments are just amazing I just love the retro sci-fi look and exploring without constantly darting from locker to locker would be great!

    • DarkLiberator says:

      Actually if you keep hiding in lockers consistently supposedly the alien figures out that you hide in them. That’s why I try to be varied when I hide from the alien. Sometimes just behind the desk, or under it, under beds, behind boxes, whatever you can do. Usually if you keep out of sight and have a fair idea where he goes you should be good.

    • DarkLiberator says:

      The alien eventually figures out you keep hiding in lockers again and again, I’d try to vary up my hiding styles or just stay crouched plus hiding behind a desk is usually effective, as long as you have a fair idea where he is.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      Lockers are rubbish, don’t use them, but if you do make sure you hold S!

  7. The Sombrero Kid says:

    My advice is to play it at the easiest difficulty possible, the game’s at it’s best when it’s not breaking your immersion and if you’re playing a horror game for a challenge you’re doing it wrong, go play super meat boy.

  8. imposible says:

    The game totally needs a harder difficulty mode.

    Is too easy, even on hard, and without saving the game. If you walk instead of crouching, you rarely or never see the alien.

    Here are two games on youtube on hard mode, which never use save stations, and never die.

    link to youtube.com

    link to youtube.com

    But “nightmare” mode doesn’t solve that problem.

    • Zaraf says:

      I’ll have a look. I generally use combination of crouching/walking but in which case, the alien often comes to see me in most levels.