The aliens strike back in Isomer: Preview Keith Sayer November 15, 2013 Previews The theme of extraterrestrial invasions pervades our media including video games. We wonder what it would be like if an advanced spaceship suddenly appeared and landed on our planet. Would these newcomers be friendly or would they try to enslave or exterminate us? How well can humans resist these invaders? The upcoming game Isomer twists this question around by giving players command of the aliens rather than the humans. This choice leads to some interesting dynamics. Humans exist on the planet where you land, and they are hostile to you from the beginning. I found that usually humans were attacking my dropship within a few minutes of beginning the game. Because of my inability to communicate with these humans who silently attacked my ship and crew, I found myself surprisingly beginning to sympathize with the aliens that I played as and thinking of humans as the “other” disrupting my operations. This eerie reversal of species roles becomes even more uncanny because the basic gameplay of Isomer feels very similar to the tactical shooting of XCOM titles except in real-time rather than turn-based. Playing Isomer is a bit like being on the other side of XCOM, which gives the experience a totally different feel. Rather than seeing the aliens as “invaders,” they seem much more like “settlers.” The frontier for these settlers is a planet inhabited by hostile, inarticulate human beings. This uncanny experience made me wonder how other societies of sentient life (if they exist somewhere in the universe) would see us here on Earth. Would we be like Isomer’s humans, shooting first and asking questions later? Aside from the interesting questions it raises, Isomer’s design is innovative and promising. The choice to go real-time rather than turn-based gives it a more intense pace than the XCOM system. Although the game can be paused to give orders, events still happen quickly. The pause feature is essential to this game because there are so many different aliens to command; giving all these orders without pausing would waste significant time. This middle road of real-time pace with an easy pause feature works well in-game. The real-time structure is essential for the mining and building aspects of Isomer. Similar to Minecraft and other sandbox games, Isomer’s world is randomly generated and based on cubes of various materials – like dirt, stone, and minerals. The world is divided into several biomes that contain different types of material and each cube can be mined by an alien unit, which adds the material into your stockpile. These materials can then be either reintroduced into the world in its raw format, allowing the construction of dirt walls for example, or can be crafted into more advanced structures and devices. Some of these advanced constructions are healing devices, lighting elements, and explosives and I would hope that as the game continues to be developed more options will become available. This system allows for extremely varied gameplay because any kind of structure can be built or dismantled as necessary. The only consistent goal in Isomer is to keep the power core of your dropship from being destroyed by the indigenous humans. If the power core is destroyed, the game is over. The building system allows the construction of all types of defenses for the power core such as walls, pits, or (if you are very creative) mazes filled with mines. With the latest update, water can even be used because it now flows wherever a pathway is mined out. The 0.8.1.1 update also introduced a day-night cycle, which adds significant strategic depth. Humans tend to be more defensive and less aggressive at night, giving time to rebuild the defenses. However, occasionally the night will allow a human to sneak through your line because night obscures vision. Lighting becomes crucial because nights are dark enough that I needed them to clearly see the map, introducing a great dynamic. Even more interestingly, the day-night timing is tied to the world and somewhat random – meaning each world will have different lengths of day and night, lending each game another unique dynamic. My only complaints about the game are probably rough edges that can be smoothed in upcoming builds, such as a lack of in-game tutorials and information about what the buildings are and what they do. I also found the one-button order system a little irritating at time because there was not a clear way to deselect a unit, leading me to often accidentally order an alien I had previously ordered to do something else to walk to the square next to another alien I wanted to select. I fully expect these problems to be addressed as Isomer is developed. Isomer, as a whole, is a unique combination of some of the most interesting gameplay components out there, like squad-based real-time strategy, voxel-based construction, and randomly generated worlds with varied biomes. It shows tremendous promise in its very playable alpha stage, which already provides a fun, challenging experience that made me consider my own place as a human being. Although I cannot provide a rating now because the game is unfinished, I would recommend it to any fan of real-time strategy or voxel building games but especially to those who like both. You can get more information or purchase it HERE.