The first Alien film is, by any measure, a true classic of cinema. Ridley Scott and his crew created an amazing world and then filled it with one of the most horribly frightening creatures the world had ever seen. The fear that the film elicited from the audience was largely built upon the meticulous structure of the images and sounds crafted for the movie. This runs contrary to later entries in the franchise, which leaned more toward an action focus, which is easily replicated in video game form. So, it has been no surprise that any video game that took place in the world of Alien usually based itself on the more frenetic second film, rather than try to replicate the terror of the first. That all changes with Alien: Isolation, a game that tries to bring us all back to the world of Ridley Scott’s original classic, and while it might stumble here and there along the way, there is no doubt that this is the game that fans have been waiting for.
Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after the original film. Ellen Ripley has already survived her encounter with the Alien creature, and is currently sleeping her way across the galaxy. However, her daughter Amanda Ripley has been left wondering what exactly happened that made her mother never return home. Years of waiting and wondering seem like they are at an end, as Amanda is offered the opportunity to retrieve the Nostromo’s flight recorder; which is currently being held at the soon-to-be decommissioned Sevastopol Station. Of course, her arrival doesn’t go quite as planned, and she will have to fight for her survival against various forces, including the same type of Alien creature that her mother fought so long ago.
The feeling of playing Alien: Isolation is best described by sharing some of the incredible moments experienced within the game. One such moment occurred about halfway through the story mode, while I was working my way back to an elevator after flipping one of the game’s many switches. The Alien was nearby, but I’d been able to sneak past for the last 30 minutes or so. I crawl out of an air duct and turn to my left to see the sanctuary that had seemed so far away only a moment ago. I inch my way toward it, making sure not to make any noise, and trying to stick near cover in case the Alien appeared. As I reach some nearby boxes, I take the opportunity to look back, only to see the monster standing there in the hallway looking right at me. No weapon can take the creature out, so my only chance is to hope he doesn’t see me and rush the elevator. I decide, incorrectly, that crouching is no longer an option and begin my mad dash across the final few feet to the elevator. Miraculously, I make it and begin jamming my thumb on the “activate” button as Amanda mimics me on-screen. Something is wrong though. Amanda isn’t moving like normal. Suddenly the long, sharp tail of the creature juts out of Amanda’s chest, blood spraying everywhere inside this formerly safe place. As I hang my head, knowing that I’m about to be sent back to my last save point, the Alien’s black hand reaches across Amanda’s face, and the screen fades to black.
The things that Alien: Isolation get right are many, and are usually the most important elements of the game.
This is simply one of the many moments in Alien: Isolation that made me realize that this was a game that I had waited years to play. As a fan of the Alien series, and Ridley Scott’s original in particular, I had always wanted a video game to replicate the sheer terror that the 1979 film had brought to me so long ago. Unfortunately, as more and more games focused on the action of Aliens instead, it seemed like my dreams would never come to reality. It made sense though, horror is a tough thing to achieve already, and the idea of a single, unkillable creature would be nearly impossible to get right in a game. However, Alien: Isolation has done just that, with only a few instances where the game fails to live up to its lofty goals.
The things that Alien: Isolation get right are many, and are usually the most important elements of the game. First off, the team at Creative Assembly have perfectly replicated the Alien creature. From the first moment that it appears to the last, its presence is always terrifying and can easily lead to your death. Everything about the Alien works perfectly to maximize its terrifying nature. It is massive, standing about seven feet tall, and the sounds it makes as each footstep booms through the hallway signal that danger is approaching. While it patrols, using some very impressive AI, it seeks out you and any other human using sight and sound. While playing on lower difficulties, or when the Alien isn’t actively aware of your general location, you might be able to get away with hiding behind some boxes. However, if he knows where you are there is nothing you can do to stop him from tearing you limb from limb. That is, until later in the game when you get the flamethrower. Thankfully, this and all other weapons are unable to kill the beast, but it can scare him off for a little while. It takes a bit of the fear out of the game when you can blast the Alien with some fire and make your escape, but he always returns quickly and is now aware that food is nearby, keeping the tension relatively high throughout.
Getting the Alien right was probably the hardest part of making Alien: Isolation a reality, and the team did an admirable job of it. This alone would have been enough to satisfy most fans of the film, but the team went even further. Alien: Isolation has also done a remarkable job in recreating the visual and audio elements of the original film. Speaking just in technical terms, Alien: Isolation is one of the best looking games that I have ever seen. Everything from the lighting, to the smoke and particle effects looks astounding and helps to immerse the player in the world of Alien like no game has before. On top of this the team has layered some truly intricate and impressive art design that totally mimics the original film’s. Simply put, the world of Alien: Isolation is the world of the original Alien movie. CRT monitors, text based computers, padded hallways, bulky space suits, and an overall dilapidated and claustrophobic atmosphere; everything you remember from the original film has been faithfully recreated in Alien: Isolation. This even extends to the soundscape, as the team has incorporated the music and sound effects of Ridley Scott’s original. The constant hum of the engine fills the ship, while familiar chirps and beeps burst from every computer; doors whir open before clanking into place and switches have a satisfying analog feel. For anyone who has watched the film multiple times and appreciated the work that went into crafting the sounds that brought that world to life, Alien: Isolation is a true masterpiece.
This all comes together in the gameplay, as wandering the halls and air ducts of Sevastopol Station feels appropriately scary and oppressive. There isn’t much variety to what you will be doing in Alien: Isolation, but that isn’t usually expected from a survival-horror game. Your job as the player is to wander the haunted house that the designers have created and be frightened by what they have left waiting around every corner. You can get a sneak peak around those corners using the franchise’s famous motion tracker, which will become your best friend since it will help show where danger lies. Be careful though, since it can also bring that danger straight to you thanks to its many noises. Fear and the motion tracker might compel you to rush through the levels, but exploration is encouraged via various resources, which can be used to craft items such as Pipe Bombs, Flashbangs, or Medkits. These elements and the excellent AI of the Alien creature help keep the game fresh, as his totally unscripted nature makes every area play differently each time you go through it. However, the effect somewhat falls apart when the game’s other enemies come into play.
Amanda doesn’t just face off against the Alien in Alien: Isolation, there are also human and synthetic (read: robot) enemies as well. Due to the Alien’s presence on the station everything has fallen apart, the humans are fighting amongst each other and the synthetics are just acting weird in general. Some of these encounters play out in interesting ways, such as the time I blinded a group of humans with an impromptu flashbang grenade, only to have the Alien rush in and kill all of them as I watched in horror. Other times though, these encounters hurt the overall feel of the game. Some instances with the humans feel cheap as they spot you from across the room, causing frustration as you have to replay sections over and over. However, the big problem is definitely the synthetics, as they simply act as mobile cameras which will attack you if you are seen. During many sections of the game, these become your primary adversaries, causing almost all tension to be replaced by annoyance. I found that my entire behavior during these sections changed from slowly working toward the objective, jumping at every noise I heard, to rushing through as quickly as possible, just hoping to not have to waste resources on these annoying enemies.
This became especially problematic when, about two-thirds through the game, there is a sort of half-ending, where the entire game is mixed up and synthetics become your primary enemy. This was thankfully fixed after about an hour or two, and with some of the best levels the game has to offer no less, but the damage was done and a lot of the suspense that Alien: Isolation had built up was lost. This was further compounded near the end of the game as Alien: Isolation hit me with false-ending after false-ending. Not to get into too many spoilers, but the last couple of hours have so many dead ends and totally unbelievable moments which cause the game to stretch its runtime, that by the end I was simply happy to have reached the real conclusion. Video games are usually judged by how long they are, with the assumption being that the more gameplay you get, the better. However, I would say that Alien: Isolation would benefit immensely with some extra cuts made in the middle and toward the end.
Still, even with the meandering path that the story takes it is an amazing ride. Alien: Isolation is, by far, some of the best the entire franchise has to offer in terms of plot. While it might not be treading new ground for the series or science-fiction in general, there are some truly memorable moments here, and it all functions well enough to service the gameplay. And, if the story isn’t really to your liking, then you can always head into the Survivor Mode. This mode simply puts you into an area with the Alien and tasks you with making it to a checkpoint. Along the way you can accomplish various optional objectives, or just try to get the fastest time. Currently the options are very bare, with only one area available at launch time, but more should come later on. This mode is really all that most fans would want from an Alien game, so once it starts delivering it will be worth the price of admission alone.
Alien: Isolation might not be a perfect game, in fact if you aren’t a fan of the series or of survival-horror then it is probably not a game that you will enjoy at all. However, if you do fit that bill then it is certainly a must-play title. It is easily one of the best licensed games of all time, bringing forth the feeling of actually living in the world it attempts to copy. Then Alien: Isolation goes even further by being a great game in its own right. If it had simply stuck to what it did best then I could easily say that it was one of the best of the year, however the few sections where it does stumble hurt the overall experience quite a bit. Even so, it is an experience that I have wanted from a video game for a long time and it delivers in almost every way that I could ask it to.
Note: Not a part of the review, due to them currently being difficult to get without having pre-ordered, are two DLC missions. Crew Expendable takes players back to the Nostromo to try to catch the creature in the ship’s airlock. The mission plays out similarly to a scene in the film, but deviates slightly in order to facilitate gameplay. This mode is not necessarily a must, unless you are a super-fan. Much of the original cast have returned to the series to record voices for this mission, which, along with being able to explore the Nostromo itself, is really the only draw. The other DLC, Last Survivor, is a bit different. This one is even harder to get, as it was only available through Gamestop. However, it does add a lot to the game. This mission has you take the role of Ellen Ripley as she sets the ship’s self-destruct sequence and makes her way to the escape pod. There isn’t much added to the game, but the mission is a lot of fun thanks to the tension offered by the events presented. If you can get your hands on it I would recommend it, but you won’t miss too much if you have to wait for Sega to offer these later.
- Available On: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: Sega
- Developed By: Creative Assembly
- Genre: Survival-Horror
- US Release Date: October 7th, 2014
- Reviewed On: PC/PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Alien: Isolation brilliantly recreates the world of Ridley Scott's 1979 classic while offering some fantastic survival-horror gameplay. A few issues crop up over the course of the game, but not enough to damage the overall experience."