It has been a rough few years for the Alien games, but their unlucky streak is close at an end. Alien Isolation is a far cry from the previous games and is far more true to the movies. After the mess of Colonial Marines, we’ve been left dead inside with no love for Xenomorph slaying, however, Amanda’s story might be the game you’re looking for.
Without sounding like I’m blowing my own horn, I’m a bit of a horror game nut and I’ve seldom come across a game that made me fret and panic simply by walking down a corridor. It also helps that this is a horror game in space, with no help on the way. You are completely isolated in a space station that’s practically gone to hell. Alien Isolation is a brilliant blend of Dead Space and Outlast, but remains its own in many ways.
The story basically follows the events of the first movie, Alien, after Ellen Ripley blows up the Nostromo. A few years later news of the Nostromo’s fate and the last surviving crew member makes its way to Amanda Ripley’s ears, who happens to be the daughter of Ellen Ripley. After hearing about a flight recorder with news of her mother, Amanda sets off to Sevestapol Station with two other Weyland-Yutani members. Upon reaching their destination, they realise something is up and that all is not what it seems. Chaos has erupted in the station, androids have begun attacking people, people have begun attacking people, and a creature of unknown origin is picking off survivors one by one. After Amanda gets separated from her crew, she gets into survival mode and is primed and ready to be both predator and prey.
Alien Isolation excels in many different fields and succeeds in being exactly what it’s meant to be, but it’s not free from issues. I’ll go into what works first, before I head into where it falls flat. First and foremost, it’s terrifying, especially the Alien himself. Unlike previous incarnations, this Xeno is 100% immune to damage and cannot be harmed by any of your weapons or crafted items. It can be chased away with fire, but you won’t have access to that until late in the game. All you have for most of the game is your wits and a useless revolver. What’s so genius about this game is that even though Amanda doesn’t know there’s an alien on board, you do and that’s what makes the start so gripping. You’re anticipating his arrival, so you’re jumping at shadows, staring at walls or the ceiling when you hear noise, and you stop dead in your tracks aiming your revolver you know won’t do diddly squat. It not only feels like you’re playing a game, it feels like you’re playing an Alien themed survival simulator. Whatever Amanda does, you can bet you’ll do the same.
The game is divided into sections and to access these sections, you need to use a transit system. In a way it’s extremely similar to the first Dead Space (the tram system) as well as certain settings (medical bay, gallery, engine room, comms, etc.). That’s to be expected, but unlike Dead Space, this game rocks the retro-science look. There’s none of this holographic sensor nonsense or the “hi-tech” you see in The Avengers, just pure 1980s sci-fi. For the most part, the game replicates the very setting and design you’ll see in the first Alien movie. Parts of it are very similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s very much a nod to old school science fiction and the nerds who grew up understanding DOS.
Setting aside, the atmosphere of the game is astounding. Darkness freaks you out, light freaks you out, shadows freak you out and worst of all, nothing in front of you freaks you out. For the first eight hours of the game, you’re on the edge all the time. Anticipating Mr Xeno’s arrival from one of the vents, shying away from trigger happy humans or trying you’re best to outrun the deadpan and relentless Seegson Androids. The best approach to tackling your enemy is to stay out of sight and move from hiding spot to hiding spot as quietly and quickly as possible. This is NOT easy and will fill you with anxiety, especially if it’s the Alien. The enemy AI is incredible and very realistic. The humans are a little clunky and you can never really tell if the Androids are the killer kind, but at least you stand a chance against them. When it’s you against the alien, it’s best to run, hide and wait till he jumps back into the vents.
Hiding and attacking is simple, but depending on your play style and who you’re up against its best to hide. The controls for attacking are simple and fairly standard. Actually, there’s hardly a learning curve at all. Hiding can take shape in the form of ducking behind desks or boxes to hiding in lockers and chests. It’s not completely safe as your enemies can tell when you’re in a locker. Wiggle too much or use the motion tracker when they’re pretty close and they’ll whip open that locker before you can wet yourself.
You have plenty of tools and creatable items at your disposal. Some are for defense while others to help start a distraction. Any kind of noise is trouble as it can bring the Alien to you. You can use it to your advantage though. Toss a noise maker and you distract you enemies long enough for you to move to another hiding spot. Make enough noise and you’ll bring the creature who kills all the humans nearby. Once he’s gone, you can proceed but you’ll have the alien to contend with as he’ll stay in the area.
The main issue the game has is its length. It doesn’t have a pacing problem, but it’s filled with so much padding and at least 2 mini-stories that should’ve been cut to reduce the time. You might think I’m insane to say “keep a game short” but adding extra hours to a horror game isn’t always good. The more time you spend in a world, the quicker you become acclimated to the fear. The first half of the game is superb, but then a twist happens – plus a few more – which adds an unnecessarily large amount extra content that diverts your attention. Eventually your fear will turn to frustration as you’ll stop playing the game the way it’s meant to, and begin rushing to finish it causing you to stuff up and die repeatedly which makes it even longer. What should be an 8 – 9 hour game is roughly a 15 hour game with twist after twist.
Another major issue I had with the game is the poor cinematics. Not only do they feel incomplete, but the frame rate is horrific. The game has an update but I haven’t seen a significant change in the frame rate since it installed. The lip-syncing is also way off mark and Amanda’s frights and screams do sound a little pre-rehearsed.
Alien Isolation isn’t a perfect game, but it’s game for diehard fans and horror fanatics. Despite its length, the game is filled with tension and atmosphere. It’s realistic and stunning in the creepiest way. Time to hunt the hunter or die trying.