Building Better Worlds

The Xbox One and PS4 have been around for almost a year now and we are finally beginning to see new games that push the technical boundaries to bring new experiences to our living rooms. Destiny expanded the traditional fps with mmorpg elements, Shadow of Mordor introduced the endlessly unique Nemesis system and now Alien Isolation has provided one of the most interesting gaming experiences I’ve had in some time. Game releases on this scale tend to stick to the fps or rpg genre rather than survival horror, the Alien franchise’s horror legacy allows for some real investment in bringing Ridley Scott’s original incarnation to life. And with it’s life, comes your death. Alot. The key word in Isolation’s dictionary is survival, and it will do it’s very best to make sure you don’t. I usually struggle with games of this genre as my impatience tends to get the better of me, but in truth being stalked (and usually killed) by the Alien was just so damn cool I couldn’t begrudge going through it again.

More than once I got myself killed because I just loved watching the Alien go about his business of eradicating all life in reach. This is Ridley Scott’s Alien through and through, the aesthetics are all in keeping with the original films ’70’s vision of the future. Computer terminals tick into life with large block writing all in bright green, smoke and dry ice pour out of vents, the motion tracker makes that classic bleep as the Alien get’s closer and closer and doors seal shut with a very heavy mechanical ‘thunk’. Hats off to the art and design department they’ve nailed the look and feel of Scott’s universe as it existed in 1979. The soundtrack is equally fantastic, again heavily influenced by the original. The game takes place 15 years after the events of Alien as players assume control of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda. Amanda has received word that the flight recorder of the Nostromo has been located and heads out to Sevastopol space station to retrieve it in order to gain answers as to what happened to her mother. Upon arrival it becomes immediately apparent that all is not well with the station and so your nightmare begins.

Like mother like daughter, Amanda and Ellen Ripley.
Like mother like daughter, Amanda and Ellen Ripley.

The gameplay itself is very simple, missions don’t usually stray beyond fetch quests or reactivating switches of varying function, there are a few basic mini-games which are thrown into the mix when hacking consoles etc. But believe me when I say that in this case simple is good, because when you’re desperately trying to hack a door knowing that the Alien is SOMEWHERE behind you, you want to get through asap. This is where Isolation shines, the intelligence that drives the Alien is truly great to watch. It will actively search for you if it sees or hears anything, it will become less distracted by flares and noise-making devices the more you use them, forcing you to be selective about your distractions. It can access vents to come down behind you, it will look under tables (somewhere I thought I was safe until it proved otherwise) and rip open lockers if it hears you inside, the Alien is truly something to fear. Invincible to anything you can throw at it, your tactic has to be stealth, whilst there are guns in the game you will never want to use them as it’s basically a signal to the Alien that you would like to die and here’s where he can find you. There are other enemies on the station, human survivors and androids frequently present new problems, the humans aren’t all hostile but due to their situation they can become so if you provoke them. The danger in provoking them is that not only will they then shoot at you, but guess who comes-a-calling to the cacophony of gunfire? That’s right, Mr invincible turns up and will kill EVERYONE, including you if you don’t find a way out fast.

The androids are a little less interesting as they are either docile or in kill-mode, in the latter they will relentlessly walk after you (they don’t care about fire unlike the Alien) and if they catch you, a painful death will likely follow. They can be killed but chances are you will use up precious items you’ve crafted and lose a lot of health doing so and, of course, any confrontation runs the risk of summoning you-know-who. The Alien’s artificial intelligence being unpredictable is what provided the most scares, he’s around somewhere but you never really know when he’ll appear or where. It was never the same place each time I died, which keeps you constantly on edge, which aided by the stellar environment design makes sure you never feel safe. Corridors are tight and there are vents you can use to cut between rooms but entering them runs the risk of bumping into the Alien which is certain death in such a small space. Isolation has possibly the best use of Kinect I have seen so far in a video game, using the audio detector it broadcasts any real life noise you make into the game, meaning if you talk too loud (or in my case swear when the Alien pops out of a vent in front of you) enemies will hear you and come looking. This has more of an effect than you might think, I was subconsciously holding my breath when the Alien was near and when I noticed I was doing so I thought, how silly is this? I’m sat in my living room worried that if I breathe I’m gonna get my face eaten, but I also realised that it was damn cool. However, if you would like to play with this function on I suggest removing any noisy pets (or people) from the room as they will get you killed.

You're F***ed
You’re F***ed

Isolation is not without it’s flaws, for a game which has you sneaking slowly though a lot of it, it is incredibly long with many sections which led me to believe I was nearing the end just to turn into a whole new list of things to do. Which was great the first two maybe three times it happened but towards the end it did get quite annoying, had it been three to four hours shorter it would have been fine. The story is interesting enough to keep you pressing forward and there’s a short section which is pure fan service. Characters are few and far between and are largely forgettable, I would have liked a bit more development of Amanda’s character but really it’s you and the Alien who are the stars of this show. I found the pacing to be pretty good on the whole (apart from the end) and there are a few sections where the Alien is absent which allows you a bit more freedom to explore for crafting components to make smoke bombs, med-kits and distractions. The end of the game was a tad unsatisfactory having been through such an epic campaign, I’m getting a little fed up of this trend of making films and games with endings obviously designed to allow them to easily make a sequel by not fully rounding off the first installment.

Survival horror is not my preferred game genre, but as an Alien fan I found Isolation to be a great experience that captures the essence of the original film. Had it not been an Alien game the basic gameplay and length would have seriously hampered the score, but the unpredictability of the Alien coupled with the art direction and atmosphere really delivered on the experience I was hoping for. The dlc allows for more fan service as you can relive two episodes from the original film, playing as Dallas, Parker, or Ripley on the Nostromo which was great for a fan of the film like me but in contrast to the game itself they are very short. Isolation shouldn’t be approached like other video games, think of it more as a high production version of Slender if you’re trying to decide if you would like it or not, players more used to games where you are intended to win may struggle with the merciless attitude Isolation employs. I probably won’t replay through it for a little while but I’m sure when my Alien phase comes around again I’ll be heading straight to Isolation to get my space terror fix.

P.S: Thank God it’s better than Colonial Marines 😀

Alien Isolation receives a score of : 8/10

Reviewed on Xbox One