Developers: The Creative Assembly
Plot: Amanda Ripley’s search for her missing mother takes her to Sevastopol, a space shuttle where people are going missing in the night.
I very nearly didn’t buy this game. History has taught us that Alien games just aren’t very good. Alien Vs. Predator was decent enough, but only because no one expected too much in the first place. Colonial Marines was reviewed so dreadfully, I couldn’t bring myself to even try it, my love for Alien not wanting to be tarnished by dragging the iconic movie monster through an ordeal. AVP: Requiem was bad enough, wasn’t it? Then something interesting happened. Gaming articles got really excited in the months leading up to Isolation’s release. The first few gamers loved it to pieces. By the end of the first week of sales, I owned a copy and was loving every minute of it.
Alien: Isolation owes a lot to some of the fore-runners in survival horror. Dead Space pretty much nailed the atmosphere, but a lot of credit should go to horror games like Outlast and Amnesia, that taught developers that gamers didn’t mind the ability to fight back being revoked from them. This game’s biggest strength is the fact that we are forced to appreciate the awe and danger of the Alien. When it sees you, it kills you. You can’t out-run it. You can’t fight back. All you can do is pray that it doesn’t spot you. And it makes for a deliciously terrifying gaming experience. The best missions are when you know it is using your current area as a hunting ground, whether it knows you are there yet or not, and you have to keep as quiet as possible, if you want to get to the other side of the level. The smallest noise sets it off, sometimes your controller warning you with a vibration, because you scuffed your shoe. Your motion tracker, ripped directly from the second movie, can help you figure out which direction it is in, but if it is too close, it will actually hear the tracker’s radar and come to investigate. Every gadget bestowed to you is helpful, but the best trick you can learn is to use each in moderation. Even when you get the flamethrower, which can buy you a bit of time, the limited ammo means that you still have to keep hidden for as long as possible.
I love how the Alien doesn’t even have a fixed routine. Understandably, it needs to be in vague areas at certain times, because the map is so large, but for the most part, the developers allow the AI to make its own merry way around the game. It makes it hard to predict where it will jump out from next. My mate and I had very different gaming experiences, because in one moment, I had to take on the Alien and my friend never even encountered it until much later on in the game. The best way I can describe Alien is one, extensive boss fight, where the entire game revolves around you, unlocking the abilities to actually kill it and finish the fight. There are only a few locations where it won’t show up. The toughest moments come when different enemies crop up in the same room. Occasionally you will encounter a room full of armed men, driven to hostile insanity and desperation, as the Alien kills their friends around them, and be unable to shoot them out of the way, because the Alien will hear the noise and come in for the kill. Sometimes a simple fight goes wrong and you quickly end up in another game of cat and mouse with the Alien, when you were meant to be taking on just one bloke with a revolver.
On top of the Alien and the humans, you also have to fight some Synthetics. You have to admire the Androids in this game, because there are moments when they compete with the Alien for scariest bad guy in the game. While most of the Synthetics in the movies are often mistaken for humans until halfway through the story, the Working Joes are closer to eerie mannequins, in terms of appearance. They are precise, almost impossible to kill and the second one spots you, every Android in the area beings communicated silently with each other to close you into one spot. If that thought was creepy enough, it is the friendly greetings they whisper as they lovingly choke you to death with their bare hands. One set-piece in the Android Showroom is both horrifying and good fun, with one of the more subtle and clever scares in the game. As you find yourself in a prolonged sequence with the Synthetics hunting you down, you might end up wishing that you were back to hiding from the Alien again. Of course, when you do return to the Alien sequences, you instantly begin missing the Androids. By the end of the game, you will probably still be scratching your head about which one is the trickiest to fight.
But Alien: Isolation is about more than the scares. Like the very best Alien films, the story builds a universe that instantly submerges you in the action. Most of the supporting characters, like Ransome and Spedding, you never actually meet, but hear about their character arcs through stray transmissions and emails hidden around the spacecraft. Sevastopol is a terrific environment, just as alive as the characters, as it creaks and groans, making even the moments where nothing is after you, fitting with the non-stop creepiness. Amanda Ripley is a great lead character, her determination and resolve instantly likeable. Any old game can scare you, but it is the truly great ones that can terrify you, yet keep you so invested in the story and gaming experience that you don’t actually want to give up. Like Amanda Ripley, quitting is not an option, so you shoulder on, taking the fight right to the Alien, no matter how many gut-wrenching scary moments lie waiting for you in the later moments of the game.
Final Verdict: Alien: Isolation easily trumps everyone’s expectations of it and becomes one of the most terrifying, yet un-put-downable games out there.