I dove into Alien Isolation with a little of caution, I wasn’t sure what to expect after reading the mixed reviews that rated the game from phenomenal to sub-par. It seems like the game requires a good amount of patience and an open mind about how it should be played. Depending on the type of person who played the game, they either loved it or became irritated by the endless trial and error combined with the surprisingly extended length. Top that off with the horrid impression left from the previous Aliens: Colonial Marines game, many gamers probably had written off the chance of us ever getting a good Alien or Aliens game. While I enjoy reading reviews and opinions of games before I buy or play them, once I do buy them I tend to go into them with an open mind and allow the game to give me the experience the developers intended.
I remember seeing Alien and Aliens as a teenager in the 80’s, they left a strong impression on me and since then I’ve been a big fan of the films. I’ve watched them several times over they years and while I enjoyed all four films the first two are true classics that have influenced science fiction films, books, and video games over the last three decades. Before popping the game into my Playstation 4, I figured it would be good primer to watch the first Alien film. It had been a few years since I last watched it and I wanted to maximize my experience for the game. The game ties into the films story, it takes place 15 years after Alien and 42 years prior to Aliens. You play as Amanda, who is investigating the disappearance of her mother Ellen Ripley. Amanda is transferred to the space station Sevastopol to find the flight recorder of the Nostromo only to discover an Alien has terrorized the station and killed the vast majority of the crew.
One of the first things to get clear, this is without a doubt a true Alien game, purely based off Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien film. This is not like Aliens, with marines and lot of Aliens to kill. There are only a few things the game borrows from James Cameron’s 1986 Aliens, the first is the signature motion tracker which is very iconic with its beeping sounds and green dot on the radar, the second is the torch used to open up sealed doors. Everything else in the game is based off the original Alien film.
70’s Sci-fi Atmosphere
Sticking to the topic of the original Alien film. Creative Assembly has done a miraculous job of recreating the films set pieces and atmosphere into the game. There is an incredible amount of painstaking detail everywhere you look. Nothing and I mean NOTHING is out of place or unfinished. The attention to detail is remarkable, the nostalgic 70’s era space station warps you back in time where things are big and clunky, yet surprisingly simple at the same time. Everything aged, dirty and worn as if it has been in use for a least a decade or more. Then to top it off the game features some of the best shading and lighting I’ve experienced in a game to date. The combination makes for an immersive atmosphere that pulls you into the Alien world as if you were right there on the ship. The detail and atmosphere is easily one of the many high points of the game. Major kudos to the Creative Assembly team, this is top caliber work.
The game is a die hard love letter to the 1979 Alien film and fans.
The other part of the equation to creating an immersive experience is sound. Creative Assembly put just as much quality into the sound design and score as they did the visuals. Most of the time it’s fairly quiet, you’ll hear various faint sounds coming from the Sevastopol as it floats through space, hear the humming of analog computer systems, the beeps and pecking of the keyboard, doors opening and closing, the beeping of the emergency save stations, the synthetic Working Joes talking to themselves. The lo-fi sci-fi sounds that set the tone and atmosphere in the game. However the one sound you’ll hone in on throughout the game is the Alien. To properly survive and progress through the game, you need to carefully listen to the Alien, its foot steps as it hunts for you, when it goes into the vents, you’ll quickly get in tune with the sounds coming from the Alien to know if it is safe to move on or stay hidden.
The game is filled with great details in the sound design to get you fully immersed into the experience. Then you’ve got the actual score, when music does kick in, it turns the tense situation into an edge of your seat thriller that gives you a killer adrenalin rush. Not only are your senses on high alert, but the music puts them into overdrive while your desperately trying to survive. Other times the music is subtle, adding just enough to set the tone and carefully build tension. It is so well done that you really do feel like your living through a new Alien movie experience, but an interactive one. The audio design and score are easily one of the many high points of the game. I highly recommend playing on a good home theater surround sound system as you’re sitting in the sweet spot or some killer headphones.
Video: The Sound of Alien Isolation
Speaking of how best to play the game, I think its obvious it you should be in front of a large HDTV with full surround sound setup or good headphones, and in the dark. Get into the experience and feel the fear and tension as you carefully make your way through the game. Don’t sell yourself short by playing on a small screen with poor sound and in a broad daylight. Now granted, I had to take breaks after too much tension had built up, you can feel it and I think that is part of the reason why the game is so good.
The xenomorph, the perfect Alien species that is nearly impossible to kill, has acid for blood, and is a natural-born hunter, a killer. You can’t stop the Alien, you can’t kill it, and only with some fire can you scare it away for a few seconds before it returns to find you. When it does find you, don’t bother running or hiding, because you are already dead. It is fast and you will get the famous double mouth of death very often, with an occasional spiked tail through the chest. The only thing you can do is hide. Hide under tables, beds, in lockers, behind boxes, dark corners, anywhere you can to survive. Then quietly move on once the Alien has gone hunting in another room or has jumped into the vents. The game does an excellent job of making the Alien intimidating, you don’t mess around with this, your best chance at survival is hiding.
While all games have enemy AI (Artificial Intelligence), most of time the AI isn’t very intelligent. Usually you can watch an enemy’s pattern and eventually learn it and plan your next point of action. However the Alien AI is remarkably organic and completely erratic. Sure it has somewhat of an expected pattern, but rarely did it follow that pattern the same way, it almost always mixed it up with the locations it walk around, the path it took, the speed it walked, the time it lingers as it senses you near by. Creative Assembly did a great job in creating what seems to be a really intelligent AI with the Alien. Because you die a lot, you end up replaying some sections several times, each time the Alien pattern would vary from slightly different to completely different. This only adds to the tension more as your constantly guessing and again relying on listening to the Alien to survive.
The game does allow you to begin crafting items, slowly it introduces new items for you to make such as noise makers, pipe bombs, EMP bombs and molotov cocktails. I found that using these against the Alien usually made things worse, I only really used them when I felt like I had no other options, but most of the time if I hid long enough there would be an opening for me to progress onto the next area. More often I used the crafted items against the Synthetic Working Joes.
In addition to the Alien, a good amount of the game has you avoiding the Seegson synthetic Working Joes, service androids throughout Sevastopol that keep things going. Basically they are really creepy space janitors that look like a mannequin with glowing eyes. At certain points in the game the Joes will come after you if spotted. Being alone in a room with one of feels weird, but is manageable, being around more than one provides a serious challenge. While they are slow and you can maneuver around them, they will get in your way and you’ll have to put them down. It is much easier putting them down one-on-one without attracting the attention of others if they are near by.
Around the middle third of the game you are given a break from the Alien, I won’t say why, but you begin to feel safer as you start to move around more freely. But soon you’ll start to deal with a few humans trying to survive and lots of Working Joes who will come after you. The Joes don’t go down easily, you can set them on fire and they’ll keep on coming, remember they are a robot, they don’t feel pain. They’ll soak up plenty of bullets before going down, so I didn’t really bother using the guns, instead they best way was to stun them with the Stun Baton and then give them a handful of solid whacks to the head with the door wrench. This method was working well until you encounter the Joes in hazmat suits which protected them from any electricity. Now you had to get more creative in taking them down or even better just avoid them whenever possible.
The game does a fantastic job of slowly introducing you to new items and weapons and crafting. Throughout my 20 hours I was slowly accumulating more and more items to craft and being introduced to new weapons which ended up having very specific uses. While you get a revolver early on, it is pretty much useless. You don’t begin to feel like you have any chance of survival until you get the flame thrower, shotgun and bolt gun, plus the EMP bomb, pipe bomb and molotov cocktails. Even then, you need to be spot on with your shots and placement to be effective. There isn’t a lot of extra resources for you to be wasteful, so you tend to make sure everything counts.
The game does a great job of pacing, as I mentioned about a third of the way in, it changes the tone of the game for a while. It was a welcome change that kept things fresh while exploring some great new areas of the station. You almost feel like you can survive through it, almost. That is until the Alien returns with a vengeance.
The other characters in the game that you interact with are great, they could easily be a character in the original film, like Ash, Lambert, Parker or Dallas. The ones that really stood out were Taylor, Samuels, and Ricardo. But the real star is the character you play, Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley. Amanda isn’t a space marine, she is scared shitless on this space station, but she is a strong-willed survivor that is willing to do what it takes to learn what happened to her mother. That is the journey you go through in this game.
Surviving the Tension
To create more tension you can’t just save whenever you want, instead you need to make it to specific save stations that are emergency phones throughout the game. They have a steady beeping sound once you’re in the proximity of one. You can’t just run up to them and save, you need to make sure your clear of the Alien first. To add to the tension, when you start saving it takes a few seconds to activate it before it actually saves, and your vulnerable during that time. I had a few instances where I was saving, feeling like I was safe, only to have the Alien tail burst through my chest and kill me. Needless to say the game is tense, everything is created to give you a heightened sense of tension and fear. The visuals, sound, the Alien, the Working Joes, the space station, and the deafness of space itself. Everything seems hopeless and far from the comforts provided by the safety of home. It all works together perfectly to create a survival masterpiece that will long be remembered as the true Alien game we’ve always wanted.
If you ever wanted a new Alien movie that as good as the original, this is it, but even better, you get to live through it and it’ll last you 15 to 20 hours. Well maybe that’s not the best way to put it, actually you won’t live through it, you’ll die several times before you survive through it. If your patient and enjoy good stealth as you sneak around to explore a massive space station, all while being hunted by the perfect Alien species that is the xenomorph, you’ll love every moment of it.
Creative Assembly deserves a standing ovation for the game. While some people have issues with it and it may not be perfect in everyones eyes, the overall package is remarkable and a massive accomplishment. Paying a tribute that is peeled right off the original movie, this is hands down the best Alien game we as gamers will have experienced to date. I am very excited to hear that already, there is talks of making a sequel with the same team. If they can put in the same quality of work into another game, make some refinements, then we will be lucky enough to get another spectacular ride in the Alien world. I for one will very much be looking forward to playing it.
Video: Alien Isolation Launch Trailer
Alien Isolation Resources
- Alien Isolation on Amazon
- Official Alien Isolation site
- Creative Assembly
- IGN review (5.9)
- Game Informer review (7.75)
- Game Trailers review (7.4)
- PC Gamer – Game of the year 2014: Alien Isolation
The reviews for the game are all over the place. It would appear that unless you enjoy survival games and have good patience for methodical games that you won’t like it. It also would appear that if they played on the hard setting it was less enjoyable compared to the normal mode. Granted I did my first play through on normal and really enjoyed it, however I’m going to go back and try the new nightmare mode. IGN’s review in particular seems like the game never got a fair chance. I hope they decide to have another review done by someone who has more appreciation for these types of games. Then you have PC Gamer who just awarded the game their 2014 Game of the Year award. The best thing to do is try it for yourself, if you’re a fan of the films and go into it with an open mind to get the intended experience then you should really enjoy it.
What are your thoughts about the game? Was it a great ride for you or did you get frustrated and give up? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.