Game Review: Alien: Isolation
By Ross Wildish - 28th October 2014
It’s somewhat surprising that it has taken this long to get an Alien game that is a genuine survival horror. Since the first film hit cinemas in 1979, a myriad of games have been made to cash in on the popular franchise, varying from decent to terrible and mostly being action shooters. But at long last we finally have a true survival horror Alien game in the form of Alien: Isolation.
Sega’s attempt to make up for the recent bug-ridden mess that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, Alien: Isolation seeks to recapture the horror and suspense the crew of the Nostromo felt in the original film. Set 15 years after the events of Alien, you play Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda, who is informed that the flight recorder of Ellen’s ship the Nostromo has been recovered. Desperate for answers, Amanda heads to the station of Sevastopol, where things have not been going very well.
Alien: Isolation feels a lot like Outlast in many respects; you are unequipped to fight enemies head-on most of the time, and must instead rely on hiding and tricking foes. Many games that attempt this have predictable AI, which results in fairly boring encounters, but this is not so with Alien: Isolation. The enemies in the game, in particular the Xenomorph itself, are very clever. Their patterns aren’t too predictable, which leaves a constant degree of uncertainty. The result is that quite often the game forces you to take risks. At one point, I found myself stuck in a room with just a locker to hide in. Every time I tried to step outside, the Alien started heading back. Eventually I realised that unless I made a run for it, I would be stuck in there forever. Running for cover and hoping the Xenomorph didn’t spot me was exhilarating in a way few games have managed to achieve.
Though Alien: Isolation is based around this cat and mouse dynamic with the Xenomorph, it never gets too frustrating. Quite often in survival horrors, your enemy soon becomes more of an annoyance than a fear; however, Alien: Isolation never quite gets to this point. There are normally enough options open to you that you can deal with a situation in multiple ways; you could take out those looters yourself, potentially get into a shootout, or you could draw the alien out and let it do the work for you.
The story is fairly straightforward, perhaps too much so; most of the characters other than Ripley are just there to send you on missions, and very little work is done to build any sort of relationship with them. Mostly, Ripley just goes around Sevastopol turning things off and on. There’s certainly a lot of wasted potential in character development, but it doesn’t really harm the game in any considerable way.
Despite being available on both past and current gen consoles, there are no obvious signs that Alien: Isolation has been graphically ‘dumbed down’ due to being cross-system. On the PS4, it looks simply magnificent. Much of the 70s retro architecture from the original film has been carried across to this game, with the developers even going to the lengths of recording some footage to video and then importing that into the game. The Xenomorph itself largely resembles the original, with some minor changes. It looks and moves like a man in a suit, being more humanoid than the Xenomorphs featured in later films and games. This is a good change in my opinion, as the more animalistic Xenomorphs in later films and games are less frightening. There’s something deeply unsettling about the original, very human-like alien.
As well as the main campaign, the Alien: Isolation ‘Ripley Edition’ comes with two bonus missions: ‘Crew Expendable’ and ‘Last Survivor’, which both cover events taking place in the first film. Crew Expendable allows you to play as Ellen Ripley, Dallas or Parker on the Nostromo as you try to trap the alien in the ventilation system, whereas Last Survivor puts you in Ripley’s shoes as she tries to blow up the Nostromo and the alien with it. Most of the original cast reprise their roles, with Sigourney Weaver voicing Ellen Ripley in a video game for the first time after turning down others. The missions are short and sweet, probably too short, but it’s great to actually be a part of two such memorable scenes.
Alien: Isolation is without a doubt the best Alien game to date, and certainly one of the strongest survival horror games out there. It’s immersive and truly frightening, and keeps you on your toes enough to avoid becoming frustrating. With more DLC on the horizon, the game may still have more scares to offer us.
Alien: Isolation is available now on Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4 and PC.