Review: Alien: Isolation

Alien: Isolation isn't a game for everyone. There is a lot of trial and error, especially due to the classic style "save points" and the game can be frustrating to those without patience. That being said it can also be incredibly rewarding at times and is a must-have for any fan of the Alien film—as well as boasting enough to keep any general Aliens fans enthralled in its masterful execution.
Review: Alien: Isolation
Date published: Jan 8, 2015
2 / 3 stars

Alien: Isolation is a survival horror game in first person set in the fabled Aliens universe developed by Creative Assembly and published by SEGA.  Isolation, the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others. That is the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, but what exactly is the mental repercussions of such an act? Generally when a human being is isolated for long periods of time they lose touch with reality. Instincts kick in and without human contact, they slowly degrade both mentally and physically. Rationality takes a backseat to sanity and their genetics take over— their mind more reactive and possibly bestial.

Alien Isolation takes you inside the mind of Ellen Ripley's daughter, Amanda. She works for the "Company", who by now we're all aware of is the infamous Weyland Yutani. She learns of a flight recorder that was recovered from the USCSS Nostromo—the ship her mother was aboard when she went missing. She is told this black box with her mother's possible final message is being held on "Sevastapol" space station. Jumping at the chance to discover what happened to her mother, she signs on as Lead Engineer for an M-Class commercial courier ship making a routine trip to the Sevastapol. This is the beginning of Alien Isolation

The game is very accurate to the canon

The first thing you will notice about the Torrens is the interior of it. The ship is practically identical to the Nostromo, in aesthetics, layout, the cryo-stasis pods, even the ambient music. Alien Isolation is very true to the film. The technology level, the clothing, the AI room, and atmosphere are all very reminiscent of the first film. This is for all intents and purposes an "Alien" game. You will not find burst rifles or any auto-turrets in fact, there's no point in even trying to fight back.

Amanda has a few tools and abilities at her disposal as lead engineer. First of all she can build all sorts of makeshift items.Secondly she will have access to the iconic motion tracker, that works just like it does in the films—that is to say not very well. As we have all come to know and love, the motion tracker only works on a twi-dimensional plane, so while the Alien may appear to be near you, it could also be in the air vents above or below. From cobbled together parts, Amanda's profession allows her to craft makeshift pipebombs, distractions, EMP bombs, medkits and all sorts of bit and bobs to help her survive. Survive is the keyword here. Forget everything you have known about previous Aliens games published by Sega. This is Alien. Singular. Did you ever feel while watching the films that the "ultimate killing machine" as Wey Yu always described it wasn't so ultimate? You'll have no such qualms here.

A very thick atmosphere permeates the game

The suspense is intense. Much like the film the game manages to catch you off guard at nearly every turn. You'll encounter all sorts of enemies and obstacles long before you meet the "Xeno". You will know it when you see it, but by then you'll honestly wish you hadn't. While you may peek out behind any bit of cover you may be clinging to for sanity and protection from his sight, there is always a risk. 

The A.I for the Alien is not scripted. He can go anywhere and do almost anything. You may think you're safe hiding behind a large toolbox or cargo crate sure, but if it decides randomly to jump on top of your cover—let's just say you're in trouble. 

You are for the most part, on your own. The only way you will survive is relying on your own wits and scavenging abilities.  You will find random electrical and technological parts to build flares and other such items you will need to distract the creature and keep him occupied, and yourself safe. Noisemakers are a great way to occupy it, as well as 'sic' the creature onto any other threats you may encounter aboard Sevastapol station. That being said, gunfire will bring the beast running to your vicinity as well.

What's that? Gunfire you say? Yes, you will have access to a wide variety of firearms during your stay on Sevastapol. Unfortunately, they aren't particularly effective against any threats. This is part of what makes Isolation so terrifying. If you're like me and enjoy experimenting and testing the bounds of a game then you probably opened fire on "Steve" as soon as you got the revolver. Turns out this was a bad move to take against a xenomorph—as you'd wholeheartedly expect. The alien is dangerous. You can't kill it, do not even try. The best you can manage is to use gunfire or various items to have him attack looters on the station as you slowly slink away quietly into the next room towards your objective.

Aliens: Isolation is a beautiful game

The aesthetics of the game are quite breathtaking. Fans of Ridley Scott's masterpiece will immediately feel at home playing Isolation—from the opening intro using the same music and sound effects as the title slowly flips and is revealed; to you first waking up on the Torrens in your underwear, Ellen Ripley style. The lockers, computers, AI rooms, weapons and jumpsuits al fit the Alien aesthetic. There's even a few times you will don the rather iconic spacesuit Ellen wears while singing "Lucky star" in order to spacewalk and fix something that hinders your advancement in the game. While these sections can drag on and feel quite slow, the space-vistas are quite spectacular to behold. While the graphics of the game aren't anything absolutely amazing overall, they do the job and will easily draw you into such a terrifying horror universe as Alien.

Alien Isolation is for all intents and purposes a stealth game. While the suspense when you see the creatures tail slither past your hiding spot is intense, you will mostly need to stay out of sight. If the creature ever spots you (and it will), you may as well just put down your controls. There is no running from it, and there is no killing it. The xenomorph is so overpowered and it is great. You truly do feel helpless the first time it spots you and one of several death animations play for the first time.

The game isn't perfect - beyond needing a good sound setup,
it also tends to drag on somewhat due to the pacing of the game

There are however some downsides to the game. It requires a lot of patience and a decent sound set up. You often need to time when the creature pops down from an air vent and back up, in order to reach your objective and hide before it returns. The space sections do seem to be too high in number and after the first few just become a laborious chore to complete. While the story is decent enough to string together Amanda's advancement, it does drag on a bit—often throwing a spanner in the works just before the end of a completed goal. The ending while suitable did feel a little underwhelming in comparison to the whole game and while the overall experience is terrifying it does wear off. After the first several hours, encounters with different threats as well as the xenomorph become ho-hum run-of-the-mill encounters.

This isn't a game for everyone. There is a lot of trial and error, especially due to the classic style "save points" and the game can be frustrating to those without patience. That being said it can also be incredibly rewarding at times and is a must-have for any fan of the Alien film—as well as boasting enough to keep any general Aliens fans enthralled in it's masterful execution.

Alien: Isolation isn't a game for everyone. There is a lot of trial and error, especially due to the classic style