So here we are again, another console generation and another Alien game. Isolation promised an experience much closer to the original film and pre-release material looked great. However as someone who got burnt by Alien vs Predator and Colonial Marines, I was reluctant to let the hype carry me away. Could Creative Assembly be the first developer in decades to nail an Alien game?
Picking up in 2137, between the events of Alien and Aliens, Isolation sees you take on the role of Amanda Ripley – the daughter of general badass Ellen Ripley. With Ellen still missing, a flight recorder from her ship Nostromo is discovered and Amanda heads to Sevastopol, the space station that has the recorder, to get some answers. And that’s where we pick up the story, playing as Amanda from a first person perspective.
The first thing you’ll notice is the presentation. From the opening boot up sequence, featuring some wonderful retro logos, to the in game world, everything has been crafted with a level of dedication that shows a real love for the universe. As you make your way through the levels you’ll find yourself taken in by how good your surroundings look. Of course, you’d expect a high level of fidelity and detail when dealing with enclosed spaces and corridors like this but that doesn’t mean its any less impressive. The fire in the game looks especially good and while character models can sometimes look a little off facially, Isolation is a pretty good looking game.
Another thing to note is that while Isolation is a first person game that features guns, flamethrowers and other weapons, it is not a shooter. This is a horror game, pure and simple. You will spend a lot of time hiding and almost all of the game crouch-walking slowly around areas. While Amanda can handle herself against human and android enemies (although even those can kill you quickly) the Alien itself is not killable, or at least certainly not with the tools you have at your disposal. It will also kill you in one hit, often from behind. These mini cut scenes are great, for example the first you might know about it is suddenly losing control of Amanda and she looks down to see the tail of the Alien break through her chest! That means if you hear it nearby you’ll need to find somewhere to hide or set up a distraction.
The Alien is well designed and uses the games artificial intelligence to learn your patterns, which is really cool (but terrifying). If you keep hiding in lockers the Alien will check them first when looking for you. Same goes for hiding under desks or in cabinets. It’s a clever mechanic and doesn’t feel unfair, it’s something that adds a bit more tension to proceedings. The amount of times I was hiding somewhere only to see the Alien slowly stalk passed outside, I was literally holding my breath.
As someone who doesn’t really like horror games with jump scares (I survived about 20 minutes of Outlast before turning it off and let’s not mention P.T…) I found this to be a great experience. The issue I had was that it was so intense I could only play an hour or so at a time. Which is why it’s taken me months to finish it (apologies @lefty_flip!). And that brings me to my main complaint about the game, it’s length. It is quite rare these days for a game to be too long but unfortunately Alien Isolation out stays its welcome by a good few hours. Clocking in at around 20 hours, it was just too draining. Also a few of those missions before the game ramps up at the end really felt like filler and there was a lot of ‘go to this door, try the handle, power’s out, track back across the map to turn it back on, and return to the door’ type stuff. And all the while you’re being hunted by an AI clever Alien. It just felt too long.
The other issue was that the game lost any suspense when failing areas. If you could get through them on your first or second attempt it was an exhilarating ride. However repeated deaths led to instances where you ended up just running here and there with pinpoint accuracy. I’m not really sure what the solution would be for that but it definitely shattered the carefully crafted illusion of the game on several occasions for me.
I quite liked the story but there were a few issues and the ending seemed to have a few gaping plot holes, which had me reaching for the internet. The characters felt quite well formed and Ripley herself was a decent protagonist. Even though I knew from the films what had happened to Ellen Ripley it still felt interesting and important when Amanda discovered new pieces of information.
In addition to the main campaign there is also Survivor mode, whereby you attempt to escape through levels as quickly as possible while doing optional side objectives to increase your score. You are given a time limit (30 minutes for example) in which to escape and the whole thing feels even more claustrophobic than the campaign. Having a timer running in the top corner adds even more pressure. I couldn’t even beat the first of these challenges so I suspect they are for more hardened/skilled players or people looking to play more of the game without replaying the story.
It has been years since the last decent Alien game – Alien Trilogy on the PlayStation (1996) and Alien 3 on Sega MegaDrive (1993) come to mind as stand out titles – but Alien Isolation is the best we’ve had for a long time. It captures the feel of that first film perfectly and while it has some issues with plot and overall length, this is recommended – especially if you’re a fan of the Alien universe.