Game Review: "Alien Isolation"

Written by: Lillith Sinclair

After the titanic disaster of Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines, the Alien franchise was in dire need of a kick up the posterior with a barbed wire high heel. People were highly doubtful if a xenomorph creating deadly mayhem would be a serious selling point after that hideous gaming misfire but it was not until The Creative Assembly and Sega united to bring us what is arguably one of the most effective, respectful and stunning horror games based off the Alien creative license: Alien Isolation.

Very simply put, Alien Isolation is as tense as sin and scary as Santa Claus raping your mother on Christmas Eve. You play as Amanda Ripley, the mentioned-in-passing daughter of Ellen who has been relentlessly searching for her mother since Ellen disappeared 15 years ago on a mining job. Much like her mum, Amanda is a blue-collar worker who has very little interest in combat and only wishes to seek closure as to what happened to her mother. When she accepts a mission to travel to an out of commission spacestation known as Sevastapol, a branch of Seegson which is a competitor of Weyland-Yutani, she soon finds herself stumbling into the creature that tore her and her mother apart in the first place. Plus you know, some murderous c-grade androids (known collectively as Working Joes) and humans/unwilling cannon fodder desperate to stay alive, that sort of delicious stuff.

Anybody who has played this game and said they did not feel one ounce of concern or a rise in their heart-rate are either made of stone or are lying out of their teeth. Alien Isolation lives up the to full moniker of "survival horror" with neither word out-favouring the other. Under-powered and absolutely under-prepared, Amanda must navigate the space station using only her wits and her will to survive. If you ask me, this is the "Alien" game fans of the films and of intelligent stealth-based games have been asking for for a very, very long  time. Resources are in scarce supply, danger lurks around every corner and a sense of constant oppression seep through the screen, and into the players eyes, ears and mind.

Let me say this right off the bat: perhaps the strongest element of this game comes down to the sound design. The eerie, classic score by Jerry Goldsmith has been used with care and seamlessly added to by the games' composers Christian and Joe Henson, Alexis Smith, Jeff van Dyck, Byron Bullock, Sam Cooper and Haydn Payne. Who says too many cooks always spoil the broth? In addition to the glorious use of music, the familiar sound effects of the dirty retro future delivered by Ridley Scott in the first film are replicated and used to maximum effect to always keep the player on the edge of their seats and two steps from going into brick labor. You will be just standing there before you hear something that your mind tells you could be the alien, causing you to cower behind a box or a table as you check your surroundings.

As for the visuals? Pretty damn astounding. This game wisely borrows the aesthetics of the world envisioned by Ridley Scott and gives you the opportunity to wander through it with wonder and creeping fear. This is what an "Alien" game is supposed to be about: absolute fear, unbearable tension, and the primal need to survive. This isn't about going in guns blazing, this is about the mouse avoiding the claws of the big, scary cat.

Speaking of which, that brings us to the xenomorph . . . or Steve, as I call him.

Steve gives reason for you to fear the xenomorph again because his AI in this game is absolutely spontaneous. That is to say, he has no set patrol patterns or self-same behaviour at any given moment. Every play is different and every movement the alien does is in response to how you as the player act. The AI has been programmed to adapt to how you make Amanda move and behave. Depending on how you respond to an encounter with it, it will become super aggressive and persistent on a whim without any particular reason.

Trust me when I say that running around like a chicken with it's head cut off is not the ideal way to go. The game does not condone reckless behaviour and often times if you do something stupid and are not mindful of your surroundings, you will be punished for your transgressions.

The xenomorph is once more a frightening neatherealm beast who is out for your blood with incredibly heightened senses and isn't afraid to play instinctive mind-games with you. Trust me, you will die a lot in this game because the alien is absolutely impossible to kill and the best you can do is stun it, though that is only ever a very temporary solution.  On top of this revelation, if the xenomorph happens to spot you, it's an instant one-hit kill. Don't try to outrun it or use conventional weaponry, the end result will always be the same. The only thing that can give it pause is the flamethrower, but again, such a solution is only momentary and it will continue to haunt you. No matter what you do, Steve will always be on your tail and it is up to you to make sure you are a few steps ahead.

Which leads me to my nitpicks. No, I have no issue with the admittedly strict difficulty curveball this game throws at you believe it or not; it makes total sense. But one thing that may grate viciously on the nerves of some players is the saving system. Most games these days have positively spoiled us with generous auto saves and maual saving at any time, but not so with Alien Isolation. Scattered around every area are save stations that resemble phones and it is mandatory for you to report at these whenever you make substantial progress. You can play a lengthy scene before you get killed just before you reach its conclusion by the alien or another hostile, and the game will revert back to the point of which you last saved.

Always, always save, no matter how 'safe' you may feel you are. A small quibble I have that didn't really shatter my teeth per sé is the rather touchy interaction button system. Ripley has a small white rectile on the screen that when it comes into contact with something such as a fusebox, or a mainframe to hack, it can be automatically engaged. However, if Amanda is slightly off-target, the option does not show up and you need to manipulate her movement until it does. It can be a little annoying when you are hurriedly trying to enter a passcode into a security door system with Steve breathing down your neck. I think that could have possibly been an intentional aspect considering the entire game is spent on a vicious circle of tension building, but it can become an annoyance when your mind is on other bigger things.

Dealing with the Working Joes can be a pain in the backside in some situations too. You will be wanting to get a task done, fully in the knowledge that Steve could be lurking nearby, but those nosy, touchy-punchy synthetics can put a cramp in your style and you can either take them on or you can run around and hide until they give up looking for you only to resume your work. Don't get me wrong, I do like the challenge of multi-task in a scary situation, but there are some scenarios of which you just want to get through with as minimum fuss as possible and still retain enough resources.

Other bonus materials include Crew Expendable, in which you step back in time and space as Ripley, Parker or Dallas in attempt to hunt down the hostile entity that has just crashed into their existence. It's a pretty solid add-on with a wonderful return from Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerrit, Yaphet Kotto and Veronica Cartwright in spot-on vocal performances. Although the point of this DLC is somewhat redundant since we ALL know what becomes of these characters, it's still wonderful to hear these actors come back with pride in their hearts and being such good sports.

The secondary DLC, The Last Survivor is strictly Ellen Ripley making her last panicked and almost comatose with terror stand against the xenomorph. Again, it's something we have seen, but damn if my pulse wasn't throbbing when I played through it, fully experiencing the intensity and excitement of a terrifying situation.

Additionally on the game itself you are presented with Survivor Mode, of which you assume the role of Amanda once more and work against the clock to outsmart Steve and some friends and escape a perilous environment. It's good, challenging fun, but I am far more partial to simply playing the story mode because that's where the true money lies.

9/10. All chestbursting aside, Alien Isolation is as close as a AAA survival horror/sci-fi/stealth game it can be. Considering it has firmly rooted itself in the existing continuity, The Creative Assembly had to work double time to ensure there would not be another Colonial Marines disaster. It paid off in slimy, snarling spades. If sneaking around and improvisational survival is not your cup of tea, this game may not be for you, but if you are a fan of the genre, a lover of the franchise and you want to find an exception to a gaming rule you have, give this hair-raiser a go. I don't feel you will be disappointed in the slightest.

Share on Google Plus

About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
    Blogger Comment
    Facebook Comment


Post a Comment