Despite the critcised length of the game, Alien Isolation is another success for Alien franchise fans
For a very long time I’ve wondered whether there was a game developer out there capable of doing the Alien franchise justice. I specify Alien in the singular because, to me, Alien is not the same thing as Aliens. Any developer can adapt Aliens because the film is standard macho Hollywood fare. As a result, numerous games like Colonial Marines are brimming with guns and devoid of the horror DNA that was so tightly bound up in the original movie. With the disastrous launch that Colonial Marines had and the significant issues it birthed, I have had doubts about ever seeing the Alien game we’ve been demanding for all these years. Given the state of the modern games market, would such a game make sense today anyway? In 2014 we got a definite answer.
Alien Isolation is a spiritual successor to the original Alien movie released in 1979. You play as Amanda Ripley, the seldom-mentioned daughter of Ellen Ripley, who has been missing for the past fifteen years. The game opens with Amanda being offered a space flight to a faraway space station, Sevastopol. At this location she finds a long lost flight recorder from the ship Nostromo, which contains the last recorded message from her mother, but upon her arrival at the station it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong. An Alien on the loose, a rogue AI committing mass murder, and a deeply rooted corporate conspiracy combine to create a harrowing story. The story has some great surprises and its subplots help to enrich the events behind the downfall of Sevastopol. Narrative is delivered in the form of tape recordings, and there are frequent references to the original Nostromo crew along with beautifully crafted flashbacks to the events of LV-426.
The voice acting is generally very convincing, but it falters in scenes that rely on solo performances from Amanda. There is something in her voice that feels weak and her character is strangely under-developed when compared to her marginalised companions. Despite these flaws, the story does eventually pay off. It is true to its nostalgic and horrifying intentions and delivers a riveting and thrilling experience that no other Alien game has managed.
The incredible atmosphere of Isolation can be attributed to the game’s technical brilliance. It was designed for next generation systems and because of this, it really shines on high-end PCs. The environments are packed with detail and are lit by an advanced lighting system that makes light behave dynamically. The game’s technical excellence is complemented by an art style that honours the original Alien movie. Computers on board the station match their counterparts from Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, creating an authentic visual aesthetic that dedicated fans are sure to appreciate.
The real meat of the game can be found in the nuts and bolts gameplay, and it is excellent. In the early part of the experience, your main enemies include: survivors, Working Joe androids and of course, the titular Alien. The Alien is unquestionably the main focus of the game as its AI is extremely dynamic. It has randomised, unpredictable paths that are hard to read, contributing to the suspense of exploration. The game hands you various tools to trick the Alien and introduces a crafting system that hinges on your ability to scavenge effectively. It is a useful system that feels right at home in the game. You are also given a small motion detector device that tells you if any moving organisms are nearby and also acts as a navigation tool. This makes the player’s movement and pre-empting of situations key to the enjoyment of Alien Isolation’s difficult game play. If you run from the Alien, you die. If you attack the Working Joes or survivors when the Alien is nearby, you die. In one situation, I found myself tempted to set alight one of the Working Joes before I sprinted to hide in a locker. Turns out this was a big mistake. When you hide in a locker and the Alien finds you—you die. Later in the game you are introduced to a flamethrower which despite initially feeling very overpowered, soon becomes just another resource whose fuel needs to be rationed. Furthermore, the Alien will respond less and less to the flames after each encounter—nothing comes easily in Alien Isolation.
The first few hours of the game are horrifying to say the least, yet the rest of the game is long and draining. For this reason many reviewers have criticised the game for its length, which drags the game out unnecessarily. Furthermore, some reviewers feel that the rebellion of the Working Joes changes the tone of the game dramatically. From initially being a stealthy experience, the game empowers the player to the extent that it is arguably more action orientated. Backtracking is also a point of contention, which can sometimes feel lazy. However, I believe these extended sequences in the game help you learn more about the station and how it changes over the course of the story. In doing so, it makes the major events in the game feel more satisfying and makes the major twist at the end impactful.
In closing, I think that Alien Isolation is one of those rare games that emulate the movie experience almost perfectly. It is a game that is a true heartfelt love letter to the fans of the Alien franchise, so well-crafted that any self-respecting Alien fan should buy it without hesitation.