Released in 2014 for PS3, Xbox 360, as well as PS4 and Xbox One, Alien Isolation is a first person survival horror brought to us by The Creative Assembly. It features Amanda Ripley’s quest to find out what happened to her mother on board the lost ship the Nostromo.
Fans of the Alien franchise have had to take some punishment over the years, two amazing films were given to us by Ridley Scott and then James Cameron, and for those offerings we were truly grateful. There were so many possibilities about where the franchise could go, I had images in my head of myself, like Oliver, standing before 20th Century Fox saying “Please sir, I want some more” Then I watched Alien3, and I wanted to say, when I said “I want some more” I didn’t mean throw shit at me then tell me to be grateful for it. Then I sat through Alien Resurrection and whilst it raised the bar a little, it was too little too late. I assumed therefore, that one of my favourite franchises was effectively dead, then I heard about Alien Vs Predator, but I did not convey much hope for it mainly because the film had been given a 12A rating and how good can an alien and predator film be when it is restricted to a child-friendly 12A??
Anyway, I digress...
Alien games have generally been centred around the Aliens Vs Predator idea, or we have had the woefully bad Aliens: Colonial Marines. The hype for Colonial Marines just made the final product so much worse because the game play trailers had nothing to do with the actual game. So it seemed that not only was the Alien franchise dead on the big screen, it was also dead in the game universe too.
I don’t know who first thought up doing an alien game which concentrated on survival horror but I would love to give them a kiss.
FINALLY we have been given an alien game that lives up to the hype
The design of the alien is absolutely amazing, the way it moves, the way it sounds and of course the fact that you have absolutely no means of fighting it. The game features very sophisticated AI on the part of the alien which means it will never be in the same place twice. It has some scripted sequences, but can appear pretty much anywhere at any time, and if it does everything in the vicinity is going to die.
Before I go any further let me enlighten you regarding the plot.
The story follows Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who has spent 15 years not knowing what happened to her mother following the disappearance of her ship. She works in the vicinity of the vessel’s last known co-ordinates in the hopes that one day she will learn what happened. She is approached by Samuels who tells her that a ship has recovered the Nostromo’s flight recorder, taken it to a space station in the process of being decommissioned and she can go with him to the station to find out what is on the recorder. Amanda goes and finds the station in disarray, and the residents terrified of a creature that is relentlessly hunting them down.
That is the gist now let’s get back to singing the games praises…don’t worry I'm going to criticise the stuff I don’t like too.
The alien isn’t the only threat that must be contended with, some of the survivors will be helpful but most will shoot you on sight. In addition the station has a number of Working Joes, synthetic androids that start off harmless but suddenly begin a murderous rampage in which they attempt to hunt down and kill all remaining survivors on the station.
This is a great game overall, but it does have some interesting design choices which both help and hinder it
I stated in my Dead Space 3 review that I am not a fan of autosave, I like to be able to get to the next save point, save my game then charge around for a bit exploring, getting killed and reloading my previous save. Now Alien Isolation adopts this approach, there is no autosave, the problem with it is that the alien is very intelligent and hunts you down remorselessly. So you are going to die, and die a lot. There is an achievement for getting killed 100 times (although maybe achievement is the wrong word). It is very frustrating to be playing the same bits over and over again because the alien killed you before you made it to the next save point. I was playing the game with a couple of my skin sack's friends who are not massive gamers but they are big aliens fans and we literally spent 2 hours trying to get through a single room which contained a solitary guard that would shoot at you attracting the alien, and then you had the alien to contend with. Our ammo was low so we had no option other than to hide and hope the alien would not find us. The unpredictable nature of the alien AI also means that you cannot simply remember where the alien is, what it is going to do, and sneak round it. You have to be careful every time you play which gets more than a little aggravating. Basically after you see a character being killed by the alien early in the game, the alien is effectively unleashed upon you, and can then appear at any time. It has some scripted appearences but can (and will) jump out of vents to kill you if you just blunder under one that has its saliva dripping from it. So it does ramp up the tension as you see a save point and run to it because you are so desperate to save it before the alien makes an unexpected appearence dropping into the room you are in. So not having autosave is a mixed blessing in this game because if the alien does see you there is little to no chance of escaping from it so you will be restarting from your previous save
The other enemies include humans, squishy meat sacks that will go down pretty easily if you shoot them in the face, or set them on fire but generally they have a few friends with them so again it is better to stealth around them. Then there are the creepy looking Working Joes. Remember Bishop from Aliens, he looked human and was programmed to never harm a human or through in action allow a human to be harmed?? Yeah, the Working Joes aren’t that sophisticated. They are basic androids, they follow their programming and sometimes are indifferent to your presence and other times they will try to kill you. Their eyes glow white when they mean no harm and red when they are intending to hurt you. They only walk so they are relatively easy to avoid, honestly they are more annoying than anything else and it is a bit of a shame that the alien ignores them because it would have good (and helpful) if it had ripped them apart.
The humans and especially the Working Joes are really nothing more than annoying bugs buzzing around you compared to the threat of the alien, and so the game could have lost a lot of the encounters with them and not suffered. Also, there is a lot of backtracking, now in some games you don’t mind because you are seeing rooms that you couldn’t access before. Unfortunately there seems to be a bit too much backtracking here that adds very little to the game.
A level also takes place on LV-426 and is basically just included for fan service. I loved the level, but the friends I was playing it with just found that bit boring and pointless because like the backtracking it doesn’t really add anything to the overall story.
The game builds up the tension nicely and the unpredictable nature of the alien means that everyone is going to have a different experience. When we were playing it, there was a moment when Amanda was hiding in a locker, the alien was peering through the vents, the game prompted us to make her lean back and hold her breath. I glanced around as the alien walked away leaving Amanda alive and realised that all three of us had been leaning back in our chairs and had been holding our breath!! That is how immersed in this game you become, trust me, play it in the dark because it is so much scarier if you do.
Ironically Alien Isolation might be better if you are playing it with people, we would take it in turns to play when one of the others died. It was great fun trying different ways and means of doing a level. We spent ages getting round the alien only to get into a door and have a facehugger leap up from nowhere and attach itself to Amanda. The game has a crafting system so you can build various tools to help you evade the alien and other enemies.
There are drawbacks to the game, the constant deaths, the Working Joes taking screen time away from the alien are all annoying. This game is a phenomenal achievement because someone has finally treated the Alien with the respect it deserves, they have recognised the potential for a survival horror game and actually delivers on the promises made during development that doesn’t piss all over the loyal fans.
Yes, there are irritations which do take away from the overall experience but there are certainly worse ways to kill 18-20 hours of your life. I am therefore giving Alien Isolation a solid Thumbs Up
8/10 - A great and probably the best Alien game on the market and if you call yourself a fan of the Alien franchise then you owe it to yourself to check this out.