Date Released: October 7th, 2014
Developer: Creative Assembly
Platform: [Reviewed: Xbox One], Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 PlayStation 3, PC
Genre: Survival Horror
Rated: M for Mature
Decent Alien games are too few and far between, and most games that do take a crack at the series usually take inspiration from the action-oriented sequel, Aliens. After the abysmal sales and reviews of Alien: Colonial Marines, Sega needed to take the Alien franchise in a whole other direction if they were to do the sci-fi classic any justice. With Creative Assembly taking every necessary step to ensure an authentic Alien experience, players will finally delve deep into nightmarish situation that pits you against the perfect organism in a desperate attempt to survive.
15 years after Ellen Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo go missing, Amanda Ripley has been working for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation in hopes of one day some bit of information as to the whereabouts of her missing mother will turn up. It is until she is informed that a flight recorder from the Nostromo has been picked up and is being held aboard Sevastapol Station that her and a small crew journey across the stars to retrieve the recorder. In attempt to board Sevastapol, Amanda and two other crewmates are cut off from one another. Once inside, Amanda walks alone through the aftermath of panic and discord as the station is in complete disarray. It’s not long after that she comes face-to-face with the cause of everything – a Xenomorph. With nothing but her wit and a will to live, Amanda will uncover the truth behind the events leading up to the chaos and of the fate of her long-lost mother.
Unlike previous titles, Alien: Isolation’s focus is horror through a first-person perspective much like Amnesia and Outlast. Amanda is not a fighter, nor is she a soldier; she is an engineer who’s been swept up in a series of highly unfavorable situations, leaving her very vulnerable. Her first and last line of defense is remaining hidden and hiding in the overabundance of vents and lockers is crucial to survival. This reliance on stealth does not mean that she is completely defenseless; with a station ransacked of essentials, Amanda uses the overlooked electronics, components, and blueprints left behind to craft life-saving gadgets to help avoid unwanted confrontation or heal herself when in need.
What I love about Isolation is how true it is to the source material. Creative Assembly has meticulously captured the very essence of Alien and imprinted its 70’s future look onto the game. Everything screams Alien – from the design of Sevastapol, to the sound effects, it’s like you’re stepping in the set of the movie. Even familiar tunes from the film and some of the original cast members of the original film reprise their roles, mostly for the bonus “Crew Expendable” content, but fans will get a good chill up their spine when they hear the cast take up their roles again.
What impresses me the most is the game’s ability to capture the pacing and build-up of the film. The suspense leading up to the reveal of the Xenomorph is expertly executed and excellently sets up the fact that the Xenomorph isn’t the only threat you’ll be facing. First comes the terrified survivors of who have gone through hell, and will be damned if they’ll let anyone catch them off guard. Usually in groups, these anxious fellows are, ironically, more of a monster than what they’re running from, killing others for security’s sake. Androids that roam the halls of Sevastapol are the creepiest of the three main enemies. Speaking in low monotone voices, Working-Joe androids will disturbingly talk about safety protocols while strangling you to death. Androids are not susceptible to normal attacks like humans are and call for special means to dispatch them.
If you know anything about the Xenomorph, you know that it’s nigh impossible to kill this perfect organism, and when confronted by one, your only hope is to run and hide when you so much as sense one nearby. Players will not need to rely on their sense, thanks to the motion tracker, you can keep a close eye on your immediate surrounding for any hostiles. You can easily keep tabs on humans and androids, however, the Xenomorph will use air ducts to move around and get the drop on you if you’re being careless. Even when you think you’re well hidden, using tools that give your position away like the flashlight, or the motion tracker when too close to an enemy, will alert them to your presence, and if it so happens to be a Xenomorph hunting you down, instant death. But incase it’s too risky to use the motion tracker, audio cues will alert you to any danger. The alien itself has a range of growls and scream to tell players whether their being hunted or if they should make like Usain Bolt and run for safety.
How the Xenomorph hunts you down is downright methodical, it learns from each encounter with you and uses your own patterns against you. The alien will check inside lockers and other hideaways if he suspects you to be close by; if you don’t want your cover blown, you must lean as far back as you can and hold your breath, lest you want your face eaten off. The downside of this is that holding your breath will deplete you heath and potentially kill you. As necessary as hiding is, it is only meant as a temporary solution. A neat feature with the Kinect sensor allows players to use their bodies to lean in and out of cover and inside lockers, plus, if you turn on the noise detection, any loud noise made in the real world will be picked up in-game, alerting all nearby enemies to check out where it came from. This makes the game much more intense as I found myself holding my own breath, hearing my heart beat against my ears as the Xenomorph peeks inside my locker.
While not a flawless title, this is hands down the best Alien title to date. An intense opening, solid middle, and an explosive, heart-stopping ending are reminiscent of the film it’s based on while feeling fresh and new. Alien: Isolation is a hefty title that took me a good 15 hours to complete, and during that time there were segments where it seemed drawn-out and repetitive. I was worried that by the time it got to the final stretch of the game that I would be too powerful, but the last third of the game threw me a curve ball that I was not expecting and made my fight for survival that much more than horrifying, it was terrifying. As for Amanda Ripley, her journey for the truth will turn her into a battle hardened survivor – like mother, like daughter.