Despite being one of the most anticipated games of 2014 Alien: Isolation had a lot to prove after its predecessors far from lived up to their hype and ultimately remained disappointing for the franchise.
Set 15 years after the original Alien film the story focusses on Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, searching for answers about her lost mother aboard the Sevastopol space station. Things take a turn for the worse upon arrival though: an untimely explosion leaving Amanda alone on a defunct station with little resources to rendezvous with her ship, the Torrens. Playing as Amanda the aim is primarily survival, using scavenged objects (such as scrap parts, chemical compounds and sensors) to build contraptions, for example medikits and even grenades! Weapons are in short supply though so stealth and cunning remain the key to progressing through the many rooms and corridors of the Sevastopol.
Rather than just another ‘first person shooter’ the game features just a single, un-killable, alien patrolling the space station stalking your every move. Armed with a solitary motion tracker, any ‘blip’ on the screen stops you in your track and that fear sets in that something is there. Cue hiding behind a blood-splattered desk in the hope that you’re not found.
This ‘fear factor’ was the main objective from the creators, The Creative Assembly, and it does that with aplomb. Take this common Alien: Isolation scenario, you’re casually walking down a dim corridor when an odd electrical surge or light flicker happens. It’s too quiet though so you pull out your clunky 80’s motion tracker for reassurance that you’re completely alone – unfortunately with the introduction of heavy footsteps in an above vent or a door closing that small little white dot appears on your tracker.
Anxiety leads to panic as you try to find a hiding place from the 9ft monster. You find a storage locker, it’ll do. As you peer through the locker slits the alien slowly moves past dragging it’s piercing tail behind it. It isn’t just Amanda breathing heavily you’re doing it too even after the alien has passed. I wouldn’t judge if you stayed in the locker for 10 minutes your conscious telling you differing things about leaving and staying. Then bam, decision made. Within seconds the alien rips off the locker door gives you a teasing look and finishes you. Five minutes later, after you’ve mentally recovered and your heartbeat is back to a safe level, you restart from the last checkpoint just as terrified as before.
The alien, or xenomorph to fans of the franchise, is portrayed in an almost identical way to the first film, a testament to the creators in finally giving the franchise a game that directly links to the original concept. The alien is relentless. Innovatively, rather than being fixed by AI constraints, its movement is completely random, it’s got a brain of its own, and it will ruthlessly stalk you. It learns more about you after every encounter thinking of easier ways to approach and kill you.
You’re not just surviving the alien though, there are other humans on-board thought to be from previous expeditions to the station, and androids (programmed by scientists to be of use to the humans). The androids start off friendly enough but end up being another threat to Amanda’s survival – very hard to kill, so outrunning them is the only real possibility as you frequently embark in a terminator-style chase.
The most incredible thing about this game is the effort the creators have put into the visual & audio departments. Playing this game on a 60″ TV it was hard not to see that the graphics and lighting are impeccable with personal highlights including vent shafts, futuristic (from a 1970’s viewpoint) computing technology and of course the incredible space cinematics. From a personal view the thing I was most looking forward to about Alien: Isolation was the music score and I wasn’t disappointed. Apart from scaring the living daylights out of me whenever the alien ran through the above vents the music and sounds are second to no other game I’ve played – having the surround sound option gave me the chills at all times, contributing massively to my gameplay experience.
Being a video game there will inevitably be drawbacks but they are few and far between in Alien: Isolation. A downside to this game for some could be the unpredictability of the alien. While a great idea in theory, and making gameplay trickier, it could get frustrating when the alien comes out of nowhere and kills you, especially as checkpoints are so sparsely located. Personally however, it made me try different things and persevere to escape from tricky situations, a major upside in my opinion.
The campaign is also incredibly long, it doesn’t bore but some sections do seem to drag on, especially once you board the Sevastopol as you try to find other life forms. The human graphics are also a little disappointing with the face details a little rushed – more like a standard FPS from previous years, not a ‘next-gen’ 2014 game.
In summary SEGA have released the game that the franchise deserved years ago. A brilliant fear-inducing survival game with a valid and believable plot that uses sound effects and an abundance of visual elements to create as dynamic an environment as the original films.