“You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.”
(Review based on Nintendo Switch, PC, & Xbox 360 versions. Also available on: Xbox One, PS4, PS3)
Let’s face it. Aliens: Colonial Marines sucked. Big time. Gearbox promised the world, and delivered a shambles. Alien fans everywhere were disappointed. More than disappointed, they were angry. Sega had to make things right next time. Flash-forward to the announcement that Creative Assembly would be making the next game for the franchise. It would be a horror game …. with a single Alien ….. starring the daughter of the iconic Ellen Ripley….. People were understandably skeptical. With a single Alien, would the focus be on androids or – even worse – mercenaries? How would they include Ripley’s daughter in a way that wouldn’t feel forced? Can a developer who have only made Total War games really make a decent Alien game?
Creative Assembly nailed it. They absolutely nailed it.
As aforementioned, Alien: Isolation is a survival horror game starring Amanda Ripley, the mechanic daughter of Ellen Ripley [from the movies], who joins a crew heading for Sevastapol station to pick up the flight recorder of the Nostromo. Amanda has a personal interest in this mission because it may help her locate her mother, who has been missing for a long time. After a rocky landing on Sevastapol, you realise that something bad has happened. The place is falling apart, blood and graffiti cover the walls, the androids are acting a little weird, and the survivors don’t seem too pleased to see you. Things go from bad to worse as you soon realise that you are stuck on Sevastapol without communications, and there is something lurking in the ventilation above you. Something bad.
From the moment you step onto Sevastapol, you are hit with just how beautiful it looks. The futuristic [as imagined in the 1970s] architecture perfectly fits in the Alien universe, the gas giant outside in the vastness of space is phenomenally beautiful, the realistic lighting highlights the amount of detail CA have put into the design of the station, and even things like the dust particles in the air, all make you walk around with your mouth permanently glued to the floor. I’ll remind you as well that I played this on the Xbox 360. I don’t know what dark magic CA used to get it looking this good on last gen tech, but they undoubtedly made the most beautiful game of last generation. On current gen and pc, this game must be even more breathtaking
The audio is no slouch either. The music is perfect, evoking the beautiful score of the original film, and adds to the terrifying atmosphere. When you are under threat, the music picks up with its intensity so natural that your body can’t help but automatically transition from a state of unease to that of pure terror. One particularly memorable sequence towards the end (which is probably my favourite moment in an Alien game) has a flawless musical accompaniment. It makes a scary sequence transform into something literally pant-wetting. In addition to the music, the sound-design for all the small things is equally as excellent. In particular, the footsteps of the Alien running about above your head never fails to unnerve you. You need to listen out for these footsteps, as they will provide you with an indication as to whether your ‘friend’ may pop out for a visit.
Okay, so how does it play? Rather quite well, actually. The main objective is primarily to find the recording and get out of there – but, as the game progresses, there are other things that need to be done along the way. Despite the dire situation she’s in, you get the feeling that additional objectives have to be done, so none of it ever seem out of place. Enemies in the game consist of hostile survivors, killer androids, and the titular Alien. You have weaponry at your disposable, but Amanda is no fighter. For most of the game you will be playing hide and seek; using objects for cover, sneaking around using the ventilation, monitoring your motion tracker for threats, and constructing various items to distract anything hostile. You can use weapons, but ammunition is limited, your health is minimal, and Amanda can’t aim for toffee. You also run the serious risk of attracting the attention of something far worse. This can be used to your advantage, however, since attracting the Alien with gunshots or the noise-maker can be a useful way of clearing an area of hostiles. You feel bad as you hear the screams of your foe as they are being ripped apart, but don’t feel too sad for them because this game is hard. The game does not hold your hand and will punish you for not being good enough, so use every dirty tactic at your disposal. Do what you need to in order to survive – because everyone else will. This difficulty works well with the game though, as it always makes you fear the Alien and every second survived feels like an accomplishment.
Are there any problems? Yes, but not a lot. The rubber-banding of the Alien seems a little bit too tight. No matter how hard you try, it always seems to be right on top of you. It keeps the tension high, but it can sometimes affect believability as it seems to follow you without actually knowing where you are. Maybe it can smell your fear. Amanda spends most of her time stuffed in vents and lockers fearing for her life, so it could be a possibility, I suppose. It’s not a big problem, but something worth mentioning. Critics also seem to dislike the length of the game, but I can honestly say that pace hardly ever feels off. It may have fake-out endings, but they are standard fare in the Alien universe. The only time I felt that the game lost its momentum was in the very last minute of the game. The final bit is one hell of an anticlimax, and I have no idea what they were thinking when they made it. It truly is awful. But one minute after a marathon roller-coaster experience isn’t enough to ruin the game.
The game took me around 12 hours or so to beat, but howlongtobeat.com lists the average play-time at around 18 hours. There is also a challenge map, called “Basement” that you can play in addition to the main story. This is an arcade-style mode where you need to complete certain objectives as fast as possible while being hunted by the Alien and try to achieve the highest score possible. It’s ok, but nothing special. The main game doesn’t have a lot of replay value, bar collectables and achievements, but the length and quality of the campaign alone justifies the asking price.
In addition to this, there are various pieces of DLC. The two story DLC – Crew Expendable and Last Survivor are pretty decent, but they only last 30 minutes each to beat (the first time around). Both are centred around the original Alien film. The former involves your character sealing off ventilation exits and trying to get the Xenomorph out of the airlock. It’s alright, but it isn’t quite as tense as it should be. The latter puts you in control of Ripley, arming the self-destruct sequence and escaping the Nostromo. This one is a vast improvement, and is pretty tense too. Both are dirt cheap to buy, so I would recommend them if you are a fan of the films. The other two are challenge maps, which act as a sort-of prologue to the main game. They are definitely higher quality than the challenge map included in the game, but aren’t an essential purchase.
If you are a fan of the Alien franchise, buy this game. Play it at night, on hard, with the volume cranked up and headphones on. Just make sure you bring fresh underwear.