Platform: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Pc
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: The Creative Assembly
When I first heard of Sega and the Creative Assembly’s first-person horror ‘Alien: Isolation’ I was immediately enthralled. How could deviating from the tired first-person shooter formula in favour of a tense and atmospheric horror set in the Alien universe not work? Considering how rich with creepiness the Alien films are, if the game utilised its source material properly it would be an instant classic! Unfortunately, Alien: Isolation feels like little more than an Alien-themed skin thrown on top of an indie horror game like Outlast, except that Outlast held my attention for the entirety of my time with it and didn’t feel unbearably tedious or drawn out. In space, no one can hear you yawn.
Alien: Isolation casts players as Amanda Ripley, who happens to be the daughter of Ellen Ripley, the protagonist from the Alien movies. Amanda is approached by Weyland-Yutani executive Christopher Samuels, who informs her that the flight recorder of the Nostromo (the ship from the original Alien movie) is aboard Sevastopol, a remote free port space station. He also nosily implies that perhaps Amanda can get “closure” if she joins a crew headed to Sevastopol and helps recover the flight recorder.
Of course, a number of things go awry and Amanda finds herself stranded aboard Sevastopol. Not only that, a lone Xenomorph is terrorizing the inhabitants of the space station. Man turns against man as the alien menace slaughters people, leaving Amanda to fend for herself as she attempts to recover the Nostromo’s flight recorder.
It sounds like a great setup to a game, so where does Alien: Isolation falter? For one thing, the setup to the game is way too drawn out. Depending on how thorough you are in your exploration, it can be an hour or two before you even gain even a glimpse of the titular Alien. At first, I found myself falling in love with Alien: Isolation’s gorgeous environments, which truly do adhere to Ridley Scott’s original vision for the films. Everything from the environments to the game’s HUD (heads-up display) looks as you would expect of a product bearing the Alien name. The lighting and particle effects in it are spectacular, especially when you first arrive on Sevastopol. After initially loving these things, I found myself to grow tired of the build up towards encountering the Xenomorph. The majority of people who are going to play Alien: Isolation are probably going to share my viewpoint, as well all know what a Xenomorph is and what it is capable of and there’s only so many times we can find an audio log or computer journal before we start to get impatient.
A long setup isn’t unforgivable though and when the Xenomorph arrives the game certainly ramps up when it comes to enjoyment. Having played other survival horrors where you have no real means of defending yourself (which I’m tempted to refer to as non-combat survival horrors), I’ve found the real appeal behind these games is in discovering the unknown, whether it’s the game’s backstory or what enemies are yet to appear and terrorize the player. With Alien: Isolation, the backstory is the same repeated garbage we’ve had in countless other horror games. The player will discover “secret” emails from long-deceased workers (which are left out in the open for all to stumble upon), audio diaries that more often than not cut off before providing any real information, and the scrawling’s of a madman on a wall. Seriously, what it is it about people in life-or-death situations that makes them scrounge for a marker to write gibberish like “Tomorrow together = NO future”?
In terms of “what enemies are yet to terrorize the player”, Alien: Isolation is pre-destined to disappoint. We already know the Xenomorph is bound to make an appearance and we already obsessively know everything there is to know about it. Acid for blood? Check. Mouth in a mouth? Check. The only thing left to discover is if any non-Xenomorphs are capable of scaring the player and while they’re a pain in the butt (especially on the hardest difficulty), they’re just your typical survivalists who have banded together to hold the monopoly on weapons and food. The “Synths” AKA androids are also challenging but in no way scary. You’ll find that they have seemingly been put in the game to provide the occasional distraction from the Xenomorph, so that he/she doesn’t overstay their welcome aboard Sevastopol.
Despite all these problems, Alien: Isolation does have a few good tricks up its sleeve. The use of flares and other tools to distract and therefore escape the Xenomorph are fun, but not particularly clever or original. The alien itself also provides the illusion of “getting smarter” or adapting its tactics to the players, meaning that you will not be able to hide in lockers forever as ol’ Xeno will start opening up every locker in sight by default. The game’s audio is also amazing, especially with a good quality headset. A must if you’re hoping to salvage every drop of horror in the game. I only wish that Amanda would talk to herself so the player had an understanding of her emotional state. That was done in the Tomb Raider reboot and it elevated the game from fun to enthralling! As it stands, the game can be very quiet in terms of character development and narrative.
- Amazing atmosphere. True to the original film.
- Clever integration of mini-games
- The best Alien game in years.
- Very long setup.
- Collectibles. So many damn collectibles.
- Hardly a story to be found.
When it comes down to it, Alien: Isolation feels as though it’s overly reliant on its source material, and not in a good way. There’s no room for The Creative Assembly to show just how creative they can be. I understand they wanted to remain faithful to the original Alien film but Isolation comes across as predictable and unimaginative at best when compared to the plethora of horror games recently released and on the way.
Score : 6/10