Leading up to the release of Alien: Isolation, you would think that gaming was about to hit a high point again. Cries of ‘Game of the Year’, ‘best Alien game ever’ and awards being given left, right and centre at recent game shows. After twenty-five years of waiting for a perfect, gaming experience set in the bleak, dread filled universe created by Ridley Scott, have developers finally found the winning formula for everyone’s favourite xenomorph?
Yes, there have been a few contenders down the line. Alien 3 on SNES was a pretty tense take on possibly the weakest movie in the series. The Alien vs Predator series has had quite a bit of deserved praise… Unfortunately, very few of the games have covered the core material of the original Alien, where Ellen Ripley and her crew face one, highly intelligent extra terrestrial that hunts them down one by one.
The Creative Assembly team have finally managed to put their finger on the pulse and use this source as the background for what can only be described as the ultimate Alien gaming experience.
I promised her I’d be home for her birthday. Her 11th birthday.
In Alien: Isolation, you get the chance to play the role of Amanda Ripley, 15 years after the Nostromo went missing, as she tries to find details of the disappearance of her mother. The character is mentioned in the director’s cut of Aliens, explaining that she was eleven when Ellen left on the Nostromo and died at the age of sixty-six.
Amanda Ripley, now 25, is a technician for Weyland-Yutani, the corporation who relentlessly tries to bag themselves a sleek, black killing machine throughout the series, no matter the cost of life.
The plot involves Amanda being approached by an executive of the Company, Samuels, telling her that the flight recorder of the Nostromo has been located on Sevastopol Station, a sprawling freeport complex, owned by another corporation, Seegson.
Through natural curiosity and the need to track her mother down, Ripley agrees to travel with a small crew to the station to uncover the mystery of her mother’s whereabouts. After setting foot on Sevastopol, you’ll run through a few tutorial missions to get you used to the controls and introducing you to the station and it’s, lets say, problems.
Without spoiling too much, society on the ship has degraded into chaos, with citizens and workers tooling up in fear of an anomaly onboard that has somehow managed to single-handedly plunge everyone into hiding and being just a tad defensive. If you know the story, then you’ll probably agree that this is the best form of action against one of the most terrifying hunters in movie history, the Alien.
The story is told through cut-scenes, computer terminal messages and recordings by the crew in a perfectly fitting representation of the canon in the series. It refers to the history of the Nostromo, Weyland-Yutani’s unforgiving and single-minded nature regarding the Alien and the paranoid atmosphere that it instills in anyone who encounters it.
There are also original recordings from the cast of Alien, explaining what happened on the Nostromo for those willing to be brave enough to explore some dangerous territory or revisit earlier areas with new tools. Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skeritt, Veronica Cartwright and Harry Dean Stanton all return to deliver their lines in a smart move by the devs.
What the hell are we supposed to use man? Harsh language?
Once you finally encounter old slobber-chops, you’ll realise just why Alien: Isolation excels in the survival horror genre. This is no ordinary, cannon-fodder xeno from movies and games of the past, this is the original concept of the bad son-of-a-bitch that Ridley Scott intended it to be.
Even though you have a small arsenal of weaponry throughout the game, none of them will do any lasting damage to the alien. Shoot it with the revolver and it’ll only get pissed off. Throw a pipe bomb at it and it’ll just want to teabag you once it’s punctured a hole in your midriff. The only thing that will give you a chance of respite is the flamethrower and even that will only get rid of the banana-headed bastard for a short time while you find a cubby-hole to cringe in.
The alien will hunt you down, you see. Skittering in the ventilation system, creeping around claustrophobic corridors and basically waiting for you to walk into its line of sight so it can perform its own style of lobotomy on your pretty, little head.
You are not a marine. You are not a pulse rifle toting, bad mother-fudger with a cigar hanging out of your face and a head full of one-liners that would put Duke Nukem to shame. You are Amanda Ripley and if you don’t find a place to hide, you’re likely to die a nasty death.
Instead you’ll have to use your wits, stealth and the well placed engineering tools that are scattered around to survive. Finding key cards and codes to open doors, using your plasma torch to cut through closed vents and basically trying not to soil yourself while using the crafting system in the open, knowing that you could be a Ripley kebab if you time it wrong.
As a technician, you’ll find blueprints for special items scattered around Sevastopol, allowing you to create a few tools that can be used for distraction. Noisemakers are probably the most useful, letting you throw a bleeping mass of wires and speakers into a room so you can sneak past while the Alien investigates.
Flares, while helping you see in the dark before you get a handy torch, double as a decoy too. The xeno is pretty much like a cat and can be distracted by shiny things until it’s attention wanes and it decides to go after the mouse again.
There’s gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
One of the best aspects of Alien: Isolation is the intelligent AI. The xenomorph will investigate where it thinks you’ve been, listening for clues like the opening of a vent shaft, the blip of your tracking device or your heavy footsteps as you attempt to bolt down a corridor to freedom.
Entering a new area and running to the first locker you see will result in the door being ripped off the hinges a few seconds later and instant death. You might as well be carrying a ghetto-blaster playing loud rock music, while wearing Christmas lights around your neck, conducting yourself in such a way. Walking or crawling slowly around in the shadows is the key to not being found, giving you the chance to navigate safely to a hiding spot and track the Alien before you make your next move.
The humans, meanwhile, tend to arrange themselves into small groups, marking territory and attacking anyone who comes close enough to regard as a threat. Sometimes they can be more of a pain to circumnavigate than the alien itself, especially when a squad of them corner you and relentlessly fire hot lead in your general direction. Only singling them out and disposing of them from behind tends to work and even at that, you’ll still have the problem of being spotted by their mates.
Synthetics are similarly hard to bypass and although quite often they’re part of the solution to some of the puzzles, activating androids is dangerous, as most are hostile on sight. Not all though. They also can’t be stopped as easily as humans and require a shock from a stun baton or a blast from an EMP grenade to fry their circuits before smashing their heads into a pale white goo with your trusty maintenance jack.
Using stealth is the only way to progression in most cases, whether it be against the alien, humans or synthetics that inhabit Sevastopol. Even then, you’re never entirely safe. Not in cupboards, vent shafts or under tables… Giving yourself away either by sight or sound will leave you open to gunshots, strangling or a special kiss from the shiny, E.T. ballbag of doom.
There are virtually no safe areas in the game, leaving your nerves a bit frayed throughout your entire journey. Even I, a time-served, veteran of survival horror, was feeling a little relieved after putting my controller down after a session.
You Are a Beautiful, Beautiful Butterfly
The Creative Assembly have paid absolute attention to the aesthetics of Isolation, using the sets and retro styles seen in the Nostromo to great effect. This vision of the future from 1979 may look highly dated compared to some of the recent effects we’ve seen in both game and movie over the years, but it clearly adds character and authenticity to your adventure in Sevastopol.
From padded, leather effect walls and dingy, off-white corridors with pipes on display, it feels like a trip into the past and offers some nostalgic moments when you realise some of the scenery imitates roughly that of the Nostromo itself.
The developers have also managed to pull off moments of confused tension by using lighting and well positioned objects, such as pipes, wires and consoles that mimic the alien’s biology, just enough, to make you think you’re walking right into it.
Looking out of a window or, on the couple of occasions you can go outside, will reveal a gorgeous expanse of space, a looming gas giant, some planets and the stunning, sprawling outer shell of Sevastopol. Everything is well rendered and textured and adds to the already immersive experience.
Character models are similarly well presented, with Amanda quite convincingly modeled on the genes of her mother, resembling her enough to know that she has taken a lot of DNA from Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Not just that, but the voice acting on her part also has similar inflections in accent and line delivery from Kezia Burrows, who does a fantastic job of bringing Amanda to life as part of the Ripley family.
From Samuels’ clammy looking skin and placid personality, the madness, paranoia and humanity that can be seen and heard present in Axel, your first human encounter on Sevastopol, all the way to the shiny, black monster that slinks its way around you while screeching in fury, announcing it’s presence with metallic, guttural hissing and sniffing at a locker door in search of its prey, every character is perfectly represented.
Audio direction is well done too, with the 70s/80s style sci-fi score taken directly from Alien and using a dynamic audio cue system to inject atmosphere in any given situation. Blasts from the brass section alert you to imminent peril. Synthesizer tracks beat in the background as you push your way through dangerous territory and hinder your ability to keep your cool, not able to hear exactly where the late H.R. Giger’s monstrous creation is stalking you from.
Everything from visuals, audio, characterisation and AI come together in a terrific combination that left me exasperated, fatigued and drained, yet entirely satisfied as an Alien fan at the end of my adventures as the daughter of Ripley.
This is Rumor Control. Here are the facts!
There have been complaints of backtracking, the length of Alien: Isolation and some problems with AI from other reviews. The biggest complaint seems to come from a section of the game where you have to face off against Seegson’s ‘Working Joe’ synthetics late in the game.
This section of the game with the androids was, in my opinion, a refreshing yet still tense break from being chased by the Alien and works into the plot as a fine chapter that makes you play a wee bit differently from the rest of the game.
I will say that all of these complaints were not an issue for me. The backtracking is necessary and fits with the horror, making you cry out in frustration as you have to retrace your steps through an area to start-up a generator that has to be reset before progressing forward. This works perfectly in what you would see in a movie of similar content and has been used in games like Resident Evil to great effect to build a sense of familiarity that will smack you in the face if you get too complacent.
The length of the game, in my eyes, is fine, offering around 20-25 hours of play and well worth the price of what other games offer for a six-hour campaign and less impact. Some of that will be spent retrying areas from the sparse save points and only one area of the game had me spitting four letter words like a pissed off drill instructor with hemorrhoids, taking over half an hour from start to finish, just to be jumped on before reaching the goal.
I did come across a couple of minor issues that stamped on the quality of Alien: Isolation however. When the Alien gets too close to a locker you’re hiding in, it can clip through the door as it turns and spoils the atmosphere a little.
There is also one bloody annoying problem when you can spend upwards of ten minutes in hiding as the drooling hunter drops in and out of a ceiling vent continuously, stopping you from progressing or it’ll just stand around in a corridor, waiting for ages and not moving. It might as well be smoking a cigarette nonchalantly and carrying a sign with ‘Ripley’ written in blood on it.
Final report of the commercial starship n3rdabl3…
You’ve all had it too easy from 2000 onwards. Auto-save, dumb AI and the ability to crouch in a corner and wait for your health to regenerate… This is real survival horror and if you rely on the systems mentioned for your gaming pleasure, go look elsewhere. Children of the 80s and 90s will hopefully feel like I did and welcome the challenge of a difficult and pleasingly painful gaming experience.
There is no doubt that Creative Assembly have worked hard to restore confidence in the franchise after the miserable attempt that was Colonial Marines and have elevated both the brand of Alien and the genre to new heights. It helps that Sigourney Weaver also believed in the project and only offered support after seeing that it was a genuine additon to the story that she has been a part of for a very long time.
If you are an Alien fan, love survival horror and can cope with a bit of backtracking and a limited save system, you will absolutely love Alien: Isolation. It’s a must own title for anyone looking for a challenging, visceral and bloody gut-wrenching experience.
This review of Alien: Isolation was written, based on the PC version of the game provided personally by the reviewer.