ver the years, there have been countless Alien games. In fact one of the very first games I ever played was Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure. My sister and I played it tirelessly for weeks trying to outfox the Aliens, but every time without fail, they would pop out of the floor, scare the shit out of us, and that was that. Eventually we gave up trying to beat it and put the game back in its vellum sleeve of a case. I'm not sure it's seen the light of day since 1996.
Since then many terrible Alien games, and films for that matter, have surfaced. More recently in everyone’s mind is the train wreck that was Colonial Marines, a fundamentally broken game riddled with glitches.
Cue Alien Isolation. With massive support from Twentieth Century Fox and Sigourney Weaver lending her voice to the good folks at The Creative Assembly, from the start it seemed very promising. Could Isolation be the game to redeem a sullied franchise?
Right out of the box, it must be said that Isolation is a very pretty game. Its 21st Century visuals paired with the 1980s tech from the film is a beautiful marriage that crafts a familiar clunky retro-future style. Pixelated TV screens ripple and fill with static and the ambient noises of the world sound like they blooped from an old computerized synth, accented by the unsettling silence of space. The soundtrack is quite nice as well and feels very at home in the Alien universe.
For those curious I'm reviewing the PC version on max settings running on a GTX Titan Black. I got a solid 60 fps throughout the game, however there were a few areas where it dipped briefly, typically due to copious lighting effects and sheer amount of drawn geometry on screen. While the Titan is a tad overkill, I can see this running comfortably on mid range tech, albeit likely not at 60 fps.
Spoiler free summary: If you’re looking to see if this game is worth playing without getting anything ruined for you, I would absolutely say yes. If you don't mind some mild spoilers, you're free to read on. For this review I will try and keep away from the third act of the game and I won’t be touching the ending at all. That said, you have been warned.
The game begins with you, Amanda Ripley, approached by a guy named Samuels who believes the flight recorder from her lost mother’s ship, the Nostromo, has been found and is being held aboard the Sevastopol Station, a free port station owned by Seegson Corp. Amanda of course accepts and joins Samuels alongside Weyland-Yutani executive Nina Taylor to get to Sevastopol and get the recorder to find out what happened.
Taking a courier ship called Torrens, they find the docking ports of Sevastopol unusable, and instead attempt a spacewalk across. During their walk something explodes and separates the group. Amanda manages to get aboard but has no idea what happened to Samuels or Taylor. Now alone, she reluctantly carries on.
THE ALIEN ISN'T YOUR ONLY THREAT
Immediately it’s evident that something terrible has happened at Sevastopol. I suppose it’s a little insulting that the game presumes, at least a little, that the player is still in the dark. In fact you don’t even hear of the Alien for at least an hour or two into the game. Which in and of itself is a relief. I’ll explain why.
This game nails the atmosphere. The lighting, the sounds, the style. It retains much of the 80s creepiness that the film took and ran with. Being the game it is you know the Alien has to have a big proper cutscene unveiling; he’s not going to show up early to his own party, and he doesn’t. In fact he doesn’t get unveiled until much later, which I took for granted knowing I wasn’t going to be slaughtered from behind with every heartrending step I took.
The Alien isn’t the only threat on Sevastopol though. Survivors on the station still linger, most clearly spooked and aren’t afraid to shoot at the shadows if you make too much noise. Most can be outsmarted or evaded by taking to the numerous convenient vents that litter the station. At first I was a little disappointed that there were other people. For some reason I felt like I was expecting a ten hour game being entirely alone with an Alien hunting me down, though now that I'm writing it down I'm quite glad they decided to mix it up.
After completing a few objectives you’ll reach an impasse. Amanda needs to use a tram behind a locked door, controlled by a computer a few rooms down. Finding the computer and unlocking the door is easy enough once you get past the nearby survivors, but once you do the Alien you had almost forgotten about makes its grand entrance. Hopping down from a vent, it slithers the ridges in its long boney tail across the desk Amanda hides behind like a saw. From here on out everything is fair game. Heading back into the room with the locked door, I saw the Alien sprinting from survivor to survivor, gunshots ringing off the cold metal walls, lighting up its slimy skin and its metallic teeth. I assumed this moment was scripted, to illustrate the Alien’s finesse to the player without actually threatening the player. I was very wrong.
Hiding up on a ledge behind a railing, I watched as another survivor tried desperately to stay quiet behind a stack of boxes. His breath felt panicked, his actions looked rushed and sloppy. The entire display looked and felt very genuine. The Alien vanished from sight into the ceiling across the lobby followed several seconds later by a thump and saw tooth click of its tail falling from another vent. I looked up to spot the Alien coming for this lone helpless survivor but instead saw nothing. Turning around I watched him grab me, pull me closer and shoot his creepy little second mouth into my face. Cut to black. Reload last save. That was the moment I fell in love with this game.
Early on you receive a motion tracker which can be used on any nearby threats. It also does a cool thing where it blurs out the background so all you can see is the tracker. Not as much of a catch as you might think though as there’s another control that switches focus from the tracker to the background, giving you the comfort of knowing if you're about to be murdered while still being able to see. The biggest catch is that nearby threats, especially the Alien, can hear the pinging noises the tracker makes. While the tracker will soon become your best friend, try to limit its use when you think you know where those threats are, which for the Alien isn’t always that hard.
The movies portrayed a stealthy killer that struck from the shadows. In Isolation the Alien is incredibly cumbersome and noisy. You can often hear him a few rooms over either scampering up into a vent or falling out of one. When he’s walking around in a room his footsteps are very audible. That said, it doesn’t do much in the way of help you avoid him because it’s often quite difficult to place where the sound is coming from, even with the motion tracker. Usually if you hear him at all, you’re fucked. Run away, crawl, hide, do anything you can do avoid confrontation, very little will help you. Guns only attract more attention if squaring off against survivors and cannot be used to kill the Alien, so it’s almost always a lose-lose situation. The only saving grace is the flamethrower that you get later in the game which can be used to scare off the Alien for a brief moment of solitude. The more you use it though, the more fuel it requires to scare the Alien off until eventually you run out, and it’s back to square one.
DON'T WASTE SUPPLIES CRAFTING MEDPACKS, THEY'RE COMPLETELY POINTLESS
There are a few things you can craft that will help you along the way: medpacks, noise makers to distract your foes, Molotov’s to burn them, and a few other things. While I pooled most of my findings into medpacks, I quickly found out that they’re almost entirely pointless; on any of the difficulty settings you’ll die within one or two hits from a gun and if the Alien finds you it doesn’t matter how much health you have. This means you’ll find yourself saving a lot, and unlike most modern games that have checkpoints, auto save, or save anywhere features, this game doesn’t have any of that.
To save in Isolation you need to find an emergency phone booth; insert your card and wait a few seconds until all of the lights flick off and then you can save. Early in the game they’re everywhere, and they make a very loud, very annoying beep. Fast forward ten hours though when you’re forty minutes from your last save, scampering from wall to wall trying desperately to survive and you hear that distant ping of a save point, your ears will perk up. It’s honestly a great feeling which is of course washed away by the sobering reality that you still need to find it, all while being stalked around every corner. Then you need to put in your card and wait three of the most agonizing seconds of your life, still vulnerable, knowing the Alien could be inches away until the menu pops up and you can cement your progress.
Later in the game you’ll come across a number of friendly low-tech androids who help you progress, find locations and get supplies. Until the corrupted system of Sevastopol transforms all of the androids in to man hunters, convinced that everyone is acting out of line and is a threat to the rest of the station. This becomes one of the longest and most arduous sections of the game, and honestly should’ve been cut down significantly as you never deal with the Alien and almost always have nothing to defend yourself with. It takes way too many shots to take down an android and the noise often attracts even more of them which you then don’t have the ammo for. I replayed a number of these bits over and over until eventually, frustrated, I just simply ran for the next area, dodging the androids left and right. Funnily enough, this method often worked quite well.
One section has you square off against what must be at least ten androids, all of which must be killed to find a keycard one of them is holding to get to the next area. Luckily you get some supplies but if you’re not properly equipped going in, it can be a very hard fight you’ll do over ten or fifteen times.
The Alien comes back for what you assume is one final battle. You’re tasked with trapping it on a section of the ship and then blowing the airlock, but surprisingly it’s not the end of the game at all. Which is where this game starts to drive home a very genuine feeling of the unending horror. It’s not the last time it throws this curveball either. I can think of several times this game wanted you to think it was ending and then threw your right back into the thick of it for a few more hours. This felt bitter sweet as the game in general is incredibly tense, and yet incredibly fun.
In total it took me sixteen hours from start to finish, most of that was spent sprinting from area to area as well; mashing tram switches and punching in key codes manually with the Alien breathing down my neck. Some of it was also spent replaying long stretches I had done because I couldn’t find a damn save booth though so it sort of evens out. I also struggled quite badly in one area where I was trapped with the Alien and with no supplies making it next to impossible to advance. When I moved he saw me. When I took out my tracker he heard me. After what must’ve been fifty attempts I lucked in to some flame thrower fuel that I found in a box and used that as a distraction to make a break for it. Then I encountered an big problem: saving my game when the Alien knew where I was. Reload the save, and there he is looking me in the eye. No supplies to help me, and only a few seconds to make a move.
MY BIGGEST COMPLAINT IS THAT IT LACKS
A TRUE SURVIVAL MODE
Often the game will place the Alien a little ways away from you if you manage to save with him right up your trumpet. This time though it placed him a foot to my right. Somehow on one of my reloads I tripped over a box, that knocked over the box next to it and gave me enough time to hide behind a table and, when he wasn’t looking, run.
My biggest complaint isn’t with the story or the controls. In fact I felt the game played very fluid and entirely glitch free. It’s with the complete lack of a true survival mode. While it does technically have a survival mode it’s based in a small area where you need to complete a number of tasks against the clock. The faster your time the higher your score. Sounds stupid right? My idea of a survival mode would be all of Sevastopol station open to the player with the sole purpose of surviving as long as possible, against the survivors, androids and the Alien using whatever supplies you could find, maybe even throw in a little co-op action. That would be amazing. They did recently release a Salvage mode which is a similar idea, but differs once again in the size of the map with a time limit as well as a scoring system where points can be traded in for saves. I don’t know about you but knowing there’s a time limit in a game almost always sucks the enjoyment out of it. Plus if you don’t have the season pass this mode is a hefty $9 extra.
It’s also got a few other game modes, none really worth mentioning. The DLC isn’t really worth it either; both Last Survivor and Crew Expendable can be played through in about thirty minutes total and add no context to the game itself. In fact they’re almost entirely fan service as they simply make certain bits of the movie playable, which does deserve some credit. It’s just unfortunate that both cost $5 each without the pass.
While it’s true that this game is definitely not without fault, it’s hard not to find charm in it. The dialogue early on is a little stale and lacking in emotion, the cutscenes aren’t in-engine and don’t look terribly high-res. The AI sometimes knows a little too much, and in other parts it just becomes a matter of pure luck to make progress, which is agonizing for a game this long. Still though, it’s a very pretty, very tense, but very fun experience. It does a great job paying tribute to the original film and stays faithful to the source material. Playing through this has actually made me respect and enjoy the movies even more than I already did. So should you play this game? Hell yes.
WIN, PS4, XBOX ONE,
PS3, XBOX 360
THE CREATIVE ASSEMBLY
OCTOBER 7, 2014
ALIEN ISOLATION REVIEW
By Aaron Bishop on January 26, 2015
Some images from Google