The Xenomorph from Riddley Scott’s Alien has always been something of nightmares. Seemingly designed as killing machines their natural appearance lends them to the ability to skulk in the darkness and prey upon their foes – which in a Xenomorph’s case is seemingly anything that moves. Alien Isolation hopes to capitalise on this sense of fear by introducing players to a new type of Alien game through survival horror.
Fans of the original Alien movie will be pleased, as from the outset Alien: Isolation perfectly captivates the 70’s sci-fi vibe. The two ships featuring in the game are both craft as if they were the product of a dramatic advancement in space technology taking place within the seventies. Featuring a variety of sci-fi inspired advancements, alongside older technology such as cassette tapes and cathode ray tube display units. Creative assembly are clearly committed to immersing you into the Alien universe and this attention to detail makes the environments come across as believable.
Sevastopol station is the games dominant setting, and the ship itself is perhaps the games narrative focus. The ships history is told through a variety of audio logs and journal entries left on computer terminals, but characterises the ship in a way that compliments the games desolate atmosphere. The hope of escape is generally what will push you forward, but it’s this exposition and characterisation that kept me engaged, particularly since Amanda’s plight itself isn’t all that interesting, particularly if you’ve seen the original Alien film.
It is however, commitment to source material that lends itself to a great survival horror environment as the almost claustrophobic environments play host to a brilliantly terrifing cat and mouse game. Indeed that’s predominantly what Alien Isolation is, and horror thematic aside this games dominant gameplay mechanic is one of stealth. Playing as Amanda Ripley you’ll find yourself skulking through ventilation shafts, scrambling under desks and generally cowering in the shadows as the Xenomorph searches for you.
Unfortunately for Ripley the Xenomorph isn’t the only threat on the ship. Between extended segments with your extra terrestrial stalker you’ll encounter humans and androids, both of which having a tendency to be hostile. These place further emphasis on the idea of isolation, and the fact that you are essentially alone on this ship. While they come in groups, these enemies aren’t quite as perceptive as the Alien and overheard human dialogue helps to characterise the situation at Sevstapol station as you slowly garner an understanding of the desolate situation.
At times these NPCs will be used as playthings for the Alien, a devastating demonstration of the Aliens strength and power. And considering their hostility towards you, it’s little surprise that the Alien often aids your progress almost as much as it hinders it. A hindrance to your progression tends to be the ships doors and power systems rather than the Alien itself. Exploring the ship in almost metroidvania like fashion is enjoyable, and the Aliens dynamic presence makes things continually tense, at least for the first half of the games 15 to 20 hour experience.
The Alien’s AI seems capable enough, and most of the time he will merely move around the rooms, patrolling like a human. No more or less intelligent, but much more varied in his patrol routes. If he sees you you can hide under various desks and within a handful of different containers, but this is ultimately a short-term solution, as the games objectives are typically placed within the same area the Alien is patrolling, and he often won’t leave until you’ve completed them. This creates some incredibly tense moments, but at the same time gives the impression of artificiality at times, with a sense that the Alien is almost tethered to your character and her journey across the ship.
In many ways the extent to which the game retains its atmosphere depends on your ability to survive. Whichever way you play the game you’ll find your Xenomorph friend in your field of view a hell of a lot, in turn if you’re more of a survivalist, and die less then the sense of threat is liable to persist for longer. Playing the game on hard – without being an expert at stealth and avoidance – is liable to cause the game to devolve into a trial and error experience, and it’s hard to retain the horror if you’ve been killed by the Alien 20 times in a row within the same corridor.
For me the sense of dread never entirely faded, but it will depend on how you play the game. My experience was one of cowering behind tables, peeking round corners, and generally excessive caution. The result was that I didn’t die frequently, and subsequently still feared for my life when the prospect of being caught by the Alien became more apparent. Despite this, even without the sense of horror the game holds up as a serviceable stealth focused game, and with a theme that sci-fi fans will certainly appreciate.
A technical perspective is perhaps where the game the game falls short. Whilst graphically the game admirably renders a visually believable environment, character animations, including those of the Alien come across as jerky, and awkward at times. The framerate takes some noticeable hits too at times, and both of these shortcomings are a sure fire way to pull you out of the experience. Then there’s the controls, which whilst functional within a survival horror setting are horrendous when compared to other modern first person games. Large deadzones, and a hint of input lag makes moving around the environment take a little while to get used to. If this were an FPS, these blunders would be unforgivable, but fortunately for Alien: Isolations purpose they do little to harm the experience, in fact it almost fits quite well. The slightly cumbersome controls lend themselves to a sense of the weight of your character, and in turn, actual presence within the world and whether intentional or not, it’s better than feeling like you’re controlling a floating camera.
Bad Despite aforementioned flaws, Alien Isolation is the game that fans of the series have deserved for a long time. Perfectly captivating the desolate atmosphere, and horror of the original movie, while remaining faithful to its material. Whether the sense of terror lasts the games entire duration is hard to say for any one individual, however underneath the horror is a set of serviceable stealth-based mechanics that make for an enjoyable, adrenaline fuelled experience even if the sense of terror subsides. A must have for Alien fans, and one that even horror veterans shouldn’t overlook.
Despite aforementioned flaws, Alien Isolation is the game that fans of the series have deserved for a long time. Perfectly captivating the desolate atmosphere, and horror of the original movie, while remaining faithful to its material. Whether the sense of terror lasts the games entire duration is hard to say for any one individual, however underneath the horror is a set of serviceable stealth-based mechanics that make for an enjoyable, adrenaline fuelled experience even if the sense of terror subsides. A must have for Alien fans, and one that even horror veterans shouldn’t overlook.