THE MOST ATMOSPHERIC GAME I’VE EVER PLAYED
Alien: Isolation proves one thing more than anything else: things you can’t see are far scarier than things you can. A theme that rang true through the entire game, that fear of where the Alien was had me constantly hiding under tables, in lockers, and in the corners of dark rooms. I literally screamed out loud more times playing Alien: Isolation than I have in any game in recent memory (besides P.T.). But is being scared for 15+ hours enough to make it a good game? Yes and no.
Set 15 years after the events of the first Alien movie, you play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, the movie’s protagonist. She has been tirelessly searching for her mother for a decade and a half when she finally gets a lead that takes her to the Sevastopol space station. Predictably, Sevastopol is not doing very hot by the time she arrives. This sets you up for quite the adventure to find clues about her mother and what happened to to the station while avoiding the variety of dangers you’ll come across.
As with many old-school horror films, many of the events in Alien: Isolation could be seen coming from miles away, which was especially true if you have seen the first Alien movie. However, The Creative Assembly added enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes. It was a good story that had an abrupt ending and left me with more questions than answers; while this may disappoint others, I really like that about stories these days. I love open-ended ambiguous endings. As the old saying goes, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
What really made Alien: Isolation shine when compared to other survival horror games was its atmosphere. Isolation may very well be one of the most atmospheric games I have ever played. It felt like it was a carbon copy of the distinct 1970’s tone in the original movie. During the first few minutes of the game, I immediately noticed the old computers that were supposed to look futuristic in 1979 when the movie was made, the drinking bird toy on tables, and the sound effects and music that were used in the movie. All of those things combined laid the perfect foundation for what is to come — a scary adventure from hell, just like the one the crew of the Nostromo went through. I was utterly amazed each and every time I found something else that I recognized from the movie. Playing Alien: Isolation is literally like getting to be in the movie. Props to The Creative Assembly for staying true to the franchise.
Adding to the already cool atmosphere is the horrible sense of fear and dread you feel while traversing the space station. A good survival horror game is not one where you can always see what it is you are afraid of; rather, it is one that shows you what to be afraid of and then hides it so you never know when to expect it again. Alien: Isolation uses that strategy perfectly. The Alien is able to travel through the vent systems above and below you at all times, and can move extremely fast. You never know where it is going to pop down, and sometimes you can’t tell if it is actually in the vents or just in the hallways. This aspect of the gameplay led me to hide every chance I got, and to slowly creep down every single hallway. What’s better is that the Alien can actually smell you, so you can’t sit still for too long. Also, there is literally nowhere to hide that it can’t reach you. This forces players to act on the fly and hope they made the right choice. There are even a few chapters of the game where the Alien simply doesn’t show up, but that won’t stop you from going slow just to make sure!
However, as awesome as all of that makes the atmosphere of the game, it also is makes it severely annoying for a few different reasons. Alien: Isolation uses a save point system rather than including any sort of autosave. And when I say save point, I mean LIMITED save point because they are few and far between. One wrong step can have you replaying anywhere from ten minutes to an hour of gameplay. It all depends on how slow you go, how careful you are, and if you missed a save point (or decided not to backtrack to save after advancing). I understand that this was done on purpose to instil a greater sense of fear of having to deal with the Alien once again, but come on!
I was extremely upset when I ran into the Alien around a corner (even though it wasn’t on the motion detector and couldn’t hear it) and was instantly killed, forcing me to replay a little less than an hour of the game. Sure, making the game harder by limiting the save system makes it scarier for some people; and sure, maybe there are people out there that don’t mind replaying an hour at a time every time they die; BUT NOT ME! This could be easily fixed by simply putting an option to have autosave, or by making the easiest difficulty have autosave. There is absolutely no reason to force players who want to enjoy the story ONCE to have to put up with this annoying feature. If I wanted to replay entire sections at a time, I would simply replay the game a second time.
My other complaint is that the Alien is literally magic. Let me set the stage for you to explain what I mean. Let’s say that a chapter of the game has five large areas that you will go through, each with 6 hallways and 20 rooms. You sneak in through Door A at the beginning and your goal is to get to Door B at the opposite side in the last area. The Alien already knows that you are in the first hallway of the first area so you already have to hide. But let’s say that you sneak through that entire first area without being noticed by the Alien.
Now you are in the second area out of five, but somehow the Alien knows that you have moved on. It completely gives up looking for you in the first section and starts looking in the second section. If you play your cards right, you can make it through every section without being noticed; however, the Alien ALWAYS KNOWS WHICH SECTION YOU ARE IN, yet he can never actually find you IN THAT SECTION. I get that this is another gameplay aspect that adds to the level of fear for players, but when you stop and think about it, its ridiculous! How does it know to follow me through the entire space station, but can never actually find me when I am hiding in rooms and stuff? The Alien is literally always going to be around you, no matter where you are.
To add to the Alien’s magical abilities, I ran into a few occasions early on where it was literally in two places at once. It can be waiting for you in the vents above, and also stalking you through the hallways. A few times I was watching it while it was directly behind me in a hallway, when all of a sudden it teleported into the vent above me to instantly kill me. The Alien is magic — there is no other explanation.
Other than the hide-and-seek nature of the game with the Alien, players will also run into both androids and other humans that they have to worry about. These enemies might not have the ability to instantly kill you like the Alien, but they can still cause a lot of damage and make things more complicated while you are simultaneously trying to hide from the Alien. However, you can use that to your advantage by crafting one of the many tools in the game, and using it to lead the Alien into the vicinity of your other enemies to swiftly take them out. Engaging in a head on battle or gunfight with androids and humans is a horrible idea and it is best to either avoid them altogether by distracting them with tools or using the Alien to kill them instead. The constant need to improvise because you don’t have many ways to defend yourself really made Alien: Isolation an exciting game.
The Verdict: 8.6 out of 10
Alien: Isolation is everything that I hoped it would be. It nailed the atmosphere of the movie by using several assets from it, the story was a direct sequel to the first movie, and the Alien was incredibly scary throughout the entire game. Other than the minor issues like the horrid save point system and the Alien being magic, The Creative Assembly did a fantastic fantastic job by releasing such a polished game. It felt true to the Alien franchise throughout the entire game. I really hope they are able to work on a sequel for Isolation in the future, and possibly turn it into a series like the movies.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.