The first time I saw the Alien properly I was hiding behind a desk. Before then I had merely heard mention of it and had also seen someone dragged into darkness. I wasn’t being hunted then, but as I crouched behind the desk, holding my breath, as the Xenomorph scanned the room looking for me, I realised that now I was the prey. So began a long game of very tense hide and seek.
If you’re a fan of survival horror and/or the Alien film starring Sigourney Weaver then you’re probably going to enjoy this game. Up until now fans of the Alien movie franchise have been treated to some distinctly average games which borrow or recreate the science fiction lore that has influenced the genre in a big way; the worst of all being Aliens: Colonial Marines released by Sega in 2013. Upon hearing of Alien: Isolation’s development I sincerely hoped that Sega would make up for the abortion that was A:CM and that we would be getting the Alien game that fans really wanted. I wanted to feel almost helpless against a perfect predator. I wanted to be able to use my brains rather than my brawn to escape with my life and I wanted to feel like I had been plonked directly into a Ridley Scott film.
Straight off the bat this game looks gorgeous on PC. The atmosphere, sights and sounds have been beautifully recreated and stay true to the original movie. From the “woosh” of automatic doors to the distinct warning alarms, everything in this game serves as a vehicle to transport me to the Sigourney Weaver epic. The tech in the game stays true to the 1979 vision of technological progress which adds to the feeling that the game you are playing is an extension of the movie.
The character models are very well done (they even sweat) although one minor complaint I have is that the speech sometimes doesn’t quite match up with mouth movements outside of cutscenes. During gameplay I felt like the flapping mouths of NPCs resembled a cod gasping for oxygen, but as most of the time you aren’t interacting with other characters this complaint is minimal.
Although during gameplay you never want to see the Xenomorph, when you do have the unfortunate pleasure, it looks great. It will stomp around corridors or stealthily crawl through vents, saliva dripping from its jaws. Up close it is definitely the same Alien that gave me nightmares as an adolescent. The fact that the vast majority of your encounters with the Alien are unscripted means that you are never sure when you will see it. It is this fact, rather than jump scares, that creates the most tension and fear. Ryan McCaffery of IGN stated that the fact you move around the same areas for most of the game is a fault however I disagree. You may move through one section of the game without the Alien even being close, but the way you move and experience that same section with the Alien being present changes it in a big way. In fact, moving through the same environments a few times made me feel more trapped enhancing my fear throughout the game.
You play through the main campaign as Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, who has been designed with Sigourney Weaver in mind. Her main objective is to seek out her mother (following the events of the original Alien movie) and this is the driving force throughout much of the game. The story takes you to the space station Sevestopol which has clearly seen better days. You are not alone on the station. As well as the Alien there are other survivors and “Working Joes” (basic androids that have turned against their programming and will attack humans). As well as avoiding the alien, it is in your best interest to avoid the androids and other humans. The station is a very hostile environment and humans will shoot first and ask questions later as a matter of survival. Just because combat is discouraged doesn’t mean you are unable to engage. Along your journey you can pick up tools, a gun or even bombs to use in combat however you should be smart about how you use them. Playing on the hardest difficulty, combat feels very realistic in that Amanda Ripley is a survivor, not a soldier, and as such her attacks are primal rather than effective; don’t expect to kill a Working Joe without hard work and taking more than a few hits yourself.
Combat against the Alien will result in death. Tools and guns have almost no effect on it, save perhaps making it more aggressive. Bombs and flamethrowers will only give you more time by scaring it away. Those seeking a FPS experience may not enjoy this but the feeling of vulnerability makes every encounter tense and heart racing. Instead of fighting you’ll find yourself trying to use the environment to your advantage, triggering alarms to draw enemies away or turning off air filtration systems to create a gaseous cover to hide your movements. You may die many times but when you survive an encounter the sense of relief is very rewarding. Remember: Running away is OK.
The save system adds to the suspense as it is designed in the old school principle of save points. It takes a short while to save your game and often save points are few and far between. The fact that you could be killed from behind while you’re saving your game makes timing and saving crucial elements of gameplay. The distinctive beep of the save points will become your best friend.
At the time of writing I haven’t been able to try out the DLC, I may write another review of that in the future. However, the main campaign alone is very rewarding and will delight Alien fans. The game is clearly made with the intention of sticking as close to the source material as possible and I couldn’t recommend it enough. While I still haven’t forgotten Aliens: Colonial Marines as some other reviewers have, I feel like I have finally got the Alien game I have always wanted. It is definitely worth your time.
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