You might be wondering why I’m writing this with all the lights in my house on. Or why I take a break from writing after every few sentences to check that there’s nothing under my bed or in my wardrobe. Firstly, how can you see me? Secondly, I’m doing this because I just recently finished The Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation and am now afraid of the dark again.
Having been severely burned by last years Aliens: Colonial Waste of Time, I was slightly nervous about this game. However, as it seemed to be going for a more Outlast/Amnesia approach to Survival Horror over the gung ho-ness that has become a recent staple of the Resident Evil/Dead Space games, I couldn’t wait to give it a go.
Thankfully, the game didn’t disappoint. At least for me, though it seems to be getting some mixed reviews. I can understand this as the game isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The story is minimal, the action is limited and the pacing is geared more towards building up tension rather than getting to the next set piece. So I thought I’d make a list of the things that I really loved about this game, and if they sound like something you’d enjoy, I highly recommend you check out this game.
It’s the Alien sequel we never had
I’d be the last person to ever say that Aliens isn’t a great sequel to Alien (in fact, I’d doubt you could find many people who would), but it is it’s own beast and takes a more action orientated approach to the horror. Alien: Isolation really feels like a sequel to the original movie. You play Amanda Ripley, Ellen’s daughter who has spent 15 years wondering what happened to her mother. You travel to the soon-to-be decommissioned Sevastopol Station to look at the Nostromo’s flight recorder in hopes of getting closure on her disappearance, only to find a memento from her mother’s past is reaking havoc on the station.
I’ve heard complaints that the story is a little too bare bones but then again, Alien is a surprisingly story-lite movie, and it does help to keep propelling you through the game. In fact, it even has a surprisingly poignant moment towards the end that makes the whole thing feel like the logical conclusion of Ripley’s story in Alien, especially as Sigourney Weaver reprises her role as Ripley in audio logs found in the game.
It looks so old
It’s strange that so much modern technology and technical know-how went into making this game feel like it takes place in the 70’s. However, it’s one of the game’s strongest features. You really feel like you’re in the world created in the first film as you move through utilitarian corridors that look like they’ve been ripped from the set of the Nostromo, interact with out of date technology (even the mini games used to operate machinery has a retro vibe) and most distressingly, enter those claustrophobic circular air-vents from the first movie. And as you arrive at Sevastopol Station a while after the alien has been ransacking the place and terrorizing the population, the devastation is eerily similar to that of Hadley’s Hope in Aliens, which is a pretty awesome touch.
In fact, one of my only complaints about the game is the fact that the level of detail used in creating the station doesn’t seem to have been used for character models as everyone you meet is a dead eyed emotionless husk. Which makes it hard to care about their fates as you did for the crew of the Nostromo.
Saving is it’s own reward
Auto-saving, it’s something modern gamers take for granted. Alien: Isolation is having none of that. You see, auto-save is a crutch we’ve all become too reliant on. We know we’ll die in a game and then start again at the last check point, which usually isn’t too far back. Here, there are limited checkpoints and so the only way to ensure you don’t have to go back too far is for you to save your progress manually.
Sure, this can lead to frustration when you’ve spent ages avoiding the xenomorph only for it to jump down on your head from an overhead air duct and you’re forced to repeat a lengthy section of gameplay. But to me, it just made the stakes all the higher and brought a palpable (but short lived) sense of relief every time I managed to save, something that’s been missing from horror games since Resident Evil replaced their ‘ink ribbon’ saving system.
The purity of terror
The xenomorph. It truly is one of cinema’s most iconic creatures. Not only is it fast, deadly and unnervingly intelligent, but H.R. Giger’s design really is unsettling. Unfortunately, recent movies (the AvP series) and games (Aliens: Colonial Disappointment) have seen the xenomorphs lose some of their scariness as they’ve basically become cannon fodder.
Alien: Isolation really takes the creature back to its roots. There is only one xenomorph and it’s unkillable, which makes sense as this is exactly the situation the Nostromo crew faced. This means that avoiding it, hiding from it and running away from it are your only options (and trust me, running away isn’t a choice that usually ends well), though you get a flame-thrower later in the game which can be used to keep the creature at bay for short periods.
Plus, to make things even worse/better, the Alien isn’t set to follow a predetermined path throughout the levels so it really could be around every corner or hiding in any vent. This means that every level must be taken slowly and with you figuring out hiding places/escape routes on the fly, which is also hindered by the fact that the xenomorph has great hearing and vision. This truly is the alien that Ripley Scott envisioned in his movie and it’s great that it’s finally found it’s way into a decent game… and by great I mean terrifying.
First person ammo conservation
I was kinda surprised to find that you got weapons in this game. Having played Outlast, I knew just how effective being unarmed can be in producing a great horror experience, plus having played Aliens: Colonial Rush Job, I knew how being able to easily dispatch xenomorphs really made them a lot less threatening. Thankfully, this game takes the Condemned approach to firearms, meaning that you never have too much ammo and different weapons are best suited against specific enemies, so using them sparingly can actually increase your chances of survival.
The gun-play isn’t up to the standards of other FPS games but that’s kind of the point. Amanda isn’t a soldier so it makes sense that you’re not running around headshotting every enemy in sight. Plus, as the xenomorph is attracted to loud noises and you never know exactly where it is, you really are encouraged to take a stealthy approach to most situations.
Softly does it
Which brings us to the core game-play. Which basically amounts to playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with pretty much everything on the station, be they man, android, or terrifying beast. Most missions involve making your way to another area of the station and usually involve you finding key codes or fixing equipment in order to proceed, all while being hunted down like a deer. Obviously, with its unique and unpredictable AI, the xenomorph does bring the biggest element of danger to these sections and you’d be surprised just how terrified you can get doing something as innocuous as inputting a key code when you know that at any moment a tail might come bursting through your chest.
I’m not going to lie, this game really does require nerves of steel at times as hiding will only put off the inevitable, and staying in the same place for too long will only increase your chances of being discovered. The single best piece of advice I can give is to always be moving forward. I’m not saying rush through the levels as that’s pretty much the equivalent of basting yourself so you’ll taste better for the xenomorph, but losing momentum only makes things all the more scary so in my opinion, stealthy forward motion is the best idea.
Scared and not so alone
One of the reasons you need your weapons is because of the other people on the station. You see, being stranded on a soon to be abandoned station with limited supplies and a deadly alien on board has left people a little frayed around the edges. This means that most encounters with people can get a little tense, especially when people realize there might be a way off the station and you’re in their way. This not only adds an extra sense of danger to proceedings but really lets you see just how desperate the situation has become as you’re literally forced to kill people who are only trying to survive.
Plus, to make these encounters all the more stressful, they’ll sometimes occur as you’re trying to evade the Xenomorph. This led to a few great but nerve shredding moments when I would make noise/take a shot to attract the Alien and then hide whilst it killed everyone. It’s better them than you but that doesn’t make it any more fun to hear them being picked off in the distance and then having to witness the grisly aftermath. .
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Stupidly I truly believed that there was no way the sound of motion tracker beeping from the Alien movies (and subsequent games) could be made any more terrifying. Oh what a fool I was. You see, I played the game on my PS4 and the PS4 controller has a built in speaker. A speaker from which the motion tracker’s ‘beep’ comes through, meaning that you’re closer to the action than you ever wanted.
However as the motion tracker is an essential tool in order to make sure that you always know where the xenomorph is, it’s a necessary evil and you’ll really come to appreciate that horrible noise every time you use it wisely and make it through a particularly tough section without getting your head crushed between the fingers of an agitated alien.
If Alien taught us anything, it’s that you can’t trust androids. Which is weird now that I think about it as androids do nothing but help Ripley in every movie after that one, however, I guess that just goes to show how disturbing Ian Holm’s Ash really was. On Sevastopol station, a lot of maintenance is carried out by ‘Working Joes’. These are the more basic version of Androids (and look like emotionless crash test dummies) and you’ll find them populating a lot of the harder to reach or hostile sections of the station.
Whilst these guys are slightly disturbing as they obliviously go about their business, once good old Special Order 937 is enforced (a nice little nod to the film in itself), these guys become a lot less friendly. Not only are they pretty tough customers to deal with (especially with your limited ammo), but there is something highly disturbing about how they brutally attack you whilst asking you to remain calm and enquiring if you need medical assistance. Plus, unlike human enemies, the Alien will ignore them, meaning that it’ll be your responsibility to deal with them.
Dallas. Get out of there!
As I bought the Nostromo edition of the game, I also received ‘Crew Expendable’. An extra mission set aboard the Nostromo that sees you take on the role of Dallas, Ripley or Parker as they try to blow the xenomorph out of the airlock and features most of the original cast reprising their iconic roles. I choose to play as Dallas to make it all the more authentic. The mission is quite short so I was pretty glad I got it for free but it is a lot of fun. On the whole, it’s quite like the main game as you make your way through the ship to complete tasks that will help save the crew from getting killed (though anyone who has seen the movie will know that doesn’t end quite so well).
However, it’s the short but awesome middle section of this level that really lets you relive the terror of the film. As Dallas, I made my way into the air vents only to find that the xenomorph was in there with me. This was made all the more tense when Lambert (voiced by original actress Veronica Cartwright) started giving me directions and becoming increasingly agitated as the alien started to close in on me. It perfectly captures everything that made the scene so great. Hell, I even went the extra mile and let Dallas die a few times for authenticity… and definitely not because I panicked, took wrong turns, got lost and ran head first into the alien’s waiting jaws.
Any other reasons why you think Alien: Isolation lived up to the hype? Didn’t really care for the game? Let us know in the comments section.