Alien, Alien : Isolation, Alien Resurrection, Aliens, Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley, Fallout 3, Game Review, Half Life, Horror, Nostromo, Portal, Resident Evil 4, Ridley Scott, Sevastopol, Shinji Mikami, Sigourney Weaver, Space, The Evil Within, Xbox One, Xenomorph
“Alien: Isolation” is one of two recently released games which could potentially see a resurgence of the survival horror genre. Both games utilise the power of next generation consoles, and carry with them a level of nostalgia from a time in which the genre didn’t feel so played out. “The Evil Within” sees the return of Shinji Mikami to the genre which he helped to create, following the iconic “Resident Evil 4”, whereas “Alien: Isolation” capitalises on one of the most famous and beloved horror movies of all time, so as a fan of horror I had a difficult choice to make. As a gamer that can’t afford to buy all the great titles released each month, it was extremely difficult to decide which of these games I should buy. Which would offer the most value for my money? Which seemed scarier? Which game would give me the most enjoyment?
As is clear, I chose “Alien: Isolation”, but having played through the game slowly and carefully, I am unsure whether or not I made the right choice. Have no fear, it’s a great game, and one which I place within my small collection with pride, after all, it offered me a challenge and took a lot of my time. However, as far as actual enjoyment goes, this game doesn’t really succeed. For the first few hours it is a tense and entertaining game of cat and mouse, whether it be with humans, androids, or the fabled xenomorph. But what lets “Alien: Isolation” down is the fact that the fear factor dissipates after just a few deadly encounters with your foes, and what becomes more pressing is the fact that you want to beat the game, and you don’t want to die simply because it would mean being thrown back to a part of the game you have already painstakingly made your way through.
Following my time with this game, I can’t help but feel that it would be more rewarding to watch a YouTuber struggle through a play-through than it is to actually play it yourself, because the experience does become repetitive and grating at around the half-way point, and watching another person play the game would give you a good indication of both the gameplay and the way in which the game makes you feel. There are plenty of aspects of “Alien: Isolation” which could be described as cinematic, so I see no reason why watching a full play-through of the game wouldn’t be a worthwhile experience as a substitute for paying full price for a frustrating game.
I don’t want to be seen as overly critical in my analysis of this game, because what the developers tried to do was very admirable, and in its finer moments “Alien: Isolation” is more worthy of your time and money than most games I’ve played, but at the same time I can’t just ignore the blatant problems which I faced during my time with the game. I played “Alien: Isolation” on the hardest difficulty, which I try to do on most games, because I feel that this way you get the most time out of the game and therefore the most value for money. Spending a lot of time in a game world is something I am keen to do, because I don’t get to play that many games in a year. Playing this game on the hardest setting is a particularly challenging experience, because the resources which you are given on this setting are far from what you require, and the alien is likely to be aware of your safest hiding spots even if you only make the slightest sound, or perform the most timid of movements.
In this game you are constantly on the back-foot, and never before have I felt so underprepared and out of my depth whilst holding a controller in my hands. The alien constantly has the upper hand, and you always feel that despite what your motion tracker is telling you, the beast could be lurking around any corner. Prepare to be a nervous wreck as you scavenge for supplies, carefully monitor how much battery power you have left in your flashlight, and crawl to safety under clunky desks or through claustrophobia-inducing vents. This is a game in which you are the underdog and you are fighting for your life, and the developers have really nailed the conveyance of the way in which your character is feeling, to the way you as a player feel whilst you are leading her. You feel as though you are at Sevastopol and that you are in real danger, and that’s an incredible achievement for a survival horror game.
With the growing number of shooters polluting the video game market these days it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they all feel the same, so it is immensely satisfying to see some original titles coming out for next-gen consoles which aren’t based around holding down the right trigger. “Alien: Isolation” is such a refreshing game to see on a next-generation platform, because it shows that developers want to use this new technology to create interesting and diverse experiences, rather than simply pushing out rushed game after rushed game.
Despite the fact that it isn’t perfect, “Alien: Isolation” is the type of game I want to see a lot more of in the future, and I feel that given the right kind of tweaking, the survival horror genre could thrive using the new technology. This game deserves credit for getting so many things right, such as the tension, the crafting system and the station itself (which is a stunning representation of the future as it was conceived back in the late 1970’s), because these things aren’t just copies of something we’ve seen before. Even though this game is capitalising on a pre-existing idea, it is able to do so whilst maintaining a certain level of originality, so it deserves a lot of credit for trying to create something new and exciting.
“Alien: Isolation” is genuinely scary in its first few hours, even when the alien is not on screen or even threatening to appear, as noises echo through the deserted space station as if carried by the ghosts of the victims of the deadly xenomorph. Sevastopol is a maze of corpses and darkness, and I can’t think of a more menacing game setting in recent times, which is incredibly high praise considering the fact that horror is one of my favourite genres of both games and films.
Interactions with the xenomorph are very organic, as promised by reviewers and developers alike, and this sense of unpredictability only adds to the feeling of dread, as you see your enemy sniff you out from across the room. Anyone who claims that this game isn’t scary, at any point, is just putting on a facade. The xenomorph is the ultimate predator, stalking you constantly, waiting for the perfect time to strike, and it is this seeming omniscience which renders you helpless as you work your way through the game. This genuine feeling of helplessness is enough to leave you shaking in the corner of your room after playing, and the way in which the alien will screech and sprint at you is bound to cause nightmares.
When I was first killed by the alien it was kind of hilarious (and I was extremely pathetic). Having seen the alien very infrequently up until my untimely demise, I wasn’t really ready to face it, and when I saw it creeping towards me down an empty corridor all I could do was crouch behind a box and worry. I eventually panicked and threw a flash bang, but I proceeded to sprint away before it had even set off and was promptly impaled through the chest. It is a moment I will think back to and laugh, because it was such an awful way to die for the first time in the game, and I was glad that my Xbox One recorded the moment for me. Sadly these moments are few and far between, and there isn’t much joy to be found in “Alien: Isolation”.
Sevastopol space station is visually striking, and although things don’t look completely realistic, the game has its own style which is very endearing, whilst also sharing a resemblance to games like “Portal” and “Half Life”. The station itself has a futuristic tinge to it, but it still feels grounded in a conception of the future which belongs in the late 1970’s. The computer interfaces look dated and almost obsolete by today’s standards, and yet they grace a ridiculously large space station which contains walking talking androids!
Certain things about Sevastopol did strike me as a bit odd, such as the graffiti on the walls and the extensive vent system. If an alien is chasing you and you are fighting for your life then do you really have time to tag the station? I think your time would be best served calling out into the endless vacuum of space, asking God why he has forsaken you! However, the station is undoubtedly one of the strongest assets of this game, because it looks and feels as though it belongs in the “Alien” universe, and it’s full of interesting areas to explore. I only wish I had more time to stand around and take everything in, because there are times in the game where I want to get a look at what the developers have built, but instead I am rushed along by an all too eager alien.
The physics system in “Alien: Isolation” is refreshing in this tense and stressful game, and it allowed me to immediately build up a positive rapport with the game. In one of the first moments of the game, I panned the camera down to Amanda’s feet, and watched as she kicked a poor unsuspecting box! I couldn’t help but laugh and appreciate the fact that I had control of the smaller, less significant objects, which blocked my path. Little details like this should be praised in any game, because they add to the feeling of realism which is required to keep the player immersed. This feature is particularly welcome in this game, as knowing that the tiniest of movements could displace a noisy object means that you just can’t afford to make a wrong move; any noise could catch the attention of the alien.
As I progressed through the game I was surprised at how seriously I took the prospect of death, and how greatly I wished to avoid it. Even the human enemies I encountered before I faced the alien filled me with fear, because I really didn’t want them to kill my character. That is partly down to the fact that I felt as though I was there at Sevastopol fighting for my life, but it is also (probably more so), down to the fact that I didn’t want to have to do everything I had done again!
The scarce amount of save points found in certain areas of the game are both a gift and a curse in the case of “Alien: Isolation”, as they help to make every moment in the game feel precious and important, whilst also causing a massive amount of frustration when things go wrong, particularly if you feel that the game has wronged you in some way. However, “Alien: Isolation” shouldn’t be criticised for this aspect, as it is used to ramp up tension and bring a sense of urgency to each enemy encounter, and it does this very well. I feel that the game could be a bit more fun if the save system was more like an RPG, such as “Fallout 3”, because being able to save the game at any point would mean that the mundane tasks you have to perform wouldn’t be repeated so often, but there is a chance that the game would become much less scary as a result.
There are plenty of repetitive tasks in “Alien: Isolation” which keep it from reaching its full potential, whether it be turning on a generator to restore power, using the security access turner to open a door, or disabling security systems via a computer terminal. These tasks are then accompanied by another series of mundane odd jobs, such as using an ion torch to access a lever which will in turn open a door, or looting dead bodies for precious supplies. Most of these jobs simply allow you to get from A to B, with nothing meaningful happening in the mean time, which is a real shame because the setting and the creature are both perfectly executed, so the game requires each task to match that level of quality.
These aspects of the game are extremely dull and very annoying, especially when you consider the obstacles which plague your path on the way, such as the xenomorph and the armies of androids towards the back end of the game. I am aware that all of these issues exist because the developers want “Alien: Isolation” to feel tense and futile, as the alien could appear at any point, even if all you are doing is matching up shapes on a screen (when using the access turner). But when you are doing these things the game isn’t really that fun, or at least it stops being so after a certain point. Graphically, functionally and conceptually this is a wonderful game, but there’s just not enough cool things to do whilst you are playing. “Alien: Isolation” is repetitive and grating and you don’t want to carry on by the end; the game becomes an exercise in perseverance, rather than an exciting, enjoyable experience.
The androids can be slightly annoying, because you want to attack them and finally get some sweet relief after out-manoeuvring the alien. I personally feel that they should die a bit more quickly than they actually do, and that each time they attack there shouldn’t be a boring cinematic sequence. The only moments of the game which should be cinematic are the scenes which precede your many deaths, and if this was how the moments with the androids played out, then they would seem more in keeping with the rest of the game, instead of feeling like an afterthought. There are moments in the game at which the android will choke Ripley, but won’t restrict her arm movements, yet there’s no option to pull the trigger on the gun which she was just this second firing at the android! This is a massive flaw and really frustrates me, because it is nothing but an oversight, and a lazy one at that. Nonetheless, the androids are threatening, particularly because of how powerful they are compared to the poor innocent Ripley, and they are well designed, making for an interesting second villain in the game.
Once you have died quite a few times “Alien: Isolation” can become very frustrating, because you have to keep doing the same thing over and over until you get it right. That’s how games should be in my opinion, they should be challenging and there should be a certain amount of trial and error involved, but I can see how this element annoyed certain critics. There comes a point in the game at which defending yourself just isn’t enough anymore, and you feel that you’ve earned the right to really take the fight to the alien, but even the flamethrower can’t give you the feeling of authority you crave, because you have such scarce amounts of ammo and the alien only leaves you alone for a few seconds after you’ve set it on fire! The game needs a change of pace every now and again to keep its audience on side, because it really does become a pain after a while, and I don’t understand why the developers didn’t recognise the problem.
There are details in the game which I truly love, such as the way in which Ripley pulls out her revolver with great force and speed. I also think it’s amazing that you have to reload each bullet separately, and you get to watch Amanda fill the barrels. These little things make me smile more than any xenomorph ever could, and the devil is most definitely in the details. Nevertheless, there are also a lot of problems which have clearly been overlooked by the makers of the game, and there is a real lack of effort which is evident in some smaller aspects. For example, there is an obvious lack of animations for both the android attacks and the alien killing scenes, which leads to the player becoming immune to those moments by the end of their play through. In “Alien: Isolation” you will die, A LOT, and yet there are only four or five animations for the moment at which the xenomorph ends your life. That’s a disgrace and it takes away massively from the fear factor of the game.
I enjoyed the story in “Alien: Isolation”, although it was pretty predictable at times. The way in which nothing seemed to work out for Ripley, and (SPOILER ALERT) the reveal that there was in fact a hoard of aliens lurking under your feet in Sevastopol, was very entertaining, and it felt like a horror film. Furthermore, everything works well in the game, whether it be your selection of fire arms or your ever reliable noisemaker. The melee is enjoyable and reeks of desperation, which fits the nature of the game, and you do feel genuinely strong when you are battling against a human opponent.
There are a couple of stunning sequences in this game, particularly those which aren’t spent in Sevastopol station. As you explore an unfamiliar planet in search of an alien spacecraft, or fix a satellite on a shaky metal bridge on the outside of Sevastopol, you finally get to look around and see just how graphically impressive this game can really be. Space in “Alien: Isolation” is just plain beautiful, and I wonder why there aren’t more of these fantastic moments in the game. I called my friends into the room several times and insisted that they stay and marvel at the sun shining in the distance, burning menacingly in the vacuum of space. I was truly captivated by what I was seeing, and I feel that if this game had been set on an alien planet following some misfortunate crash landing, it could’ve been twice as good as the game I actually played. I would recommend this game if only for these two short segments, and I don’t think I will forget them for a very long time.
Sadly, there are also two main aspects which let “Alien: Isolation” down, and which keep it from becoming a great game. The first is the collection of related problems I have pointed out throughout the review, such as the game’s repetitive nature, and the alien’s persistence, which only becomes more aggravating and less scary as time goes on. The second is my last and most pressing issue with the game… the ending.
In the space of a month I spent a huge 28 hours as Amanda Ripley, traversing the treacherous maze that is Sevastopol and avoiding the invincible xenomorph, whilst also meeting my maker hundreds of times in the process, and I wanted my reward. (SPOILER ALERT) Alas, that reward never came. I didn’t find my way to freedom. I didn’t escape the xenomorph. It followed me to the end like a captain with his ship.
The ending is ambiguous and so I could believe that I managed to escape the alien and prevent my death, but at the end of the day I was floating in space with no hope of survival! The fact that a light flashed onto my helmet was no consolation, I wanted a nice quiet trip home and a cup of tea when I got there, but instead I was left to die! It wasn’t fair and I was very disappointed by the fact that I didn’t get any real closure. That light could’ve been a flaming asteroid, or a lone scrap of debris flying towards my face. Why would the developers spit on their audience like this? I feel so betrayed after spending so long in the game, and again, the fact that the developers thought that this was the right way to go was just baffling. The ending of “Alien: Isolation” is unforgivable and just plain ridiculous!
“Alien: Isolation” is a brilliant game in theory, it works very well and all the mechanics are perfectly fine. Its setting is one of the most memorable in recent video game history, and I really enjoyed the moments in which I could stop and have a good look around. However, “Alien: Isolation” only flirts with greatness, and it shoots itself in the foot one too many times. The game lets itself down in so many areas, particularly in the fact that the ending ruins the previously interesting story, and that there are far too many repetitive tasks eating away at your time. I want people to play this game for its stronger moments, and I am happy to have it in my collection and to have had the experience, but I won’t be revisiting “Alien: Isolation” any time soon.