In a franchise that is lacking notable video games, Alien: Isolation comes along and brings in the best the series can offer as a game.
|Console||PC/Mac/Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One|
|Developer||Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive|
|Purchase (PC/Mac/Linux)||Purchase from Steam.|
|Purchase (PlayStation 4)||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (Xbox One)||Purchase from Amazon.|
Ah, Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. If there is a precedent for sci-fi horror, then the original Alien movie is definitely one of the biggest pioneers of the genre.
The original Alien plays out like a classic slasher horror flick, similar to Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, it takes place on a starship and features an intelligent extraterrestrial as the killer. It’s still a pretty good flick that relies on a lot of suspense and eerie visuals to convey the horror.
The second movie Aliens by James Cameron is more like a hybrid sci-fi horror and action flick with a military edge. It’s definitely filled with some cheesy and memorable one-liners, but it’s still a fun movie and survival is more intense than ever since there are now multiple Xenomorphs to deal with. The protagonist Ellen Ripley particularly shines in this movie for being one of the most badass women in our childhoods.
Alien 3 was… something. Nice enough ending, but… it was certainly something.
Alien: Resurrection was… HUH?!?!?!?!
But both Alien and Aliens are great sci-fi classics. Despite the popularity of the franchise, there aren’t that many notable Alien games. Aside from a bunch of old computer games and some arcade games, there are surprisingly few that people know about.
Of course, there’s a bunch of games simply titled Alien vs. Predator. SERIOUSLY. Why are there so many fucking games given this name? There’s a Super Nintendo game, an Atari Jaguar game, an arcade game, a PC game and two mobile games. All with the same exact name. Did everyone simply forget about subtitles? They’re all different games!
Then there’s that disgrace called Aliens: Colonial Marines, which feels like an unfinished game that failed to deliver what it promises. And not counting cross cameos with the Predator on third-party series (like Mortal Kombat), there are so few recognized Alien games.
But in 2014, we finally got the authentic Alien experience we’ve been asking for. And that would be the survival horror game known as Alien: Isolation.
Aboard the Sevastopol
The events of Alien: Isolation are set directly after the first Alien movie but before Aliens. You play as Amanda Ripley, the now 25-year old daughter of the film series protagonist Ellen Ripley—meaning the game took place 15 years after Alien. Amanda is notable for only being introduced in the extended version of Aliens, where we see a photo of her older self and was mentioned to have passed away from cancer at the age of 66.
Using her as the game’s protagonist is a pretty smart move for creating an expanded universe. So without further ado, let’s see what kind of game we have this time.
So as mentioned, you’re Amanda Ripley, an engineer employed by Weyland-Yutani. After discovering that a flight recorder unit from the USCSS Nostromo was recovered by the crew of Sevastopol Station, you journey to Sevastopol in hopes of finding out the whereabouts of your mother.
For those who haven’t seen Alien (and unfortunately, I have to bring out spoilers to explain the context), the ending had Ellen Ripley falling into a cold sleep after a close encounter with a Xenomorph and would remain asleep for 57 years. But seeing how Isolation is a “midquel,” we already know Amanda won’t find her and she would die before ever seeing her mother again.
Yes, quite tragic.
But as soon as you board Sevastopol, you lose contact with your crew and find that much of the station has been abandoned, where the residents have turned against one another because of an alien Xenomorph managed to infiltrate it. So not only you have to watch your ass because of a predatory alien, but you also need to watch out for human survivors who will shoot anyone that is not a part of their group.
From there on, the game’s story details Amanda’s survival while avoiding the insurgents and the Xenomorph. Not only is she trying to reestablish contact with the Torrens crew, but she is also looking for a way to recover her mother’s message.
As you can see, Alien: Isolation is a first-person survival horror where you have to rely more on your wits and stealth rather than brute-forcing a path ahead. From beginning to end, one of the strong points of the game is its graphics. It captures the feel of the movies perfectly, with some well-placed lighting and gadgetry. There is even film grain over the cutscenes, which really help add to the atmosphere. It really does feel like you’re playing a genuine first-person Alien game, which is one of the big things that matters.
Even the character models look fantastic and they are quite photorealistic in the rendered cutscenes. I mean, good god. They’re almost like real human actors. It’s almost creepy-looking but it’s definitely a testament on how close computer-generated technology came to portraying realistic humans on the screen. And in this setting, it works extremely well.
The game looks REALLY good. Just sayin’. The modeling and animation teams really did a fantastic job here.
So Much to Do
Like any first-person exploration game, you have to do some puzzle-solving in order to progress to the next area. Tasks can range from opening specific doors to restoring power in certain areas. After all, you’re an engineer. You have to figure machinery out and fix them.
You also need to regularly check Sevastopol computers for clues and hints on what to do next. For the most part, you’ll find backstories on these computers. But you can also get important information that will help you enter the next area in the game.
Stealth is also a major issue. The last thing you want to do is to enter a gunfight with other Sevastopol survivors. Not only does it make going to your next location very difficult, but the commotion can summon the alien to kill everyone.
You can also enter hiding spots such as lockers and large cabinets. But be careful. These are not very reliable to use, so you would want to focus on moving around quietly and quickly.
The game itself is quite open-ended in its design. Sevastopol is a huge place, practically its own city. Because of that, you have to pay attention to your surroundings and make sure you’re going where your objectives are. Luckily, the game is designed pretty well so you’re not going to be lost that often.
But just to save your sanity a little bit… don’t rely on the map too much. Seriously. Just don’t. The motion tracker is a better way to find your next objective,
You will acquire some weapons that will aid you during survival. The maintenance jack will be your main melee weapon—though it’s not that useful as one—but you can also acquire firearms and grenades to name a few. However, don’t rely too much on combat unless you really have to fight. Amanda Ripley can easily die from just two gunshots, so… don’t go off starting shit.
One of the most important aspects of gameplay is the crafting system. You will find many materials lying around on Sevastopol as well as blueprints, and you need to collect as many of them as possible. Some materials are out in the open, while others are hidden in corpses and containers. Though the crafting system looks intimidating, it’s really not that bad. It’s quite straightforward and you will have to use it throughout the game to get anywhere.
Later on, you will find a security access tuner. Basically, it’s a hacking device that will allow Ripley to force open doors and access restricted computer data. But the actual hacking process is playing a set of mini-games, some timed. This is one of those features that take some getting used to, because the mini-games are not necessarily clear on what you have to do at first.
The most common mini-game is selecting these Tetris pieces to assemble the picture at the top. Basically, you need to use the directional pad to determine the direction of a signal. Once you find the signal, you have to hold on to that position. Then you need to pick the correct pieces that create the top image from left to right. It’s pretty straightforward, but it can be particularly tricky with a short time limit.
This mini-game has several columns of numbers of letters scrolling about. Basically, you just need to select the white text that enters the two horizontal lines to stop the columns. It doesn’t matter how you stop them. This is also a very straightforward mini-game. Just a little time-consuming if you want to save those precious seconds.
Then there’s another mini-game that has four boxes flashing text in random interval. This mini-game is a little unclear on what you have to do. Basically, you have to press the correct button when a certain text is visible (A/B/X/Y or cross/circle/square/triangle). Again, not difficult. Just time-consuming if you’re trying to cut down on seconds.
I can also recall one more mini-game where a line bounces back and forth on a horizontal bar. This one is easy. Just press a button when the line enters a shaded area on the horizontal bar. It works nearly identical to the second mini-game discussed.
Further into the game, you also get a motion tracker. This device is easily going to be your most used, because… are you ready for this?
Oh look, an alien!
The motion tracker lets you know about anything that moves close to your position. Not only does it let you keep track on the Xenomorph, but you can also detect the human survivors. Even…
Those stony-faced android motherfuckers! Argh!
Working Joes. By god, do these guys make your gameplay experience a living hell. It’s bad enough that you had to deal with paranoid human survivors and a killer alien. But these guys patrol everywhere in Sevastopol. AND THEY ARE FUCKING PERSISTENT.
Bullets? Better hope you got some spare buckshots ready, because they take quite a few bullet wounds before dropping to the floor.
Explosives? Sure. If you don’t mind the alien stomping around the nearby corridor.
Melee attacks? Pft! Good luck with that, asshole!
Oh, and don’t ever assume a Working Joe is dead just because it’s lying on the ground, unmoving. Because chances are that it’s going to grab you while your back is turned. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
Hey, Stop Stomping Out There!
Of course, let’s talk about the alien itself. The majority of your weapons will do jackshit. If anything, using them is just going to piss off the alien even more. So don’t even bother fighting it.
Whenever the alien spawns in your location, you can heal its distinct growls and snarls. You’re also going to hear a lot of stomping. Yep. That’s the easiest way to tell that it’s close by.
The best thing to do is to remain in a crouched position and quietly sneak around. Of course, you can distract the alien by using noisemakers to draw it away from your location.
Walking and running will immediately attract its attention. And once the alien sees you, it’s pretty much game over. It will smash you like an 18-wheeler.
It’s also a great policy to make as little noise as possible. Even the motion detector makes some noise, so it’s better to put it away if the alien is too close.
At some point, you will acquire a flamethrower to fight the alien. It’s easily one of the most useful weapons in the game since the alien hates fire and will hesitate to attack you as long as you have it out. Unfortunately, you still can’t kill the alien with it. You can only force it to temporarily retreat if you hurt it enough.
Even with all this said, you still need to be careful if the alien isn’t around. You need to watch the ceiling to see if there are vents leaking acidic drool. The absolute worst thing you can do, while the alien isn’t around, is run, because the sound of the footsteps will immediately draw it to yourself.
Oh, and… god help you if you’re in an air vent and the alien is there with you.
…Whew. So you got all that? You ready to take on the Xenomotph?
Yeeeeeah. The AI of this beast is actually quite smart. It’s designed to listen for loud noises and even pick up on subtle noises if it’s close by. It can even check hiding spots. That’s why noisemakers are your best friends.
This message should be very clear. Alien: Isolation is very challenging, even frustrating at times. Combining the unforgiving enemies and harsh punishments for messing up, you’re in for a long and stressful ride. And I mean LONG. This game takes over 20 hours to complete just the main story.
So better start all that saving, motherfuckers! And don’t forget: never save when an enemy is nearby. You might screw yourself over big time…
20+ Hours of What?
Of course, with all this said, let’s talk about Alien: Isolation’s big weakness: the story.
To be fair, the story isn’t too bad but there are few moments worth remembering about. While the backstories can be interesting, the game as a whole isn’t paced like the movies. It’s a very long experience that is mostly about wandering around the space station, gathering spare parts and avoiding trouble. It’s mostly a journey that strictly belongs to a game. If you were to turn Alien: Isolation into a movie instead, you would probably cut out 90% of what the game shows just to condense the story into a shorter timeframe.
And unfortunately, none of the characters are fully fleshed out. Not even Amanda Ripley herself. Pretty much ALL of the secondary characters die out before we truly get to know them—but then again, that is a trait shared with the Alien movies. People get a certain amount of screentime before getting snatched up by the alien, though some do leave off a memorable impression.
From what we can tell from the game, Amanda Ripley is a brave and highly resourceful individual who can craft her own medkits and bombs. THAT IS BADASS. Personality wise, Amanda seems to take after her mother. But she is also more soft-spoken and distant from people, so there aren’t that many meaningful conversations between her and the other characters onscreen.
But the game does at least convey that she wants to see her mother more than anything, and we sometimes see her pained facial expressions whenever she thinks about Ellen. Not to mention that when she finally found the flight recorder, she showed the appropriate reactions.
Amanda Ripley: maybe not a deep character, but she can still gain your sympathies once you realize that she’s been an orphan since she was 10. Her father left her when she was an infant and her mother was lost to the clutches of time, so she spent the best years of her childhood without any parents or siblings to take care of her. It really helps deepen the tragedy that occurred at the Nostromo. Not only did Ellen spend the rest of her life fighting the monsters that ruined her life, but both she and Amanda were broken up as a family.
So at the very least, I can say that Amanda Ripley has the potential to be a strongly written character. Her backstory is a good setup and she demonstrates that she’s a perfectly capable survivor by using the tools of her trade. All we need is a little extra push to make her into a three-dimensional personality.
I will admit, this Alien: Isolation review was a little tough for me to tackle because the game itself is quite deep in pretty much every aspect and there’s a LOT to talk about. The visuals are incredible, the gameplay has a moderately high learning curve, the atmosphere is intense, and the expanded universe lore is adequate.
Alien: Isolation isn’t just the greatest game based on the Alien franchise. It also stands on its own as a very competent survival horror title. Even when you don’t know that much about the Alien franchise—though it’s recommended that you at least have watched the first Alien movie—, this game is guaranteed to suck you into its world. That is, if you have the patience to learn the game mechanics and deal with the frustration. It’s an intense survival experience that doesn’t fuck around and will have you running for the nearest metal chute. You have to be in it for the long haul to finish the main storyline, so keep that flamethrower prepped and go torch some aliens.
- The survival mechanics are deep, requiring you to really think about how you will move past the next area.
- The alien is a very interesting aspect to the gameplay, making the game more tense and forcing you to strategize how to avoid it.
- The graphics really stand out, showing just how powerful rendering technology is for this generation.
- As an expanded universe game, the lore can be fascinating.
- If you have knowledge of the first and second Alien movies, then you would understand Amanda Ripley's plight much better.
- There are times when the game can be stressful because the alien itself can be a particularly cheap enemy.
- The game's plot is stretched pretty thin due to the total playtime of 20+ hours.
- None of the characters are fully fleshed out, not even Amanda Ripley herself.