We have been through the mill over the years with a number of Alien games starting with the Pac-Man styled Alien back in 1982 through to the recent Alien Isolation: Blackout for mobiles. Some good some…well let us say they made me die a little inside *cough* Colonial Marines *cough*. As a huge fan of the Alien franchise and gamer of previous games it was with some trepidation I picked up Alien: Isolation…and I am so glad I did. It was the Alien game I had been waiting for and it delivered on so many levels.
As this year is the 40th anniversary of Alien, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look back at what, for me, is the best Alien video game out there.
Alien: Isolation picks up 15 years after the 1979 Alien film. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley and she’s every bit as badass as her mother. The main premise is that you are investigating the disappearance of your mother, but ultimately it becomes all about survival. Straight away I was impressed by the nods to the Alien movie and how it seemed to replicate the atmosphere and tension extremely well. With the use of DOS-based futuristic computers and scan monitors it encompasses a great deal of the original movie. The orchestral score lends itself towards an almost palpable tension that builds and builds despite never actually seeing the Alien for a long while. The aesthetics of the station, from the bulkheads to the smoke and fog hissing from vents and piping, encapsulates everything I wanted in an Alien game.
Watch the official Alien: Isolation launch trailer below:
Initially the game can be a bit of a grind to be honest. This is mainly down to it taking a while for the xenomorph to show up, however upon reflection this is actually quite a clever use of tension and lulls you in to a false sense of security and complacency. Once the Alien does appear the faecal matter hits the fan and the game fully hits its stride. It becomes one of the most tense and stressful games I have played and therein lies the beauty of the Alien, it is totally unscripted. You do not know when, where or how it will appear. The slightest noise and you can expect it to appear shortly to mess you up. It will lie in wait, or simply stalk into the room you are in, forcing you to wait on baited breath for it to leave as you sit sweating in a locker or crouched under a desk and don’t get me started on entering air vents (brown trouser time).
The gameplay and controls are all solid, although if you’re a run and gun type of gamer forget it. This is mainly a stealth survival game as the xenomorph is impervious to all your weapons and cannot be killed, but people and synthetics can if you are that way inclined. Yet again, another tick in my box was the choices you have on how you play the game. You can pass through unobserved and not harming a living person, kill every single human and synthetic on the station or, like I admit I did, fire a shot around some bad guys, hide in a locker and let the Alien do the dirty work.
You do eventually get weapons such as Molotov’s and pipe bombs, which can deter the alien for a short time allowing you a quick dash to safety of a locker or storage cabinet. With it quickly reappearing in your last location and forcing you to wait it out, this is one of greatest strengths of the game: the alien AI. It seems to learn your playstyle and adapts, forcing you to adapt. The beeping on your motion tracker can leave you sat in a locker for 15 minutes waiting it out or it can simply grab you from a vent that you have missed the saliva dripping from.
This isn’t without its issues though, the story is great and I enjoyed the Nostromo logs left by the old crew. However, after 8-10 hours the alien can become more annoying than scary and the tension you felt at the start begins to wane slightly. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed this to the bitter end but it did become slightly like I was hopping from telephone to telephone to save my progress before the alien came back and aggravated me some more. The hacking minigames did start to grate on me, but I’ve never been a fan of minigames and that’s just personal taste. Yet still even after hours playing the game the sound effects of the hiss of the alien, beep of the motion tracker and rattling of the vents makes sure you never relax and call me a masochist but I enjoyed that.
Towards the end I did feel the game fell apart somewhat, with the arrival of the flamethrower it became far easier and a few occasions I felt the game had ended but carried on. The constant back tracking through the ship can become tedious at times but as a Dark Souls fan this isn’t something that bothered me greatly alongside dying, and I mean a lot. At the end of the game, the conclusion felt slightly lacklustre and has left me hopeful for a complete console and PC sequel. I have since played the game through a few times on the hard and survival modes and they do add more replay value, especially with the leaderboard.
All in all I enjoyed Alien: Isolation, in a sadistic kind of way. If the Alien universe, survival horror or being killed repeatedly from an air vent is your thing then I would definitely recommend it, especially as its cheap as chips right now and with the release of Alien: Blackout for mobiles and tablets, it’s a good starting point for what I for one hope will be a solid franchise.
If you’re a fan of Alien: Isolation you should also take a look at the Alien: Isolation Web Series over at IGN.