What is fear? Is it the fear that lies in wait or perhaps it’s the ghosts of our past? Is it the bogey man that lies in wait beneath your bed or the noises that go bump in the night? Is the fear something we can’t understand, the fear of the unknown? Whatever your phobia, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we all have something that we fear and there’s a strong likelihood that your particular nerve will be struck with Alien: Isolation. I’ve played many scary and disturbing games over the years, more recently that downright wrong P.T aka Silent Hills demo. So I say this with the utmost confidence that Alien: Isolation is without a doubt, one of the scariest and unnerving games that I’ve played in a long time.
Amanda Ripley is the daughter of the iconic Ellen Ripley and she is on a mission to find her mother’s whereabouts. The year is 2137, and Alien: Isolation is set 15 years after Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie and 42 years prior to the events of James Cameron’s Aliens. After being in pursuit of her mother for many years, Amanda is approached to join a mission by Weyland-Yutani executive Christopher Samuels that would lead them to the android manufacturing facility Sevastopol Space Station. When first approached, Amanda showed little interest in the job that was presented to her, but that was before she was informed that a flight recorder of the Nostromo was left by Ellen and it is believed that it will be found on the Sevastopol.
Upon arriving at Sevastopol, all kinds of shit hit the preverbal fan following a space walk and Amanda has been broken up from her team. It soon becomes apparent that all hell has broken loose on the Space Station and its human inhabitants are paranoid and frightened and they will stop at nothing to gain some valuable loot in their aid to survive. But other than humans willing to put a bullet between your eyes, there’s a good reason as to why there is so much unrest on the Sevastopol and I’m not just talking about the soulless androids on a power trip, oh no. I am of course talking about a Xenomorph and this is not just one ordinary Xenomorph (like that wouldn’t be bad enough), I’m talking about a 10ft Xenomorph that likes to haunt and taunt its victims and generally fuck with their minds. Was the cost of retrieving that flight recorder to much of a gamble for Amanda? Only time will tell.
Before I had begun my playthrough of Alien: Isolation, I wanted to make sure I had that Alien vibe before jumping in to the action. So I pulled out my Alien Anthology Blu-ray boxset and I watched the 1979 Alien movie and as it turned out, it had become a very useful tool to help me look out for the many danger signs in Alien: Isolation. After watching the movie again, I was now ready to begin my campaign of Isolation and with the movie still very clear and fresh in my mind, I could see the unprecedented level of detail those developers at The Creative Assembly had replicated within this game, inspired by the 1970 movie. Everything and I mean everything looks like it has been ripped out of the movie and into the game. From the dark steam filled hallways, to the retro green-screen computers, right on through to the iconic motion detector, it’s all here.
Just like the original movie, everything in Isolation is the late 70’s and early 80’s vision of the future and I believe that if this game was created with a modern day vision of the future, it simply wouldn’t have that retro sci-fi vibe. It’s this aesthetic feel that fans of the movie franchise will instantly appreciate and it’s replicated to such a level, that I can’t quite put into words that will do this game real justice. So much attention to detail has gone into creating this game, from every minor detail and upwards has resulted in a near perfect fan service. The Xenomorph itself is an intimidating as it is stunning, especially when you consider its size. The visuals are crisp, dark and dingy, just about everything that you’d want from a survival horror. If you search within the options, you can also adjust the noise effect in the game. So depending on your visual preference, you can go for the more sharp clear visuals or something more grainy and old school, almost VHS-esque. I must say also, that Isolation has some stunning lighting effects, possibly the best that I’ve ever seen, which certainly adds to the game ambience.
Talking of old school, Alien: Isolation features no auto-save function, instead you must find a save station to save your progress. This in itself offers even more tension to the game and makes you even more vigilant in your attempts of avoiding death, which by the way, your attempts to avoid your untimely demise will be absolutely futile. Make no mistake, you will die in Alien: Isolation a lot and when I say a lot, I mean A LOT! Die, die, die…you will die! Now this could go any of two ways, the constant deaths could quickly become very repetitive and put off some gamers, so too perhaps will the slow pace of the game. Or some may take on this challenge head-on and will not be defeated and will relish in the slow burn that builds up that inevitable confrontation.
Obviously at times you will just give up, put the pad down and come back to the game at a later date. But there is a key aspect as to how the repetition of death might not become so repetitive and that is the random A.I of the Xenomorph. Basically what this is, is that the behaviour of the Xenomorph is unscripted, which makes his behaviour patterns more random and perhaps gives the Xeno an illusion of intelligence. So when you die, you might think that you’ve sussed out how to approach a certain section and the behaviour of Mr Xeno. So you restart that checkpoint and then you realise, there is no Xenomorph, you even make a little noise and you get nothing. So you plod on along to the exit and POW, you’ve been impaled not by Jay Leno, but by the Xeno. Ok, so this game might not be so random that TV Talk Show host Jay Leno makes a guest appearance to impale you, but it’s these kinds of random behaviour patterns that helps keep Alien: Isolation fresh in comparison to other games in the similar ilk. Or on the other hand, your own personal death count may become too much to bear.
With you having to deal with death a lot in this game, I cannot stress what I am about to say enough, but save at every occasion that you can. Even when you think “do I really need to backtrack a little to get to that save point?” do it! Every time you do something significant or pick up a valuable item of interest such as a new weapon, tool or blueprint, save, save save. If you don’t, then there will be an occasion when you die and you will have to repeat a hard as nails section that may involve 30 minutes of gameplay (if you’re lucky), before you even get back to where you were. Trust me, save like your life depended on it, you will thank me for this later.
Throughout the campaign you will not be able to kill the Xenomorph, which adds another layer of fear in itself. You will spend most of your time trying to manoeuvre around the Xeno, which if like me, you will fail to do so quite often. In the most part the Xeno will spring itself upon you unannounced, which can feel a tad unfair at times, but there will be many of occasions that being discovered so easily is in fact your own fault. But the Xeno is not your only enemy to worry about, as I have already mentioned, you also have some fellow human inhabitants. Then of course you have the soulless androids that will mercifully approach to give you a not so friend curb-stomp or they may ask you to take a seat in the waiting area. There customer service skill certainly needs some tweaking to say the least.
There are many ways to avoid direct combat with the humans and androids, mainly by using the trial and error formula (and saving a lot); you can eventually find the best detour to avoid combat. But sometimes you will make an error and combat maybe unavoidable, so you may be forced to use your revolver. Many of the humans will be armed themselves, but of course they can be picked off with an accurate headshot; the androids however will soak up those bullets. If possible as soon as gunshots are fired, whether it is via you or the computer A.I, flee the scene ASAP! As the majority of loud noises and especially gunfire, will draw the Xeno to its location. If you do not escape the scene fast and efficiently, you will likely die, so too likely will the A.I within that vicinity (at least the Xeno doesn’t discriminate)?
Having the Xeno being drawn to loud gunfire and other noises can, if worked right, actually work in your favour. During some sections of the game, I found it very difficult to get myself past an area. So I fired a deliberate gunshot, waited a short while and I let the Xeno take care of the rest, just make sure you get out of harm’s way first. As well as being drawn to the noises that I mentioned, the Xeno will also be drawn to the sound of you running. Like gunfire, running can be unavoidable at times, but if possible only use the sprint as a last resort.
While you may grow impatient at moving along very slowly, I do recommend walking very slowly around your environment, if possible in the crouch position. Unless you make a noise yourself, attention will not often be drawn to your location when moving slowly. But as I’ve hinted before, there will be times when the Xeno will spring itself upon you unannounced. Thankfully there are some telltale signs to lookout for. Mostly the Xeno will move around in the vents above you, soF keep an ear out for rumble noises from above, because it’s likely to be the alien. You will also see some vents shake and dust coming down from them, this is an absolute sign that the alien is above you. Also lookout for dripping acid from above and DO NOT walk directly under it, as the Xeno will be lurking and it will drag you into the vents above.
When you know the Xeno is in your area on the hunt for its prey (i.e. you) other then hiding under tables, beds and in lockers, there are ways to avoid the alien, distract and hopefully even make it back away when it comes too close. In Isolation will be able to scavenge for various parts, with those parts you can craft items such as a noise maker, emp grenade, pipe bombs, as well as health kits and more. The noise maker as it might suggest will make a loud noise, so if you throw this in a direction that you want the Xeno to be drawn too (so too with humans or androids), throw it and hopefully you’ll be able to pass once it goes to investigate. Though it is worth keeping in mind that the Xeno will not always be drawn to that noise, so it can be hit and miss.
Quite possibly your biggest tool for survival, will be the iconic motion tracker as seen in the Alien movies. The motion tracker will pick-up any movements nearby, but be warned, it will only pick-up movements and not living/android organisms that are stationary. While the motion tracker could become your most reliant friend, it equally can be your biggest foe, as the Alien and other enemies will likely hear it if you use it for prolonged durations at one time. So if possible, use it in instant snippets just to check if anything may be waiting around the next corner or in this games case, in the air vents above.
Other then the revolver, you will also pick up a flamethrower along the way, which is an absolute god send. This won’t kill the Xenomorph, but in most cases then not, it will make it retreat back into the vents. Just make sure you move away from that area, because it will come back to that location. If all else fails, hide. But try not to hide in one location for too long because you will likely be discovered, just wait for the right time to make your move.
Oh and its well worth mentioning that both the PS4 and Xbox One utilise their motion cameras. Upon starting the game you will be asked if you want the camera to track head movements for when you want to peep over objects when hiding. Which to be honest, works rather well if camera motion movements is your thing. The camera however will also pick up noises within your room that enemies and of course the Xenomorph will hear. In theory it works well, especially when you scream and swear in fear, but when your cat (living up to their horror cliché) jumps on your shoulder from behind the curtain, it can get rather annoying when it results in another death courtesy of a very unmanly scream.
One of the biggest aspects of fear is hearing what goes bump in the night and this aspect plays a huge part in Isolation. Arguably the scariest moments of the game is when you’re not being attacked, but you can hear that rustling up in the air vents or an automatic door spring open. To aid that fear of waiting to be attacked is the superb sound design that Isolation possesses, because without the unnerving sound effects, your experience with the game wouldn’t be nowhere near as scary. The background noises in Isolation do an absolutely great job at making your paranoid; so much so that you will often stay routed to the same spot as a result of being too scared to move any further.
On top of the eerie sound effects, you have a well written script that would certainly not be out of place if Alien: Isolation was to be made into a movie, rather than a videogame. Of course a well written script would be nothing without a talented voice cast and Alien: Isolation certainly has that in abundance, especially with the lead character Amanda Ripley, who is voiced by the talented Andrea Deck. You could also not talk of the Alien franchise, without its iconic soundtrack and instantly recognisable theme. The composer of Alien: Isolation Christian Henson has done an astounding job of capturing the essence of the movies and is well worth a mention for his work in the game.
Just like the original Ridley Scott movie, Alien: Isolation is a slow burner, but for me waiting for that moment to builds up adds a lot of suspense, especially when you don’t know when it’ll happen. The game itself is also quite lengthy and some may argue that it goes on for too long or some may argue that it feels about right, I guess that all comes down to the individuals preference. What I will say is that there are many ways in which you can approach certain scenarios throughout the game. Then of course you have the various difficulty settings, which regardless of your preference, each is very unforgiving. I would say that if this was any other game, the Easy setting of Isolation would be considered to be Normal or even above.
There is also a survival mode in Isolation, which will pit you in an arena with the Xenomorph and by using the resources, tools and weapons that you are given, it’s your job to escape that arena while being hunted. Your score for that particular arena when then be uploaded to the online leaderboards and you will be scored on completion time, number of deaths and so forth. Unfortunately you only have one map with your copy of Isolation, so if you want to play more, then you’ll have to purchase the DLC and ideally the season pass to save you a few quid along the way.
You can find details on Alien: Isolations season pass and DLC here. Also depending on which version of the game you pick up, you can also gain access to DLC that centres around the original cast of Ridley Scott’s movie, which see’s the original cast doing the voice work, even Sigourney Weaver herself got involved. The DLC in question is Crew Expendable and The Last Survivor. If you failed to pick up the editions of the games that come with this DLC, you can pick up Crew Expendable and The Last Survivor for just under £3 each.
The survival horror genre is loved by millions and it’s a genre that’s been neglected a lot over recent years. With staple franchises such as Resident Evil (not including Revelations) and Dead Space leaning towards the action, rather than intense horror, all to appease the mass market, has alienated (see what I did there) those that adore the survival horror genre. Thankfully it’s not all been doom and gloom of late, with games such as Outlast, Amnesia and even Slenderman have blown the doors wide-open once again for the depraved genre, welcoming the likes of the truly terrifying P.T (Silent Hills demo), The Evil Within and of course Alien: Isolation back into the market.
Alien: Isolation might not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially for those that prefer the action/horror orientated games. Alien: Isolation is very slow paced; something that I believe works in its favour and something those fans of the original movie should appreciate. It’s not an all out action fest, but manages to provide many memorable moments of terror that will have you telling all those that are willing to listen about your experiences of the game. It has an unforgiving difficulty, even on the alleged easy setting and no auto-save feature during missions that will put off some gamers right from the off-set ,and it might just be too terrifying for the casual horror/action gamer.
First and foremost this is a fan service that will have Alien fans buzzing with the atmosphere and attention to detail that has gone into creating this game. It might also intrigue those that have never watched the movies, but are looking for a true gaming horror experience, as after all, you don’t have to be a fan of the franchise to be scared of the Xenomorph. Alien: Isolation really is a marmite type of game, you’re either going to love it or hate it, but in my humble opinion, we finally have a game that I and many others have been waiting for from the franchise. Whether you’re looking for a game from your favourite extra- terrorestrial movie franchise or looking for a scare-fest this Halloween, then Alien: Isolation is possibly the game that you’ve been looking for.
Just remember, just about everyone can hear you scream in your living room…even your cat.
+ Tense, Unnerving, on the edge of your seat fear
+ Unpredictable Xenomorph A.I keeps you on your toes
+ Each re-load can have different results
+ Unprecedented attention to detail inspired by Ridley Scott’s movie
+ Superb light design
+ Savaging & crafting has genuine purpose
- Pace of gameplay might not suit those that prefer more action
- Difficulty level may put off some, even on easy
- Constant instant deaths will infuriate many