Alien: Isolation is an important game. It is important for one main reason. The Alien franchise has been through the mire of late, with mediocre films and awful games. Alien: Isolation is the Dr Sam Beckett of videogames right now, with the chance to put right, that once went wrong.
Those who played the awful Alien: Colonial Marines would be forgiven for coming into Isolation with a negative attitude, after all, the aforementioned title was looking amazing right up until release, where it then turned out to be nothing like the previews had suggested and was even completely broken in places.
Alien: Isolation has also looked fantastic in the previews and has made a fair amount of promises, but it can be hard to go into a game knowing that there is a history of negativity. It also makes it harder for those who do play it to forgive mistakes and minor bugs. Thankfully though what you get here is more Alien, than Resurrection.
Players take on the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of one Ellen Ripley who, 15 years after the events of the first Alien film is searching for answers as to what happened to her mother and the Nostromo. It fits nicely between the events of Alien and Aliens allowing the story and the overall lore to be filled in.
Of course the plot sees Ripley abandoned upon a space-station during her investigation where she will find herself hunted by out friend from the films, as well as find a civilization that has fallen apart, with groups trying themselves to survive, many not caring what the cost is. Of course this all simply serves as a way to create tension to the game, so you aren’t just up against an Alien, but also the worst kind of hunter of all…Humans. Well not quite true, the Alien is the worst kind of hunter still.
Those of us who have seen Alien will know that it is not a Sci-Fi, that it is in fact a horror that just so happens to be set in space and whilst it lost more and more of that feel with following films the first remains a classic and holds up to day as something that can still terrify. Isolation itself does a fantastic job of fitting in with that ethos.
The game is first person, but it is a survival horror first and foremost, it does a better job of being a game than the likes of Outcast and Daylight, which are more interactive horror stories, good ones, but still stories first. Alien Isolation is a game with a well built story around it and it maintains a lot of core gaming mechanics to help it effectively draw the player in.
First off is the atmosphere. As expected it is dark and there are tons of flickering lights, dimly lit areas, sounds to unnerve you and a score that is designed to put there hairs on the back of your neck on end. It is a game that takes the best moments of Dead Space and turns it into a complete game and does it really well.
What follows is that for the most part, Alien Isolation is a massive game of cat and mouse. The Alien makes itself known fairly early on and makes it clear that you simply cannot engage it. You have an enemy that can kill you with ease, that you must avoid at all costs. Add that in with the fantastic art direction and score and you have something that grabs you and doesn’t let go. It is frightening but you cannot tear yourself away, it does what the best horror movies do and does it well.
There has been some excellent work put into the Alien itself and not just on the visual side. It has been programmed to appear as though it is learning through every single encounter, that whatever action you take will see it make an alternative action the next time an encounter happens, that it starts to learn your movement patterns, forcing you to take alternative routes to try to outsmart it. It really works too as at no point do you feel like you have things sussed out and even though you start to get the tools to fend it off, you still never feel safe and much prefer the option of hiding or scurrying away.
When you add this to the encounters you have with other humans surviving on the space station, it can become a really tense and complex affair. Knowing when to engage other survivors, when to sneak by or seeing if the Alien can be used to your advantage at certain points. Such as seeing the Alien brutally kill someone and using that moment to rush to the temporary safety on an elevator undetected.
The controls feel very natural and add to the overall experience, by removing the need to adopt a ‘special’ stance to stay hidden, or move quietly. You walk around using the usual first person controls, but it also feels natural as you take smaller, slower, quieter steps and creep around rooms to remain out of sight. The line of sight from enemies feels natural too and for the most part they will also stay alert once they are aware of your presence which can add to the tension.
The save system in Isolation is something that could divide opinion a little, but we really like it. There is no auto-save or checkpoints, aside from when you complete a mission or move to another level. Instead what you get is a key card that can be inserted into access points dotted around the space station, acting like a check-in type system. These points aren’t exactly the most generous in terms of spacing, which makes the need to survive all that more important, as whilst some could see you doing a five minute section over again, another can be thirty minutes plus. It could have been annoying, but instead it adds to the tension even further.
There is a lot to discover with Alien: Isolation and for fans of both the franchise and the genre you cannot go far wrong with this title. The story if well written and the game oozes atmosphere whilst wrapping it all up with game mechanics that work exceptionally well.