Alien: Isolation Review – Survival Horror turned Thriller

Platforms – PC, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3

Publisher – Sega  Developer – Creative Assembly

Genre – Survival Horror/Thriller

So close, Creative Assembly, so close. Right from the beginning of Alien: Isolation you could tell you were walking into something special. From the drum-roll introduction of the old school 20th Century logo with the use of VHS footage, to the initial stages aboard the Anesidora, everything is tailored to exactly what would be demanded from a hard-core Alien fan. I admit while I do enjoy the movies, I am by no means a hard-core fan. It wasn’t until I watched Alien again during my gameplay that I realised just how similar the game is to the movie in design. I wouldn’t call it a survival horror simply because the only scares are cheap jump scares, instead I think a survival thriller best suits what Alien: Isolation has to offer.

You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley from the movies, who has long sought closure regarding her mothers’ disappearance. Conveniently, they encounter the Sevastopol Station which holds the flight recorder Amanda seeks for her closure. Obviously, things turn sour pretty quickly and you end up stranded on the ship all by yourself. It is a theme which Creative Assembly crafted so well, the feeling of complete isolation. Many times I was relieved when I encountered another NPC, simply because there was someone to counteract Amanda’s lonely journey. The opening scenes are one of the strongest sequences in the game because it shows the attention to detail this world has. You can tell they learnt from their homework of studying how to create this world, with the help of some original members from the Alien franchise.

The motion tracker allows you to focus either on the tracker or what is ahead of you while blurring out the other. It is a cool realistic feature, one of many Isolation offers.

Nearly every single detail has been incorporated to fit the world, even the “futuristic” systems the station uses have been kept within the limits of what would actually be available. I know hard-core Alien fans will appreciate the attention to detail, and squeal with excitement at walking into familiar rooms and scenes. It is perhaps the strongest asset to Alien: Isolation and Sevastopol can arguably be compared to Rapture in terms of iconic gaming worlds. The key to some of these areas comes down to the lighting, which is among the best lighting I have even seen in any game. Seemingly dull areas become strangely gorgeous and it creates a whole new layer of immersion. Walking into a corridor with grated walls and light shining through each panel is strangely beautiful. Combine the lighting with the fog or steam throughout the station just works incredibly well. They did a superb job creating fog effects similar to what the movie offered. It is a simple effect, but when it is used well like in Isolation it has to be admired.

I have to applaud Creative Assembly for working with the original audio team for Alien by re-recording some of the musical scores. The sound scope and ambience in this game is absolutely phenomenal. Each music track is reactive to the environment and is timed to perfection. Complete silence can immediately burst into an intense paced orchestra if the Alien bursts from the ceiling. Hearing the Alien scattering through the vents above you immediately induces paranoia, while hearing its thumping steps through the rooms is terrifying.

The beeping of the motion tracker will cause some nostalgia for Alien fans. Nearly all the sounds are exactly what you hear in the movie which just adds to the authenticity Isolation offers. I would recommend playing Isolation with a pair of good quality headphones because it adds so much more tension. I played with a good soundcard and high end headphones so hearing the Alien scattering through the vents made me look in every single direction constantly. Creative Assembly have created the perfect setting for Alien: Isolation.

One mechanic they could have done better with however was the lip synching, which was poor. Cut scenes weren’t so bad, but the second the characters interacted in game the lip synching was just completely out of whack. For how well they crafted this world with such detail, you’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to match the lips with the words, but they definitely dropped the ball there. The voice acting itself was pretty decent, there wasn’t anything special but I did enjoy how Amanda Ripley reacted to certain scenarios and in cut scenes. It reminded me of Lara Croft, but unfortunately not all of the characters came off quite as realistic. Some characters seemed to lack emotion, especially in intense moments but it wasn’t anything too noticeable.

Now, to create a truly immersive world you have to fill it with enemies and NPC’s to keep pushing you through. The enemies you encounter obviously don’t vary too much but that doesn’t mean you aren’t in for a fight in every single encounter. Finding survivors can be a 50/50 experience because you have to pay attention to what they are talking about and how they act. Some will not attack and simply shoo you away while others shoot at first sight. I didn’t fight the survivors too much, instead I would shoot my revolver a couple of times and wait to hear the crash through the vents, signalling the Alien’s arrival. It’s so cool just being able to summon the Alien via lots of noise, but it comes at a huge cost. Instead of fighting relatively easier humans, you now have the Alien stomping through the corridors.

Speaking of, the Alien is absolutely terrifying, well for the first few encounters at least. My first encounter with the Alien was particularly underwhelming because I managed to escape within seconds so there wasn’t much tension. It wasn’t until the second encounter that I really experienced the fear it brings. Creative Assembly created the perfect organism, it looks terrifying and the sounds it makes just double the fear. Luckily you have some hiding spots available, usually in lockers or small cabinets which provide some relief provided it doesn’t see you jump into the locker.

The unpredictable AI of the Alien was one of it’s strongest and weakest aspects, depending on your game style.

The Alien will wander up to your locker and start sniffing through the vent and I have to say the first couple times it happened I was immediately killed because I was too slow to react. You have to push yourself back and hold your breath which I found to be a really cool mechanic. The AI of the Alien is unpredictable and it was a double edged blade. At times I loved how I never knew where it was going to go, whether it would double back quickly or continue in a different direction, and it added a lot to the intense experience it brings. On the other hand I hated it simply because so much time was spent just waiting in the locker for it to pass. But that is what an Alien game should be, I think it would have been worse for the overall experience if it followed a traditional path like most enemies in horror games.

The Sevastopol station is aided by the use of androids, although they are fairly cheap androids in comparison to the human-like android you see in the movie. They are brutal, merciless and they can be genuinely scary in their own right when they turn into red-eyed hunting machines. I feel they may have added too many android sequences however which in turn I think happened because the game extended on far too long than it needed to be. I am sure Alien fans will have enjoyed the lengthy experience, uncovering every single bit of information through the terminal emails and gathering some background in different areas.

The graphics in Isolation are awesome, with some of the best lighting I have ever seen in a game.

For me the game continued far longer than it needed to be and it ended up losing steam as you go from one area, back track, turn on this switch, wait for something bad to happen, go back and turn on a different switch and repeat. The second half of the game falls major victim to this and the goalpost is continuously pushed back, almost as if someone strapped a hanging wad of money on your hat so it sits just out of reach as you chase it. It really affected my overall experience because by the time I got to the 14th mission I was done, I just wanted it to be over which really disappointed me because of how well this world had been created. There is too much filler, too much backtracking and little payoff in the end. The ending disappointed me, but I got the impression it opens the door for either a sequel or an extended campaign DLC.

As for the gameplay itself, I think Creative Assembly did an absolutely wonderful job. I never had any trouble with the hacking mini-games, which I thought were quite cool in their “futuristic” setting, they were definitely unique hacking systems to what we are usually used to. I found crafting to be quite easy too but I’m not sure if it will be as easy to use on a controller. From what I can imagine, it may be a bit clunky if you play it on a console but nothing you won’t be able to get used to. It is important you use supplies sparingly and only craft what you feel will provide the best relief to your situation and it was exciting obtaining new blueprints to build more survival tools. It isn’t going to be much help using an EMP mine when the Alien is wandering the corridors and the same goes for using a Molotov on an android.

Now one of the key aspects to moving around in Alien: Isolation is the ultra-stealth approach you have to utilise. You have to take in your surroundings – this is where good headphones come in handy – use whatever tool best fits the situation and move slowly without drawing attention. I found the noisemaker tool and obviously the flamethrower to be the most efficient when it came to drawing the Alien away or causing it to flee so I could progress. I think this is where Isolation is going to be loved or cause an immense frustration for players. If you are a gamer who typically runs’n’guns your way through levels, you won’t survive long. This game is all about stealth, hiding and using your crafted tools to escape an area. Sure, you have the options to use your shotgun or revolver, but that’s just going to draw the Alien to you.

If you don’t obey the games rules, in regards to how the Alien works and other enemies, you won’t last long and probably won’t get very far. Unless you know for certain the Alien isn’t around you never ever sprint because the Alien is going to hear you the second you begin running and burst from the ceiling vents. At times you can hear the Alien growling as streams of saliva flow from the ceiling vent in anticipation. The second you walk under the vent, you get taken into the vent with the Alien, never to be seen again. It was cool and frightening at the same time when I first noticed it because it’s another thing you have to worry about when you’re dealing with other enemies.

Always keep an eye on the ceiling vents, you never knew when it will be there if you don’t look.

One of my main frustrations, which is a feature you are going to love or hate, is the fact that there are no auto saves at all. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the lack of auto save, particularly if I had already advanced through an area only to be killed and sent all the way back. There was one mission where I spent about 20 minutes crawling my way through the area and finally got to the door I needed. I waited for a mini cut scene and proceeded to escape the area only to be killed by something, I’m still not quite sure what it was. Instead of being reset to the end of the cut scene, I had to go all the way back to my last save and spend another 20 minutes to get back to where I was. It killed my enjoyment pretty quickly in these cases and for a few other missions, but it did feel like a mini game in itself trying to push my way to the nearest save before dying.

The game also ran smoothly with no graphical issues which I noticed, although I hear the old-gen consoles struggle a bit with framerate drops. The only glitches I encountered were sometimes after searching a body Ripley couldn’t run forward for some reason, but that only lasted a couple of seconds. I also had two game crashes throughout my 16 hour experience, which I hear is quite common and could be frustration if you haven’t saved before it crashed.

Overall this is the Alien game everyone wanted in terms of world design, ambience and the Alien itself. Creative Assembly formed the perfect world to square you against the Alien and did so with magnificent results. While the second half of the game caved in on itself with pointless back tracking and filler, it offers a gaming experience which not many people will had played before. It is an ultra-stealth thriller and the addition of a survival mode to provide extra content gives you value for your money. It is a 15-20 hour game which could have easily been a 10-12 hour experience without losing too much and that alone is its biggest error.

The Good

  • Incredibly realistic world in sound and visual design
  • The Alien
  • Survival tools available
  • It’s not overly hard if you pay attention to what’s happening around you
  • Survival modes

The Bad

  • Story drags on with unnecessary backtracking and filler
  • Weak ending
  • Lack of auto saves at end of areas

The Score: 7.8