Game Reviews, Gaming, Reviews

Alien Isolation Review: Hunted By A Freak

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release Date: Oct. 7, 2014
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Horror, Survival, Stealth
MSRP: $59.99

 

There are precious few games that can perfectly recreate the feel of a movie, but Alien Isolation achieves this with an almost eerie precision. It’s the kind of game you play alone in the dark, knowing the absence of light could both save you and spoil you from the fright.

The game is a captivating and harrowing experience that fully envisions the scope of Ridley Scott’s immortal film Alien. Rather than simply portraying the film, though, it expands upon it and brings to life a refreshing new extension while keeping the original concepts in place.

Creative Assembly has crafted a thriller that completely absorbs its audience, using many of the same mechanics of the 1979 classic.

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Perhaps the most unique concept about the game is that it takes away all power from the gamer. And as odd as this will sound, that’s actually the beauty of it all. Instead of gunning down xenomorphs with reckless abandon, players are forced instead to treat their foe for what it is: an interstellar killing machine.

Sticking to the shadows and relying on their senses, players are stripped of their machismo bravado in favor of Amanda Ripley’s cunning and wit. It’s a welcome change to the genre and pays glorious tribute to Ellen Ripley’s performance in the original film.

One of the things that Isolation does best is revitalize the image of the alien simply by making players respect its power, and for that I’m extremely grateful. It’s one of the most amazing depictions of the alien’s true nature that I’ve ever seen, and throughout the game, I was almost in awe of the slithering terror.

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The developers have captured the creature’s liquid grace perfectly: the fluid movements, the way its tail slithers around corners, and the way it crawls its way through the station like some kind of interstellar viper. The way it leaves chaos and death in its wake, and the way it’s inner mouth snatches out to dispatch its prey.

The terrifying primal state of H.R. Giger’s nightmare has been permanently restored, and it’ll always be remembered and regarded the way it should be–with blind panic and fear.

Despite wanting to cringe and close our eyes and shut the game off, we can’t stop playing it. We want to find out what happens next, the same way we can’t stop watching a gory horror flick. This almost perverse reflex accompanies anything that’s really scary–regardless of how badly it scares us, we want to continue.

This is the magic of fear, and it’s what Alien Isolation does best.

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A graveyard haunted by a very real phantom

The game takes place 15 years after the events of Ridley Scott’s Alien movie, with Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, searching for answers on her mother’s mysterious disappearance on board the Nostromo.

Amanda is an engineer in the heavily industrial 22nd Century where megacorporations rule the stars and faster-than-light travel is a thing of the past. After coming across a report that the Nostromo‘s black box has been found aboard the Sevastopol space station, Ripley sets out to unlock the secrets of the past once and for all.

What she ends up doing instead is venturing into the hungry maw of hell itself.

The Sevastopol feels like something hallowed, like a great tomb in the stars.

There’s an air of finality to it; its cold fluorescent light spills out like something dead, and the atmosphere swirls with ghosts. But the phantom that haunts this starship isn’t incorporeal.

It’s very real, and very, very deadly.

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The crew of the Sevastopol were felled by a perfect alignment of catastrophic circumstance.

Helmed by the faultering Seegson Corporation, the ship was decommissioned after failing to sell its Working Joes–creepy synthetic androids that were phased out after attacking humans–and ultimately was in the process of being stripped. The station was moving on and soon it’d be another empty vessel floating in space.

The ship itself is like a city. It has a vast number of areas with a webwork of trams and elevators, and an expansive populace of workers, civilians, doctors, etc.

Now that the Sevastopol was shutting down, it was time for Seegson to send transport ships so that it could be sealed up like an abandoned house in space. Everyone was ready to disembark to their reassigned locations.

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But the ships never came, and the crew was trapped. And they weren’t alone. There was something out there, something terrible…something that seemed to be made of shadows. People starting disappearing, and then the crew splintered off into societies, vying for control of precious supplies.

Fear took hold as more and more people starting disappearing into the vents. Whatever was out there, it was hungry, and it whipped the survivors into a frenzy.

Soon neighbor turned on neighbor, friend turned on friend, and everyone was attacking one another while the nefarious hunter picked them off one by one by one. Soon the Sevastopol was all but a graveyard with elegies written crudely in blood and gore.

Soon the only ones who were left alive were the lifeless Working Joes that went along their routines and duties, oblivious to the death around them.

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Alone in the dark: The shadows are your friend

When you first encounter the alien, the suspense is palpable to the point where you can almost taste the dread, that tangy acridity of fear. Here is one of your worst nightmares made real before your eyes: a fearsome menace that stalks the broken space station in search of its prey, which so happens to be you.

The environments play a substantial role in the fear factor, as the areas are so devoid of life that the ship has its own sort of eerie sentience. It’s as if the ship is alive, a sort of mute idiot that’s oblivious to the horrors that befell its crew.

Even still the Sevastopol is a beautiful entity that radiates with careful precision and dedication. In many ways I think that the Sevastopol is Creative Assembly’s baby, as it’s so perfectly maintained, rendered and portrayed that it looks like something right out of Ridley Scott’s imagination.

The real magic of the game lies in the intensity of the suspenseful overtones achieved by the alien itself. You feel like its always there, somewhere, watching and waiting. It knows where you are…it can see you, smell you, and is just waiting to gnaw away at your soul.

This feeling of being hunted is powerful and truly brings a sense of mingled awe and dread–awe at the fact that a game can make you feel this way, and dread well…because…you’re terrified.

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Ripley soon finds that the best way to fight the alien is with her wit. As an engineer she has valuable expertise in this regard, and can craft a number of helpful tools like noisemakers to draw out the beast as well as EMP mines to dispatch Working Joes.

For all its strengths, the alien is like a rabid animal. It is intelligent in some ways but it is also wild, and this is its downfall. It can be tricked with cunning and subterfuge. This is the heart of surviving encounters with the alien, and perfectly mirrors how Ellen Ripley ultimately conquered her foe.

Essential success in Alien Isolation is not through confrontation, but general smarts, creativity, and hiding. Getting caught by the alien will lead to death every single time, and the flamethrower will only stall its attempts.

You’ll want to crouch and sneak wherever you go, and you get a helpful motion tracker (the same one from Aliens) that pinpoints anything nearby, whether it be alien, human or synthetic. This is your lifeline to survival.

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Isolation does a fantastic job emulating the basic principles of survival: opportunity, luck and adapting to your environment.

Many times you’re going to die, die, and die again–but every death serves a purpose as it shows you what not to do. Some levels can only be beaten by figuring out the best path, which makes a good portion of the game a sort of tedious trial-and-error test.

The environments usually offer an array of hiding spots for Ripley should the alien come stalking by. She can hop into a locker or a supply cubby, or even under desks to avoid being seen.

You always want to keep your eye on the sinister sable sadist at all times, especially if it’s close, and the leaning function is great for this. The alien can hear the motion tracker and it’ll root you out of your hiding spot with effortless precision.

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One of the major flaws in the game is how many times you’ll have to restart certain areas. This is largely due to the sparse save stations, which are the only checkpoint system the game offers outside of area transitions.

Dying over and over can be downright frustrating, but it’s always good to experiment and try out different things. Don’t be afraid to use the items you craft, that is that they’re there for, after all.

Persistence, awareness and calm are all prerequisites to conquering Alien Isolation. You have to be able to keep your cool under dire situations in order to progress. There will be times where the alarms are going off and the alien is clambering in the vents above while you hopelessly sneak in the shadows, and in those times you have to keep focused. Or you’ll die. And die. And then die some more.

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Conclusion: An imperfect gem

Alien Isolation is a painstakingly crafted journey down a lesser-traveled road, one that’s paved with screams of terror and fear. Creative Assembly has created an incredibly vivid thriller that embellishes its source material to deliver something refreshingly unique and original.

But the game isn’t for everyone. It’s tailored for those people who can get into the dark sci-fi spirit of the original film. While my playthrough was punctuated with heart-pounding suspense, there were moments of boredom and tedium.

The game requires a sort of two-fold commitment, requiring that sort of openness that’s needed for a slower more dramatic horror movie, the kind where viewers have to be willing to imagine themselves in the situations they’re seeing.

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The computer terminals helped immerse me in the plight of the crew, as it basically served as the elegy to their graves while explaining their plight.

If you can get into it and become receptive, the game can transport you to a world where alarm, panic, anxiety and dread mix together to make a deliciously satisfying brew that intoxicates players the way only a good horror movie can. That being said, Isolation is basically a one-off play that lacks replay value, so that’s something to consider before picking it up.

The Sevastopol is a remarkable backdrop for the long game of cat and mouse that is Isolation‘s campaign, lit in a sterile light that casts an almost surreal glow to every area.

It isn’t perfect, but it has achieved what it set out to do: to make a true Alien game.

8-0 review scorePros

+ Terrifying and suspenseful
+ Unique stealth system
+ Craftable weapons and items
+ Everything about the Sevastopol
+ Portrayal of the xenomorph

Cons

Awkward map
Save points are scarce
Tedious in some parts
No replay value