Alien: Isolation is a the first licensed Alien game worth owning. That’s not really saying much about it because the bar has been set so low, so let me assure you that Alien: Isolation is a great game.It sticks to Ridley Scott’s universe admirably, creates an atmosphere that acts as a super conductor for dread, and provides a sense of scarcity that’s been somewhat lacking in the genre’s biggest releases lately. Amanda Ripley’s story is fully canon with the movie, and is the proper sequel.
Alien: Isolation is set in the low-tech high-tech future of the original Alien movie. It looks like an alternate future where earth powered through space on brute force alone with outdated 1970’s technology. It stays faithful to Scott’s vision for Alien in every way imaginable, putting players in a futuristic world filled with blinking green CRTs, cassette tapes, and androids. The aesthetic choice of constantly showing visual defects common in VHS movies is an especially appreciated touch. It’s like the team at The Creative Assembly created time travel, then abducted Scott right after he wrapped on Alien.
The first Alien movie was full of slow burning horror, with moments of misdirection. That same atmosphere is captured in Alien: Isolation, and arguably done better thanks to the medium. The game looks beautiful as you wander the broken down anarchic shell that is the Sevastopol station. Graffiti and ravaged areas that hint at the civil unrest and outright paranoia wracking the civilians on board, pock-marked with flames and sparking electronics, rhythmic flashing of emergency lights playing with the shadows that could be hiding danger. Hiding in a locker while the Xenomorph peers into it, forcing Ripley to press her back to the wall and hold her breath or be discovered really lets you live the movie. Yet it’s the sound that really steals the show.
Sounds almost constantly assault the player. Pieces of the ship fall apart, clanging loudly in the distance and sending a jolt down your spine as the brief silence is shattered. The droning voices of synthetics, their eerily pleasant words that don’t quite sync up with their attempts to murder you. The voices of humans pushed to the brink in an effort to survive, debating if they should murder the stranger encountered just to be safe, or barking orders to each other while maneuvering into position to kill Ripley. The beeping and whine of the motion detector when an unseen threat closes in, the sounds the alien makes, the sensation of your hair standing on end when you hear the thud of it dropping from a vent behind you, and the music that rises to a dreadful, fever pitch as your stalker closes in. With Alien: Isolation, the people of The Creative Assembly have given us a truly “cinematic” horror experience, and a lot of it is due to mastering the art of sound.
Crafting, inventory, and tool management are all perfectly balanced features. Alien: Isolation puts Ripley at a complete disadvantage in every encounter, so making the best use of all the items you can gather is a must. Scraps, materials, and blue prints are the rewards for the brave who risk exploration. This is why we see the game favoring the bold. Smart implementation of your tools is the only way players can even the odds against all that would kill you. They’re also finite, with a very limited amount of space. Not only do you need to find the scraps, key components, and blue prints necessary to craft an object, but you need to find somewhere safe to assemble your load out, choose the right tools for the job, and make sure you don’t trap yourself. Alien: Isolation balances all of this even better than The Last of Us because Ripley can’t murder everything that moves like Joel can.
Alien: Isolation is great, but right now you’re probably waiting for the stinger. What’s wrong with it? Well, it’s too long for its style of horror. There’s only so much you can do with the abilities and situation you’re given. After repeated exposure players lose their fear, it’s just not as frightening when each encounter becomes rote. How far into the game the fear wears off is going to vary by the type of player and how many times said player has died. If you go into a game to dissect it, you won’t get as much from it as someone there to experience it. The game play is fairly simple, leaving little to take apart. It hurts to say that a game should be shorter, but this game wasn’t designed to be as long as it is. Still, it’s one of the better flaws to have in a game.