To be able to give you my thoughts on Alien: Isolation, you first need to know what I think about the movie Alien. The sci-fi/horror classic is both my favorite horror and favorite sci-fi movie. It’s the perfect blend of tension, atmosphere and good storytelling. Every aspect of the movie fascinates me, from the acting to the incredible work by H.R. Giger. My anticipation and expectations for this game were high.
Alien was all about a slow build up and the same is true of Isolation. The game, like the movie, takes the time to build tension, create atmosphere and flesh out the characters and setting. Anyone expecting an action game should stay away, because after the long introduction, patience and caution are needed to both survive and get the most out of the game. You can’t run around without expecting to be killed by something quite quickly.
Recent exposure to games like Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter have altered the way I think about games like this. I went into the game expecting another scripted, movie-like experience. That isn’t what I got here, at least not after the lengthy introduction. This isn’t another Alien movie, it’s an Alien game and a damn good one. It’s a game that let’s me jump into the world of Alien and find my own way of doing things. It took me a while to appreciate it, but I love that it exists and that I get to play it.
Isolation really shines during the unscripted moments. I encountered a group of survivors that immediately started shooting me. This was bad, so I fled and hid in a locker in the next room. The plan was to wait for them to calm down and look for another way around, but then I heard the unmistakable footsteps of the Alien in the vents above. I listened and stared at the motion tracker as the Alien tore apart the terrified group that attracted its attention. All I could hear was the screams. In that moment I was totally immersed in the experience and it was something that could only happen in a video game.
It isn’t a perfect adaption of Alien’s world, the changes in the Alien’s movements for example are jarring for a movie fan. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, because despite not being as fast or stealthy as we’re used to, the creature provides some of the most effective scares horror gaming have ever had. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley, last surviving crew member of the Nostromo. The story focuses on Amanda’s search for her mother and answers about her disappearance. This is a nice tie-in to Alien and expands on a character that was never really covered in the movies.
“The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.” – Ellen Ripley, Alien
The Alien itself is a perfect recreation of H.R. Giger’s design and while it doesn’t behave exactly as it did in the movie, it’s still an unpredictable, stealthy and terrifying predator that’s ready to drop from a vent at any time to ruin your day. Scaring away the Alien is possible if you’re quick using a flamethrower or molotov, but it still might take a chunk out of you if you aren’t careful.
The Seegson Corporation is an underperforming competitor to Weyland-Yutani, the corporation from the movies that always seems to have a convoluted plot in place to obtain a living Alien. Seegson manufacture less advanced, less human looking synthetics than Weyland-Yutani and their space station Sevastopol was failing even before the Alien arrived. As the story progresses and you find more text and audio logs, it becomes more and more clear how they try to emulate the success of Weyland and how the two are connected.
You’ll meet a lot of synthetics while playing, but once you obtain the right tools they can be distracted or taken down easily enough, but this comes at the cost of much-needed supplies. They’re great at catching you off guard and overwhelming you if you’re not careful. It’s clear from the start they are not allies, but they aren’t aggressive until you see one beat a Sevastopol survivor to death for being “hysterical”. From that moment on the majority of synths you meet are hostile, with the exception of the Weyland-Yutani synthetic Samuel. He’s one of your only allies on Sevastopol and has a particularly badass moment where he casually destroys a Seegson synthetic for getting in the way.
About half way through the game there’s a lengthy section where there’s no Alien threat. You’re far more relaxed and things are much less chaotic during this, but scares are still provided through the sudden increase in synthetics around the station. This part of the game made me appreciate how well made the Alien is and how much tension and terror the creature provides.
“I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.” – Ash, Alien
In the movie Alien the Nostromo crew find a ship called The Derelict. On this ship they find a dead pilot from a race now known as the Engineers. Later they find a room full of eggs, one hatches, a facehugger emerges and attaches itself to the closest living organism, a Nostromo crew member. This is the first stage of the Alien’s life cycle. A flashback reveals who found The Derelict after the Nostromo crew and explains how an Alien managed to get onto Sevastopol station. It happened in pretty much the same way as the movie.
Graphically the game is unimpressive, but makes up for it by having almost every location feel like a part of the world Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger created. While Sevastopol, the space station where you spend most of your time in the game is far less memorable than the Nostromo from Alien, it feels like a natural addition to the series. Attention to detail is one of the games’ strongest aspects. This is true from the minute you start the game and see the old 20th Century Fox logo from the movie. Even the menu’s bleeps and bloops are very Alien.
True to the series, the game begins with Amanda waking up in a stasis pod, a nod to how Alien introduced its characters and how its sequels reintroduced Ripley. Eerie ambient sounds set the tone while playing and you’re always listening for footsteps, human or otherwise. Text logs, delivered through Sevastolink terminals are mostly full of uninteresting details about life on the station, but do occasionally reveal interesting things about the story. The game is littered with 80’s style sci-fi junk, like old handheld game consoles and boomboxes.
Manual saving is taken straight from the old Resident Evil games but its a nice idea that took me a while get used to. Autosaves are more balanced and reliable and it’s frustrating to lose a big chunk of progress if you die at the wrong time. But it also creates tension, as I only felt safe when I reached one of those points. I was sceptical at first, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way and hope more games, specifically horror, implement this in the future.
All the tools and weapons fit the series extremely well. While on Sevastopol station you’ll be using a wide variety of items: a stun baton, bolt gun, flamethrower, shotgun, noisemakers, smoke bombs, flashbangs, pipe bombs, molotovs, EMP mines, and flares. Everything is here and they’re all useful in lots of different ways.
Writing on walls is a recent and incredibly illogical gaming trope. Unfortunately Isolation has lots of this madness written all over the space station. It can be unnerving at times, but just begs the question of why someone would take the time to write WE NEED HELP on the wall in blood, rather than just finding somewhere to hide.
No invisible body parts here. Every time you interact with the environment, it’s fully animated, you see Amanda actually climbing ladders, pulling levers and pushing buttons. While only a small detail, it adds to immersion and is nice touch that you don’t see in a lot of games.
The map is an invaluable tool and unfortunately the only thing that isn’t an item the player interacts with. It would’ve been nice if it was shown on an in-game device like a PDA. Every other part of the game gives your character a very physical presence in the world, so this seemed like a strange anomaly.
“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.” – Ash, Alien
Aliens has lots of comics, novels and games based on it. Alien has barely any and nothing’s come close to capturing what made it such a good horror movie, until now. Alien: Isolation is not only the best horror game I’ve ever played, but the only successful attempt at emulating and expanding on Alien as a horror franchise, rather than focusing on the action of the sequel. I didn’t love every moment I spent with the game, but for the most part it was an amazing and unforgettable experience.
It’s the Alien game I’ve always wanted and I hope Creative Assembly consider making another horror game, be it another Alien game, a new IP, or a game based on the movie The Thing. Buy it if you have any interest in horror, just be sure to watch the movie first.