Let’s be honest, no video game using the Alien license has truly done it justice. Sure, the Aliens versus Predator games were decent, but not a true Alien game when it comes to portraying the atmosphere of the movies and that uneasy sense of dread. Step forward Creative Assembly, a development studio known mostly for strategy games, to take on the challenge of doing exactly that. The game, Alien: Isolation. The premise, just you against the Alien in space. Sounds great, but as the god awful Colonial Marines showed us it can all go oh so wrong. Very quickly. Thankfully, that’s not the case here.
Game: Alien: Isolation
Developer: The Creative Assembly
More akin to the atmospheric and foreboding style of Ridley Scott’s Alien rather than James Cameron’s action oriented Aliens (more on that later), Alien: Isolation sees you step into the unenviable shoes of Amanda Ripley. If that name sounds familiar, well, it’s because she’s the daughter of Ellen Ripley. You know, Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character from pretty much all the Alien movies. Set 15 years after the disastrous events of the original Alien movie, Amanda is still looking for some kind of closure around her mother’s disappearance. Handy then that she’s sent on a mission to recover the Nostromo’s flight recorder from Sevastopol space station. Upon arrival, shit hits the proverbial fan and you’re left to continue the mission on your own. Oh and that’s not all, there’s an Alien on board the space station, hunting you and every other living being relentlessly. Come on, you didn’t think it was going to be that simple. Did you?!
The set-up is a good one, making for an intriguing story that you’ll genuinely want to see through to the end. Mainly so you can find out what happens to Amanda and everyone else she encounters during her time on Sevastopol. Plenty of attention has been paid to the story, and it’s a testament to its quality that you feel it could be a genuine branch of the movie franchise. If it was an Alien movie, I’d certainly watch it. You can tell the development team are fans of the movies (or done some excellent research) as there are little details scattered around the place adding to your interest in the story, whether it be a message on a terminal or an object simply sitting there on a desk. The dialogue is never cheesy or awkward either, it just works. You literally feel Amanda’s struggle and resulting perseverance throughout the game. It’s genuine and then some, just like her mother’s in the movies. It’s a great use of Alien license and everything that comes with it. I guess it’s just shame it’s taken someone this long to bring it across to our beloved medium.
Where Alien: Isolation truly excels though is the gameplay. It’s pure, edge-of-your-seat tension from beginning to end. For the majority of the game, it’s you against the Alien. Wait, no… It’s you being hunted by the Alien. Make no mistake, in Alien: Isolation, you are the prey. You gradually get some decent weapons as you progress and you can craft “gadgets” from scrap you collect, but none of these can kill the Alien. Even when you get a certain weapon towards the end, all that does is “scare” it away for a bit until it comes back angrier. The best tactic is to hide in a dark corner, closet or under a desk and monitor its movements with your trusty motion detector. Even then you have to be extremely careful, especially on hard (oh man it’s tough), because if the Alien so much as hears the beeping from the detector or you breathing, it will find you and brutally kill you. It’ll sniff around that closet you’re hiding in, wait for you to let slip a small breath or a beep from the detector. Trust me, the Alien’s AI is just on a different level. There’s no scripting here, it’s as dynamic and pure as it gets. The Alien will never do the same thing twice. It’s a clever old Xenomorph. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I was so on edge because of a game. Just like Amanda cramped into a closet, I think I held my breath in at certain points! Tension, atmosphere and dread, three keys aspects missing from the majority of previous Alien games, yet Alien: Isolation has it abundance. And that’s its greatest success, at all times, these three aspects are always present. Creative Assembly just get what the Alien franchise is about, and it oozes out of the gameplay just like the titular antagonist lurched above in a vent. Just be prepared to die. A lot.
Apart from the Alien, there are other obstacles that face you on your journey aboard the Sevastopol. These include on-edge human survivors and rogue Androids, with the latter being just as deadly as the Alien. Seriously, you’ll have nightmares about their creepy red eyes and weird voices. Okay, that might just be me. Still, they’re pretty tough to take down. My advice? Treat them just like you would the Alien, especially when there are a few of them patrolling an area. Humans are not so much of a problem as you can actually take them down, but get hit with a clean gunshot by one of them and you’re pretty much dead. What’s most fun is when you encounter humans when also being stalked by the Alien. If you’re smart and quick, you can lure the Alien out with a well placed shot or use of a “gadget” and let it do the dirty work for you. It adds a nice little element of strategy to proceedings without the tension or atmosphere being impacted in a negative way.
Speaking of negatives, Alien: Isolation does have a few that keep it from true greatness. The length of the game might put some people off, clocking in at around 15 hours for the average playthrough (more if you’re playing it on hard). Now, normally that wouldn’t be too big of an issue and, to be honest, it’s not. However, you do feel that it could’ve been snipped by an hour or two given that most of the time you’re just going from one place to another powering something up to progress. That said, it’s a minor issue as the gameplay that surrounds all of the powering up this and that is masterfully put together. You only really begin to notice you’re kind of doing the same thing again towards the end, which is further evidence to the overall quality of the core gameplay. Besides there are a couple of astoundingly good set pieces in the game that will kind of make you almost forget about all of the above. Kind of. I won’t spoil anything, but Alien fans you’re in for a treat. Some of you might also be put off the fact that there’s no checkpoint system, forcing you to save at designated stations. However, in reality it just adds to the overall tension levels. Each save counts!
Tying up the Alien: Isolation package is the amazing presentation. I mean, here you have some of the best visuals and audio I have come across on the PS4 to date. Everything about the visuals screams Alien. The Sevastopol is a sight to behold whether you’re gazing at its clean, clinical interiors early on or the dark, body-lined corridors later on. Special mention to the lighting, it’s spectacular, helping create that sense of dread and tense atmosphere. Oh and the Alien… Sorry, I mean Xenomorph character model is spot on. Creepy and panic inducing from start to finish. Cutscenes take a hit when it comes to framerate though, being noticeably juddery until the credits roll. Still, it’s not enough to bring the immersion level down. The audio has received similar attention too, with some high quality voice acting (especially for Amanda) present throughout. Other sounds such as the Alien scurrying around in vents, stalking you with its intimidating steps and that screech… Yeah, they’re all amazing. Playing it with surround sound headphones in the dark certainly made me appreciate the audio that much more, so I’d recommend doing that if you have the means to do so.
Thankfully, there’s no tacked-on multiplayer in Alien: Isolation, but there is a something called Survivor mode. Here you’re sent into certain areas from the story mode and asked to complete certain tasks whilst being timed. There’s the small little catch though, the Alien is hunting you down. Needless to say, it’s just as tense and creepy as the story mode. SEGA and Creative Assembly have promised to release some regular DLC too, with a couple of pieces already available on launch. Both pieces take you back to the original Alien movie, giving you a choice of characters to choose from, including the iconic Ellen Ripley.
It’s taken a while, but Creative Assembly has finally produced the Alien game fans have been waiting for. Not only that, the strategy game specialist has delivered a title that can be regarded as one of the best in its genre, embarrassing experienced survival horror developers in the process. Only a few minor flaws hold it back from true greatness, but otherwise it’s up there with the best in the genre. Major emphasis on the survival part.
Making great use of the movie license, Alien: Isolation is easily one of the best games released this year. If you’re a fan of the movies or genre, it deserves your attention and then some. In space no-one can hear you scream, but thanks to Alien: Isolation everyone will hear you scream in your room… In a good way. Just keep a change of pants nearby.