Alien Isolation Review

Alien Isolation

Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed) | Xbox 360 |  Playstation 4 | Playstation 3 | PC | Mac

Developer: Creative Assembly

Publisher: Sega

I can remember the first time I watched the trailer for his one, it was with much trepidation, mainly caused by the monstrosity that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, and the thought that once again justice wouldn’t be done to a franchise I hold dear, but by the end of it I’d glimpsed something much closer to the perfection Ash admired in the very first xenomorph we saw on screen.

The more I read about it, the more my desire to play the game grew. Trapped on a derelict space station with a few survivors, you’re left to fend for yourself as you’re relentlessly hunted down by a solitary alien. It sounded like the developers had stripped things down to the Alien universe’s key element; primal fear caused by having to face a creature you’re hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with and can’t reason with because it’s only desire is to cause you a horrible, gruesome demise. Then, throw in an intriguing plot consisting of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, out and about in space attempting to track down her mother, and I was ready to throw my cash at this one, which is precisely what I did when its release date rolled around.

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Once you’ve loaded the game up, you’ll get to the menu where you’re greeted by the familiar title music from the first film, it’s a good sign of things to come and eases you back into the world. Taking your first steps as Amanda is much more fun though, as you pace around the deck of the Torrens, which might as well be the sister ship of the Nostromo because the two are almost identical, so if you’re a fan of the film it’s practically guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Of course you don’t stay on the ship for more than a few minutes because you reach its destination, Sevastopol station, where all is not as it appears.

The environments have a wonderful feel to them with the design mimicking its 70s source material brilliantly. Add in the superb sound effects and music, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a truly engrossing experience (something that can be heightened if you’re feeling brave enough to play with the lights off after dark). I spent quite a lot of time at the start of the game casting my eyes over every little detail, casually exploring without a care in the world, but things were about to change.

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I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a dramatic shift in my play style in any game before when its main antagonist initially appears, but when the alien comes into view properly for the first time it sends a shiver down your spine that makes you want to run for the hills. From that point on I just wanted to find the quickest, safest, routes from a to b, whilst keeping all hiding spots firmly in view.

What follows is a masterclass in tense jump out of your seat gameplay. When the alien isn’t present you’re constantly left wondering where it’ll jump out on you next, or whether the actions you’re about to take will draw it to you. Naturally, you’ve got a motion detector, which has the duel function of letting you know when it’s safe to move on or hit the deck, but it can also make you clench every muscle in your body if you’re creeping around with no cover in sight and it decides to give off a noise that lets you know something’s approaching – cue a mad dash for anywhere other than your current location.

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Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking, hang on a minute, I’ve played an Alien game or two in the past, it’s fine, I’ll just pull out a pulse rifle and blast it into tiny corrosive pieces. And there in lies the problem; Amanda’s an engineer who has little to no combat training and, with more or less the exception of a revolver, has to make improvised devices to ensure her survival, it’s not really a recipe for success in the midst of a battle with one of space’s deadliest organisms. Unfortunately, both the gun and the items you construct have pretty much no effect on the creature, in fact if you make the mistake of mounting a full offensive you’ll be killed in seconds. Oh, and it gets worse, more often than not if you decide to use them for other applications, they make so much noise that they draw the alien straight to you like a moth to a flame, which is also the case if you decide to use any of the save points scattered about the station.

The best piece of advice I received for taking on the game was to approach it from a purely stealth based angle rather than looking at it as a survival horror. That pretty much leaves you with hiding as a sole course of action when coming up against an enemy and I can safely say that I’ve spent more time looking at the inside of a locker than any game I’ve previously had the pleasure of playing before.

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What’s that though, you think you’re safe, crammed inside a small metal box hidden from view – of course you’re not, because you’re up against a very smart predator. The AI controlling the alien is impressive to say the least. It’s not on rails, it learns your tactics, it doesn’t approach things in the same way twice, and it actively hunts you using every sense at its disposal. Running into a room with a locker could prolong your life, but it may only be for a few short seconds because the alien will follow your scent and it’ll thoroughly investigate. However, you’ll get to see this from a few small holes in the metal, as it comes right up to you, so it’s best to stay still and quiet. That includes holding your breath and then listening as Amanda struggles whilst slowly asphyxiating. Pull things off and you’ll get to live, make an error in judgement and you’ll be ripped from your surroundings to meet your maker.

Luckily, you’re not completely helpless for the duration of the game, eventually you’ll be able to harness the power of fire. Turning the tables on the alien is very satisfying, just keep an eye on your ammo counter and don’t go crazy.

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Bad news seem to come in droves with this one because the alien is only one of the problems you’ll face; most of the survivors on the station have lost leave of their senses and decided rather than help you it’ll just be safer to gun you down and take what you have to save their own skins. On the plus side, humans can be killed, but it’s a risky strategy. I found that sneaking past people, or drawing the alien in to take care of them, proved to be much more effective.

Androids walk the corridors of Sevastopol station too, and, as I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear by now, they’re harbouring one or two homicidal tendencies of their own. There’s something very creepy about the slightly soothing, robotic, tone to their voices, especially once they’ve spotted you and chart a pursuit course. Once again, attempting to best them in combat is tough, but you can take them down with fire based weapons or a strategically placed pipe bomb, but I think by now you’ll know what that’ll draw to you!

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Needless to say progressing through the game is slow and you’re going to die, a lot – to give a bit of perspective, I easily spent six hours stuck on one level trying to move through a couple of corridors and in that time I managed to cover the equivalent of about twenty paces.

As a result, the gameplay is incredibly frustrating, but when you do finally manage to make some significant leaps forward it’s very rewarding.

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If you do want to extend the life of the game, then getting hold of the Nostromo DLC is probably the way to go. You’ll get to play through two key sequences from the film, the vent scene where Captain Dallas goes in to flush the alien out, and the last survivor mission that puts you into Ellen Ripley’s shoes as she sets the Nostromo’s self destruct and escapes on its shuttle, both of which have been painstakingly recreated to the extent that even the most critical fans would have trouble finding an issue with them.

Looking at the game as an experience I’d give it a nine out of ten, but sadly I can only really give the gameplay a six because it’s just too frustrating, which means this one’s ended up with a solid seven from me overall.

Pros:

  • The sound and level design is glorious
  • The AI behind the alien is a sight to behold
  • It’s truly tense and terrifying

Cons:

  • The gameplay is far too frustrating
  • You’re going to die a lot and replay the same thing over and over!

The Short Version: If you’re an Alien fan looking for a challenge coupled with a way to shred your nerves, this one’ll kill two birds with one stone!

7/10

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