BY OLI SAVILLE
When John Hurt’s chest first burst open 35 years ago, the titular creature of Ridley Scott’s Alien became one of the most feared movie monsters of all time. Since then the Xenomorph has faced off against marines, Predators and even Conker the Squirrel, but for all its gaming appearances developers have struggled to truly do it justice.
Alien: Isolation may not be a perfect addition to the franchise, but it succeeds in creating an Alien experience that is truly terrifying.
Set 15 years after Ellen Ripley’s first encounter aboard the Nostromo, you play her daughter, Amanda. Arriving at the Sevastopol Space Station looking for information regarding her mother’s disappearance, things soon go to hell as you’re separated from your team and left to navigate the deserted station.
It quickly becomes apparent that you’re not alone, footsteps echo through the vents above your head, shadows move in unnatural formations, the atmosphere of Sevastopol will have you sweating even before the Alien’s first chilling sighting.
The station itself is beautifully designed, fans of the films will appreciate the recognisable décor and retro computers, wonderfully implemented just as in first movie. You’re instilled with a constant feeling of dread just roaming the corridors, speculating on what could be around the corner with every slow, cautious step you take. “The fear, it makes people crazy”, you’re told by one of the on board survivors, aptly describing how you’ll feel after a few hours on Sevastopol.
Unfortunately though, much of the excellent atmosphere is let down by a poor save system, which will regularly force you to replay the same, extensive sections, over and over as a punishment for death. And you will die. A lot.
There is no autosave system, but various manual save points dotted across the map at inconsistent rates. It’s incredibly unforgiving, encouraging you to learn from your mistakes by tackling the same areas over and over, which can distance you from an otherwise absorbing experience, particularly when having to hear the same lines of dialogue multiple times before each objective.
The Alien itself is still able shine however, roaming the mission area on a completely random path, meaning no encounter will be the same as the last. The intelligent AI will learn your hiding places, and begin investigating inside lockers and underneath desks to find you. If it hears you, it won’t abandon the search just because you’re hidden.
It’s tenacious, and will patrol the room until it knows it’s empty. There’s little else more terrifying than seeing a Xenomorph face through the grates of a locker, shortly before the door is torn off.
The Alien is menacing as it stomps around the corridors, sniffing the air, hissing as it hears you sneaking around its hunting ground. This is a lumbering beast, rarely breaking into anything above a walk, as it patrols and scans the area.
The sprinting, wall crawling side that we’ve grown accustomed to is there, but if you ever see it at full pace, you’re already dead. You can’t simply blast it away either, Amanda is an engineer with no combat experience. The only choice is to outwit the Xeno, using crafted items such as flares and smoke bombs as distractions. While a few blasts from the extremely limited weaponry may cause the Alien to retreat temporarily, your best bet is to stay hidden, stay silent, and stay alive.
But for everything done so exceptionally well early in the game, there is disappointment to come later on. The story, while not awful, is nothing inspiring, and by the final quarter it begins to overstay its welcome.
While the androids and looters that patrol Sevastopol are entertaining as fodder to distract the Alien, thrusting them into the spotlight really sends the game downhill. Finding a room stacked with weapons and ammo is a welcome sight in most games, but in Isolation it makes for a change in the games approach. The feelings of helplessness and fear begin to fade, and the unique experience is temporarily replaced by a much more generic shooter based approach.
For such a phenomenal enemy, the Alien is underutilised, and for some missions completely omitted. Secondary enemies often feel like simple filler to extend the length of the game, which clocks in at roughly 20 hours, but the extra play time does not seem worth the disruption of the fantastic atmosphere that had been created.
As it is, Alien: Isolation is by far the best Alien game we’ve ever seen, Sega have created the formula for an absolutely stunning Alien experience. They just had to stick to it, and we’d have had one of the best horror games ever made.Tweet