The Creative Assembly and Sega scare the spacesuits off of players with the recently released Alien: Isolation for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of the original Alien movie. Amanda Ripley, daughter of Alien heroine Ellen Ripley, ventures into the space station Sevastopol to recover the original flight recorder of the Nostromo, the space craft the events of the movie took place on. Once in Sevastopol Amanda must combat terrified human survivors, murderous androids, and the titular Alien who is stalking Ripley at every turn.
The first thing to clarify is that this game is not for the faint of heart. The encounters with the Alien, also known as the Xenomorph to fans of the Alien franchise, can be absolutely terrifying, as no weapon will permanently kill the creature and only a few will fight back its advances–especially the first real encounter, as the player has nothing to combat the Xenomorph with and no tools to assist in tracking it either. This author has never gripped his controller tighter, or had his hands sweat more, than while playing this game. Even encounters with the survivors or androids, both of which can be killed by conventional weaponry, can become incredibly tense and frightening. During these intense encounters the player must make use of various tools to distract the enemies, such as smoke bombs or noise makers, and a motion tracker to track the movements of those around. The player can also hide in vents, under tables or desks, and inside lockers. However, none of these are meant to be permanent solutions, as the tiniest noise or movement at the wrong time can give away Ripley’s hiding spot. Most encounters involve two or more of these groups fighting each other while attempting to find Ripley, so the player having a good sense of the surroundings is integral to completing the game.
This sense of surrounding is also important as the game has a very atmospheric feeling to it, making good use of ambient sounds to scare or give the player a hint as to where the next enemy is hiding. Sevastopol Station has been largely abandoned by its parent company and citizens and, because of this, the station has become run-down and seems to be falling apart. While constantly checking over one’s shoulder may seem like something out of a B-grade horror movie, this tactic may save Ripley’s life, as one sound of metal moving can also mean the Alien or a silent android are about to sneak up behind her. The game also does a great job of giving the technology on the station and the space crafts a “more advanced than our technology, but still somehow out of date” feeling that also made the original movie so iconic. The player should expect to see lots of heavy steam, tubes, and green computer screens controlling machinery that is way more advanced than anything our world has now. All of these add up to a truly terrifying experience when the player is distracted by a burst of steam and then the sounds of the Alien skittering around in the vents above, only to look up and see the face of the Xenomorph staring down before that second mouth plunges into Ripley’s skull.
The game’s crafting system, while no different than that found in many other games, is a welcome addition to Isolation. Because Ripley is an engineer, she can take the various items found on Sevastopol, such as bonding agents and liquors, and craft them into the supplies that will help her to distract and combat enemies. This means that exploring the station’s various nooks and crannies is integral to surviving, but such exploration requires avoiding the enemies hiding or camping out in those areas. Often, the player will have to decide either to explore and find more supplies, or to make a beeline for the next objective. This adds another layer of intensity to the enemy encounters, with players making the decision to use up precious items as a way of distracting and sneaking around enemies, or, to conserve items and face the enemies in an actual fight.
While Isolation is quite a solid piece of game development, it definitely has its flaws. Some of the enemy encounters, especially those with the Alien, can be a bit unfair. At times, it seems that the creature automatically knows where Ripley is hiding, and sometimes the save points can be few and far between. The lack of a checkpoint system adds to this difficulty. Some of the cut-scenes suffer from a low frame-rate, which may cause some players to miss important story elements during the stuttering audio and video. Also, some of the lines delivered by the actress portraying Ripley felt a bit bland. This is especially apparent during an intense sequence in the game when Ripley says something that is meant to have some energy to it, but it comes across as though it is the first time the actress has read the line in her script.
While it is not without flaws, Alien: Isolation is a great survival horror game. The developers did an amazing job of making Sevastopol Station feel incredibly high-tech, while still seeming outdated, giving the player cause to feel instantly uneasy about his or her surroundings. The Xenomorph, while sometimes a bit unfair in the A.I. department, adds an incredible sense of tension when the player hears it crawling around in the vents of the station where it waits for the player to give away Ripley’s position. The developers also did an amazing job giving the game the same atmosphere that one feels while watching the Alien movies. There is even DLC that plays out the last part of the original movie, allowing the player to take control of Ellen Ripley trying to escape from The Nostromo while being hunted by the original Xenomorph. For anyone who is a fan of the Alien franchise, or for anyone looking for a tense survival horror game, this is a great choice, if not a must-have purchase for every Xenomorph-loving gamer.