Despite some big flaws, Alien Isolation is a good horror game and a fantastic Alien game.
If there was one movie franchise that I feel deserves a good video game, it’s Alien (well, also the Avatar TV show, but I’m still sour on the Legend of Korra game so let’s not talk about that). And while there have been plenty of Alien video games in the past, they’ve ranged from okay to miserable; I’m looking at you Colonial Marines. All those games have one fatal flaw; the Alien is not the intimating monster it should be. Rather, it becomes just another video game enemy, one that you can quickly dispose of with bullets. That’s why I was so excited about Alien Isolation, a game that in its title says its taking ideas from the original horror classic as opposed to its more action movie sequel. I’m happy to say that despite some rather big flaws, Alien Isolation succeeds at being the Alien game I’ve always wanted.
The game opens 15 years after the destruction of the Nostromo, the ship from the original film. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter to Ellen Ripley, who goes on a mission for Weyland-Yutani to recover the Nostromo’s flight recorder in hopes of getting closure from her mother’s disappearance. That leads her to Sevastopol station. After an explosion, Amanda is separated from her colleagues, and trapped on a space station where everything has turned to chaos all thanks to, you guessed it, an Alien. The plot is pretty bare bones. Amanda spends her time fixing broken systems and trying to escape, not unlike her video game counterpart Isaac Clarke. It’s not good, but honestly I wasn’t really expecting much. It’s a horror game. The plot doesn’t have to be great, as long as the gameplay is good. I however do like Amanda’s character a lot. She doesn’t have much dialogue but her voice actress does a fantastic job of creating a character that feels strong willed, yet just as scared as anyone would be in her shoes. Amanda doesn’t take shit from anybody and it makes her a great character to play.
The main draw is of course the Alien. It’s constantly following you through the vents, and will pop out whenever it hears a noise or just because it feels like it. Unlike previous Alien games, you cannot kill it. Your only option is to hide under a desk or nearby locker and pray it doesn’t see you. These are Isolation’s best moments. The cat and mouse game with the Alien keeps you on edge the whole time, and it is nerve-racking when it walks right by the locker you’re hiding in. There are those occasional moments where the Alien can feel kind of cheap. Suddenly it’s just around the corner with no warning, or it keeps stalking the room, giving you no chance of escape. While this does happen, the game isn’t perfect, it didn’t happen enough that I found myself getting too frustrated. That said, the save system only exacerbates this problem when it does. The game has no checkpoints and you can only save at these save stations. I understand the decision behind this and it does create good tension and stress, but when you die from a cheap death and have to redo 20 minutes, all that tension is robbed and you’re left frustrated.
Aside from the Alien, you might have to deal with androids known as Working Joes. Unlike the realistic android from the films, the Working Joes have featureless plastic faces, mono tone voices, and haunting glowing eyes. They are actually probably the creepiest part of the game. One of my most stand out moments it when I threw a Molotov at a Working Joe, and rather than kill it, all it did was slowly walk towards me saying “it wants to help”; all while on fire. That will be burned into my brain for a while.
Finally, you’ll encounter some human survivors. Fortunately you won’t encounter them that often because they are the least fun and interesting enemy. All they do is give you one warning and then shoot at you. These are by far the worst parts of the game and frankly it would have been better served without them. At least when they shoot at you, it usually results in the Alien showing up and murdering them, which is a pretty funny moment to have.
Apart from hiding you have plenty of tools at your disposal. A simple crafting system allows you to make noisemakers, EMPs, pipe bombs, etc to help you fight or distract your enemies. They are less weapons and more last resorts as I found myself not using them that much. You also get some guns to deal with the androids and humans but the game’s not built for combat and you’re not meant to run out guns blazing. The flamethrower is what I ended up using the most as it can save you from the Alien, making it flee back into the tunnels. It actually ended up being a bit of a crutch during the later parts of the game removing some of the tension.
The game’s real weakness is its length. Any horror game is going to be better served with a short length so that you don’t lose the scares and tension, and also so its gameplay doesn’t start to drag on. Alien Isolation took me 15 hours to play, which probably is 6-7 hours longer than it should be. It got really frustrating near the end because every time I felt like it was over, it kept pulling “one last thing” for you to do. I get that it’s a big budget $60 game and feels like it needed to justify its price, but the game ultimately suffers because of it.
The last thing I want to talk about is the visuals because holy hell, are they incredible. From the opening scene you can tell these guys must have watched Alien a thousand times because they nailed the look of that movie. The padded hallways, the way medical bay looks, it’s perfect. It also reminds me how unique of a setting Alien is. Its 70’s in the future, filled with old DOS computers, large keycards, dirty looking tools and generators. Nothing looks quite like Alien does and being in that world is as awesome as it is terrifying. Major props to the lighting guys as well. Small touches like lights coming though steam or using your flamethrower to light up a vent you’re crawling though, really adds a lot to the game. I ended up playing the first 3 hours on an Oculus Rift and if you have the nerve to try it out I highly recommend it. I hate to use such overused buzz word like immersive but that’s really the only way I can describe it. It’s simply unbelievable.
Alien Isolation is a flawed game and depending on your tolerance its flaws might be too much for you to enjoy it. That’s fine. But if you’re like me, the highs of Isolation are so great that you can look past everything else and play a good horror game and finally, a fantastic Alien game.