When it comes to games based on the Xenomorphs, they more often than not fall back to the world created by James Cameron and his action packed Aliens movie and rightfully so; everyone wants to run around with pulse rifles screaming “Game over man” whilst shooting hundreds of monsters, however this is pretty much 90% of the first person shooter market anyway. Alien: Isolation is a little different, as rather than using Aliens and its many sequels it instead focuses on the first movie, Ridley Scott’s Alien, in turn making it a more subdued survival horror; so be prepared for the long cryosleep as this time we join a character only briefly mentioned in the films, Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda, already dead by the time Ellen came out of cryo at the start of Aliens, this time we are 15 years after the original event on the Nostromo.
The strong heroic nature is surely a gene in the Ripley family as Amanda is just as prepared to face her fears in the long journey to find out what happened to her mother. Taking jobs with The Company, Amanda works close to the last known position of the Nostromo with news soon arriving that a deep space station, the Sevastopol, has recovered the Nostromo flight recorder and thanks to her connections and technical expertise she gets invited to finally find out what happened to her mum.
Being a long-time fan of the movies and expanded universe this was always going to be a tricky idea, how on earth were developer Creative Assembly going to fill in a full single player campaign while keeping faithful to the original movie and trying to keep track of the many possible plot threads. From the off I can happily say time and care has been taken with this game, with even the intro oozing a certain futuristic retro feel. The events of the game occur after a brief introduction of the main characters with events very quickly getting out of hand as Amanda becomes stranded on the space station, though just like in the movie, the actual Alien does not appear for some time, with only mentions and scary noises tricking the player; beforehand the story behind the events that occurred at the space station gets set in motion and for once its quite strong, with a rival company Seegson that own the deep space station, on hard times; their cheap androids no longer profitable leaving the station on a skeleton staff and all but shut down. Add to this a revolt amongst the inhabitants, a power crazed station AI called Apollo that controls the androids and the Alien is the least of her worries, though when it finally does arrive you really wish it hadn't. The actual gameplay is played from a first person viewpoint; however do not expect loads of guns to fire as silence is key here; instead you must use the darkness and crawlspaces to avoid detection by humans, androids and alien alike as you slowly piece together events, find out what happened to Ellen Ripley and get off the station.
Though gun use is not essential you are granted one early on, however it is just a handgun with very limited ammo which you quickly learn is not as useful as one would hope, making quick work of the workers but rather ineffective against the androids and pointless to use against the Alien, making more noise than necessary which in turn attracts even more enemies. Instead there is a decent selection of tools to use to your advantage, many of which make or noise or other type of distraction to spare you a few lifesaving moments by using noise to your advantage to attract and distract enemies. The majority of the tools are not all nicely ready to be picked up and used, instead the player is required to scavenge bits and pieces left all over the station, and whilst very small, their faint orange glow makes it a little easier to spot them. Once the inventory has the required parts and the correct blueprints you can then quickly create items on the fly, from noisemakers to smoke grenades, each has a vital use. You can even use the stations computer systems to operate certain electrical items, like switching off the lighting, tampering with the air purifier system that when turned off produces a heavy mist and also triggering alarms to move enemies around the map. Of course all this is almost a moot point when against the Alien, with its mind impossible to read, the humans and androids have patterns the player can follow, the Xenomorph is however almost unscripted, a true beast prowling the corridors and nothing is scarier.
Fans of the film are certain to be pleased with the overall presentation, the game being littered with references, it really does feel like you are wandering the halls of a space station in the Alien universe, ravaged by the preceding fights, crates left without purpose, doors waiting patiently to hiss open, the chattering robots and old green pixelated display screens, lots of brown leather jackets and clinical white corridors and of course the towering black death that is the Alien, never looking better in this game.
The biggest issue that this game had to deal with was boredom, the original Alien film was a slow burn, the second half ramping up the tension to its climax at the end of 110 minutes, especially after playing the very misleading pre-release demo that has done this game no favours at all, so how does Alien Isolation manage to hold your attention and keep you in suspense for the full campaign? Initially it will be the presentation, the ship slowly coming alive as you explore, dark corridors and rooms full of blinkering lights, all casting shadows for you to jump at, a beautiful visual experience held up by the immersive sound effects that demand a decent surround set up, the shrieks of the Alien and thumping of heartbeat enough to set you on edge. However an occasional scare and trick lighting can only hold your attention for so long and that’s where the team at Creative Assembly have nailed it, with exploration opening up an entertaining story plus more than a few more tricks to keep the game interesting.
With no online mode to speak of there is an additional single player mode that extends the games lifespan, adding a Survivor Mode where the challenge is to carry out set tasks whilst the Alien prowls the station. Starting the mission in a small room to prep yourself with the essentials you are then set loose into the station. Now to be fair to the review that’s as much as I can say, not because of any embargo but for the fact I just could not defeat the first level, it was just so damn hard, the erratic nature of the Alien proving too much for me, however just like the main game, though there had been many a moment where I was shouting all sorts at the TV screen in anger at yet another death, it is still good enough to return for just one more try.
For all of the years running around shooting hundreds of Xenomorphs one vital element was dropped, the tension; mainly thanks to the monster being so over-saturated, the once frightening form of the Xenomorph is now as recognisable as Mickey Mouse, so credit is due to The Creative Assembly for making this monster scary again and more importantly, a fantastic Alien game we have all been waiting for.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: PS4)
+ The best Alien game.
+ Scary, exciting and a strong story.
+ A great soundtrack and sound effects that demand a surround sound system.
- Even on easy setting this game is very hard