Here is your Elessar fact of the day: I am actually a huge fan of the Alien franchise. Or well…I think I am. Alien is a genuine classic (and the best of the franchise), Aliens is a fantastic action movie and I’ve even been known to defend Alien 3, despite all it’s flaws. Since then, even discounting the comics and novels, it’s not exactly been easy to be a fan of Giger’s Alien. Alien Resurrection is a bizarre, non-functional mess, Alien vs. Predator is a boring slog with a notable lack of both action and gore, AvP: Requiem is somehow even worse (albeit more gory…so there’s that), and any and all of the games worth talking about range from uninteresting to flat out garbage.
Most recently Aliens: Colonial Marines came out and was not only a terrible piece of s**t, but also decided to lie to its audience in an attempt to disguise what a piece of s**t it was. So when I heard that Sega was working on a new Alien title, bringing it back to the original film with the intention to focus on horror and stealth, I was intrigued, but not particularly optimistic. After all, this franchise has hurt me before.
The plot, set a few years after Alien, is devoted to Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, who is working as an Engineer for Weyland-Yutani, because that always goes completely fine. She discovers that the flight recorder from the Nostromo has been found and is being held a derelict space station, so she goes with a pair of Weyland-Yutani executives to get the information and maybe get some closure. When she arrives she finds that the inhabitants have descended into violent, self interested groups, due to the Xenomorph running around. So she immediately gets back on her ship and leaves. Oh wait, no she’s trapped there because there wouldn’t be a game otherwise.
The best and most important thing I can say about this game is something I haven’t been able to say about a triple A survival horror game in a long time: It’s actually scary. While most attempts at horror either wind up boring or at best, an action game with the occasional jump scare, Alien: Isolation is incredibly tense and genuinely terrifying. The long slow buildup to the Alien’s first appearance, the tense moments of trying to duck around him, it’s all extremely well put together. I spent so much of this game hiding under a desk with my motion tracker in one hand, whimpering to myself, that when the game finally ramped up to the point where I didn’t have to sneak, I had trouble adjusting.
And one of the ways it works is by being unpredictable. I remember a moment early on in Dead Space when I realized what vents the monsters jumped out of and was thus was completely prepared for every jump scare the game had to offer. By contrast, one of my earliest memorable moments in Isolation, was a moment where, after a series of fairly major blunders, I realized the Alien’s patrol routes were not based on the player’s actions, and not pre-programmed, which kept me from just figuring out the Alien’s route and just avoiding it.
The game seems to be reasonably well designed otherwise. The inclusion of weapons was a bit of a sticking point for some players (since they didn’t want to fight the Alien) but it never seemed to be much of a problem for me since, in the first of those aforementioned blunders, I found out very early on that the Alien is completely immune to bullets. About the only thing the Alien is weak to is fire and even then you can’t damage it, just drive it off. And it comes back so quickly and you go through flamethrower ammo so fast that it’s basically just enough to give you time to find another locker to cry in.
I should probably mention that the game has a reasonably extensive crafting element, which is both a good and bad thing. It adds a not-particularly intrusive exploration element, as you drag yourself around on your hands and knees looking for scrap to cobble together The items range from extremely useful (Noisemakers and Medkits are basically required) to situational (Molotov’s are good emergency items and EMP Bombs are good in some scenarios), to useless (I never once used a Smoke Bomb and I only used a Pipe Bomb once in desperation). It’s not badly balanced (even while it seems I need SCI Injectors for EVERYTHING useful) and it does give you more options when it comes to dealing with or sneaking past your clothes.
There’s even practically a morality system in the game, albeit an invisible one. Other humans are everywhere, and they can turn hostile pretty quickly and if they fire a gun, it can attract the Alien. Therefore one of the more interesting ways to get around human enemies is to toss a Noisemaker towards them, let them bunch around it and have the Alien kill them all. This is more expedient than sneaking around all of them, but also more risky as it’ll mean the Alien is in the area and won’t fall for a Noisemaker in that area again. That is the kind of options I want to see more of, options that are easier but more risky, and would thus appeal to someone weak willed.
It’s not a perfect game, even discounting the issues with the crafting element. The voice acting, with the exception of one of the secondary characters, is pretty subpar, and the android enemies are more of an irritation to fight than anything else (though they can be somewhat frightening under the right circumstances). The game is also a little overlong, especially towards the end when the tension is built effectively and it’s still moving rather slowly. It seems, to me at least, that a solid portion of the middle and the end could have been trimmed…but then that’s where the incredibly solid tension comes from, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.
Still, issues aside, Alien: Isolation is definitely one of the better horror games made by a big studio in recent memory, and definitely one of the best entries in the Alien franchise since Alien 3. It might be a little longer than it needs to be, but that just means there’s more of it. So if you’ve got a current gen console or a computer that can run it, and you need some horror in your life, Isolation definitely comes with my recommendation.
Now I gotta get back to Dragon Age Inqusition.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he somehow feels less bad about getting killed by the Alien than by the robots.
– extremely scary and tense
– fantastic AI, on the Alien at least
– great action and stealth mechanics
– maybe a little too long
– the Working Joes are kind of irritating