First of all, let’s get one thing straight. If you are the kind of gamer who only likes fast-paced, action-packed games that you can blitz through, wielding a machine gun whilst screaming blue murder and spitting blood at your enemies… this may not be the game for you.
If you are, on the other hand, someone who enjoys prolonged sphincter-clenching tension and the in-depth study of the interiors of 1970s space station air vents, read on.
In Alien: Isolation, you are the daughter of Sigourney Weaver’s iconic space-hardened, normally semi-dressed character, Ripley. In light of your mother’s ‘disappearance’, you have set off to find out what happened to her and have ended up on Sevastapol Station, searching for the ill-fated Nostromo’s flight recorder. Obviously, this being an Alien game, things go a tad awry from the very beginning.
If Creative Assembly have succeeded in one thing above all else, it’s making you feel like you genuinely are stepping inside the movie universe. The attention to detail here is a super fan’s dream come true. Every hallway, room, cupboard, and even cereal bowl is faithfully rendered down to the tiniest detail, with nice little retro touches like period magazines and toys littering the environment. I spent a good deal of time just exploring the different foods on offer in the first kitchen I came across.
It’s not just the visuals that are a delightfully nostalgic nod to the movies; the sound is just as impressive. As well as the overall eerie background noise of the space station and whatever is moving around in it, the little sound effects, from doors opening to the accessing of terminals, are all pulled straight from the movies. I could have spent my first few hours just exploring my surroundings in gibbering appreciation of the devs, who clearly had the films on repeat whilst they were designing the environments.
The Alien itself – and there is only one – is also an impressive recreation of the one we are all familiar with. Rather than simply throwing hundreds of Xenomorphs at us and handing the player an assault rifle like some previous titles, a more careful approach has been taken here. The one Alien you will encounter is an almost completely unscripted, intelligent and formidable foe, just like in the original film – and is not to be taken lightly. Trying to take it on in combat is a death sentence, and though you are given a few weapons to fight with, nothing is fast or powerful enough to kill it. The best you can do is ward it off briefly and then find somewhere to hide in shame whilst you consider what the point of carrying on is.
Even when not being directly confronted by the game’s main threat, you are still always acutely aware of its presence. If you make any kind of noise it will find you; even the motion tracker you can use to ‘vaguely’ work out where it is will draw it to you if you use it for long enough. This is why patience is a must for anyone who wants to survive for long; running anywhere will get you killed. There are hiding places scattered throughout the Sevastapol, so if you do draw the Alien out inadvertently, you can hop in a cupboard or under a table and pray it doesn’t investigate too closely. This did highlight some clipping issues that pop up from time to time, though. There were a few occasions where my supposedly safe hiding spot was violated by the Alien’s head clipping through a wall and appearing right in front of me. Terror aside, this didn’t occur often enough to become too annoying.
The Alien is not the only threat you have to be wary of. The station is populated with synthetic ‘Working Joes’, who have taken to killing their human creators and are very tough to take on. Then there are the other survivors to worry about. It would seem the events aboard the Sevastapol have stressed them out somewhat and they will therefore attack anyone they don’t recognise, including you. Thankfully, the humans are slightly easier to fight off, but stealth is still your best option. Any confrontation is going to be noisy, and guess what noise brings; you got it, a quick and chest-bursting death. There are situations where you can use these mechanics to your advantage, though. There is a relatively simple crafting system which lets you create noisemakers, flash bangs and various other tools that can be used to your advantage. Most of these tools work as diversionary tactics to give you enough time to slip away – although it turns out other humans can also be used as distractions.
One particularly fun example of this was when I was sneaking my way down a corridor trying to get away from a few Working Joes. Seeing a human in front of me fiddling with a control panel, I decided that panicking would be the best way to go and smashed him over the head with a stun baton. It soon transpired that he had a friend – who naturally decided to start shooting at me – so I about-turned and darted to the nearest cupboard I could find. Before I could really get comfortable in my new hiding place, the chap with the gun wandered into the room and started making his way ominously towards me. Just as he was about to uncover me, however, the Alien popped out of a vent and conveniently despatched him. My joy was brief, though, as the Alien must have heard me chuckling and proceeded to yank me out of my cupboard and send me reeling back to my previous save point.
What you are actually doing during the game is relatively paint-by-numbers for the most part. The story is pretty generic and you will find yourself heading back and forth a lot to fetch this and that or activate various things in order to progress the campaign. There are items to find when you’re not cowering in corners, such as ID tags and the now to-be-expected audio tapes.
Save points are few and far between and the game does not autosave often, which can lead to some infuriating deaths. The map you are given can be updated by finding computer terminals, but can be a little confusing by not making it 100% clear where an objective is. You do tend to be navigating the same areas frequently, however, so after a little while the layout of various floors on the station become a tad more familiar.
As well as the main story mode, there is a survival mode that gives you tasks to complete within a set time, whilst being hunted by the Alien. This is, needless to say, just as buttock-clenching as the rest of the game.
This game is about survival horror at its core, and is not designed to be a walk in the park. It is an experience that truly feels like the seminal classic films, by restoring the Alien as a single entity, one which should be feared and avoided at all costs. Through the faithful recreation of the sights and sounds of the films, and gameplay that is tense, sometimes terrifying, Alien: Isolation provides the experience gamers and fans have wanted for decades. This is not an experience that will appeal to everyone, but for fans of the franchise and survival horror in general, this has to be a must-play.