Alien: Isolation (Xbox One) Review
Ryan Bloom / Nov 7th, 2014 No Comments
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” That perfectly sums up the Alien: Isolation experience. It is all about survival, but getting through its lengthy campaign is a struggle.
The original Alien released in 1979, so we’ll forgive you if you’ve never actually seen the film. Despite numerous attempts, a video game worthy of the sci-fi film franchise has not come along in 35 years. Alien: Isolation is a step in the right direction, especially when compared to 2013’s terrible Aliens: Colonial Marines. Isolation successfully recreates some of the movie’s more fear-inducing elements and continues the tradition of strong female characters, but its tense moments and punishing gameplay are exhausting over an excessively long campaign.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
In 2137 — 15 years after the events of Alien — Amanda Ripley is still in search of her mother, Ellen, the star of the film. Amanda is offered a mission to the Sevastopol space station to recover the flight recorder from the Nostromo, the ship her mother was aboard before she went missing. As one might suspect of a game set in the Alien franchise, the mission doesn’t go as planned. That’s the backstory, but Alien: Isolation is really about being alone.
Survival is the game’s theme. Unfortunately, survival is not always fun, and the game accurately recreates this. Amanda finds the Sevastopol in a state of social decay. However, everything is shrouded in a cloud of mystery. Communications are down, and small groups of humans sneak around the station searching for an escape. Players quickly discover the xenomorph, Alien’s famous alien, is murdering humans one by one. Amanda must perform various tasks that divert from the main plot, each seemingly leading to a meaningless endpoint. Every encounter on the Sevastopol is tense, regardless if it is with humans, android guards, or the xenomorph. Nobody can be trusted, and it feels like danger lurks around every corner.
Players must try to avoid the xenomorph, which somehow follows Amanda everywhere. Weapons and equipment can be found, but there is no way to defeat the alien. If you fail to take cover or breathe too heavily while the xenomorph is on the prowl, it will sense you and you will die. This constant feeling of suspense and punishing gameplay delivers a true Alien experience. However, the eerie amusement is replaced by frustration as players force their way through a 20-hour campaign.
The Sound of Silence
Each tense moment in Alien: Isolation is enhanced by the game’s sound. Everything on the Sevastopol is silent — the type of silence that tortures you. Players will feel like a prisoner sent to solitary confinement; there is nobody to interact with, and this heightens the sense of fear. Each time a door opens (because doors in space make a lot of sound) or a button is pushed, it causes a sense of panic. Did that sound alert the alien? Is this hallway clear? The sound — and lack of sound — is the game’s greatest triumph in horror.
The xenomorph’s presence hangs over Amanda even when he it does not appear to be nearby. It can be heard crawling through the vents, like a predator stalking its prey. Like the campaign itself, the sounds of the Sevastopol become repetitive, and players will recognize patterns. Soon players will know the alien is nearby just from hearing the music. The sound of its footsteps get less eerie each time they are heard. It would work for a two-hour movie, but the spookiness doesn’t hold up over the course of a 20-hour game.
Back to the Future Tech
Ripley will rarely encounter other humans on the Sevastopol, but the lo-fi pieces of technology she uses take the form of a character of their own. These hulking pieces of machinery look like crafted do-it-yourself projects built to survive a 13-story fall. There are no touchscreens or smartwatches; instead, there’s DOS-powered computers and noisy motion detectors. It is all true to the original film; this is not the year 2137 we’d expect now, but it is what the future seemed like in 1979.
The motion tracker is the most important piece of tech players will use, and it epitomizes the struggle to balance the use of technology. The device is extremely useful — it will beep when someone (or something) is nearby, and a quick glance at it will reveal where that someone is. However, it also emits a loud beep as it locates others. Amanda will use it to find out how close the alien is, but if the alien hears the beep from the motion tracker, it will be alerted of her location.
This makes it difficult to trust technology at times, but players will rely on these interactions with tech as a replacement to human encounters. These devices are integral to completing missions; for instance, some doors won’t open without a communicator. They help players keep their sanity when no other characters are around, but there are moments when they act like a non-playable character with poor AI. The difference is that players are always in control of when to use the tech, creating an interesting dynamic between power and helplessness.
Alien: Isolation represents a well-needed victory in the franchise’s struggle to spawn a worthy video game. The atmosphere and tone strike fear in players as they explore a lonely space, but it is not without its flaws. Gameplay is not varied enough; the concept gets repetitive after a few hours and simply exhausting over the course of the campaign. Players are too often tasked with pointless missions that lead to more tense moments.
But the game successfully captures the spirit of the original film. Players won’t be jumping out of their seat in fear, but they will find their palms sweating and brain melting as they avoid one of the most notorious sci-fi villians of all time.
tags: alien isolation , Alien: Isolation Review , Creative Assembly , horror , review , sega