The Alien movie series started off as traditional horror before moving on to more of an action-oreinted franchise. The associated video games with the Alien series have not had much luck capturing the essence of that first movie. The most recent title, Alien: Colonial Marines was a letdown to say the least. That game focused on action, but the latest title should please fans of the original movie and survival horror titles. Alien Isolation takes the video game series in completely different direction, and for the better. Simplifying action and focusing on stealth, minimal combat, and survival, fans of action games and impatient players probably won’t find Isolation attractive. This is about the experience, not mowing down mindless Alien A.I.
Simply put, Alien Isolation plays out like a movie as you will constantly find yourself getting lost in the moment. How many times have you watched a horror movie and thought to yourself, “Well this is what I would do in this situation.” Basically, Isolation gives you the opportunity to do just that. Taking place between the Alien and Aliens movies, you will control Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley. Taking place on a space station, you will encounter different types of enemies. The space station starts to blow up and fall apart, and you will discover along the way that this was not an accident. As previously stated, you won’t be mowing down enemies in Isolation. You will encounter paranoid survivalists, reprogrammed androids, and yes an Alien. Much like Nemesis was on Resident Evil 3, the Alien stalks people and uses its heightened senses to hunt and kill. The androids can be taken down, but they are not easy. Using stealth and creating diversions is important for your progress. Noise is taken into consideration as even crawling too fast or knocking over a box can cause attention. You also have the opportunity to hide in lockers, underneath tables, and keep still in the dark, causing some extremely tense situations that will make you feel like you are there.
Creative Assembly is the team behind Isolation, and they certainly did their homework. With choosing survival horror rather than action, they were able to throw other elements into the game. With its one Alien running around, the creature was programmed with behavioral changes that allow it to learn tendencies as encounters occur. You are eventually given a motion tracker to help make you aware of your surroundings, but in the case of the Alien, it might not matter. The creature can be super-fast coming behind you if you’re spotted, and it can also crawl through vents and throw you off in your quest. You just have to listen to see if anything opens from above if the creature comes crashing down on you. The first time you die from behind is pretty shocking and intense.
The developers did an excellent job of incorporating survival horror elements, including puzzles. There are many different hacking tools used to access doors. Crafting and collecting supplies adds another element as medkits, flashbangs, and other things can be created along the way. Ammo is extremely limited in the game, and should be used in extreme situations. Flashlights can help as well or could attract enemies as battery use is incorporated, so battery life management is important. There are plenty of little things that are taken into consideration in Isolation.
I give kudos to any developer that incorporates the use of additional peripherals into their games. Creative Assembly makes use of the PlayStation Camera and the DualShock 4 controller speaker by allowing head tracking and noise detection with the camera. The speaker will make a noise in conjunction with the motion tracker. Unfortunately, I do not own the camera, so cannot judge how well the head tracking works or the sensitivity of the noise detection. Either way, these ideas are a really cool use of innovation.
Not all is perfect Sevatopol as graphically there are a few issues. Creative Assembly built this engine from the ground up, and the player models can be hit or miss at times. The lighting is excellent and it’s where Isolation shines the most. The textures are detailed enough for a new generation title, and the reflections also help with that. The Alien and the androids actually look fantastic. The game will randomly hiccup at times, and the cut scenes in-between missions run extremely sluggish to where you become bothered watching them. The biggest positive, however, is the look and feel of the original movie. Cut scenes are done with a VHS filter, and every computer on Sevatopol uses an old green-screen setup, including the hacking tools. It was the idea of the future in 1979, and it’s great that Creative Assembly added this element.
The sound completes Alien Isolation as it dictates the atmosphere and emotion involved in the game. The ambient sound is enough to create the atmosphere, but when enemies approach, much like a movie, the music picks up and adds to the adrenaline. When seeing the Alien walk by you slowly while you’re hiding and the music is intense, it creates that moment that makes you feel like you are there. Much like a movie, Creative Assembly does everything to capture this element, and it’s fantastic. There’s no cheesy dialogue from the actors in the game, and everything sounds professional and real. The androids are monotone and extremely creepy.
The controls in Alien Isolation are spot on. The ability to veer around corners and pop your head up quickly to see what’s in the area is fantastic. The only real problem I had involved trying to do too much at the same time. For instance, R1 is mapped for using the motion detector, L2 is mapped for changing your focus while holding the motion detector, and L1 is used to lean and veer around corners. At times, you might try to find yourself doing all of these at once, and it doesn’t really work out well. There are some quick-time events involved in the game and those are responsive, as well.
In terms of replay value, Alien Isolation does not have a tremendous amount. The game ships with a Survivor Mode which will pit you one-on-one with the Alien on Sevastopol. You will complete objectives in your attempt to escape, and then your score will be posted online. The story can be replayed using different difficulty levels, but no multiplayer elements, and honestly there doesn’t need to be.
Alien Isolation caters to the true horror fan at its core. The game is certainly difficult. This is the type of game that you can play with other people watching as it plays out much like a movie and will bring everyone that emotion of fear and adrenaline. Any fan of the Alien movie series needs to check out this game as it draws support from the first movie. With the few technical flaws it has, the overall experience greatly outweighs those flaws as the game will test your patience. This is the best game that has ever been aligned with the Alien franchise and the rest aren’t even close.
+ True survival horror experience, feels like you’re in a movie.
+ Top notch music and sound effects help create a tense and scary atmosphere.
+ Incorporates use of the cameras on the newer generation systems.
– Frame rate in cut scenes are bad.
– Not a ton of replay value.
– Might be too difficult for some.
A copy of Alien: Isolation for PlayStation 4 was provided for review.