Below is our Alien Isolation review. This game was played on medium difficulty on the PC. There will be minor spoilers and significant spoilers are blanked out. To read them please move your cursor over the black text.
Alien Isolation is the first Alien game released by Creative Assembly. We first learnt of Alien Isolation in May of 2011. All we knew was that Creative Assembly, the developers best known for Total War, would be developing. Details of the game remained scarce but it was eventually found to be a third person game. The game was officially announced in January 2014 as a first person horror survival, the first such game to be released for the Alien franchise.
I think it would be fair of me to say that Alien fans have had it hard these past few years. I could list all the disappointments that have been inflicted upon us but to talk more specifically, it has been so long since we have had a good video game. The last instalment, Colonial Marines, had such promise but instead left a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone who played it.
From the get-go Creative Assembly had the misfortune of fighting against the stigmata inflicted upon the franchise by Colonial Marines. Instead of being like the stream of shooter/action games that had preceded it, Creative Assembly turned 180 and ran in the complete opposite direction and instead released a survival horror game.
Due to that genre choice, Alien Isolation follows more in the footsteps of Ridley Scott’s Alien instead of the more called upon Aliens. This choice is reflected in nearly everything related to the game: The title, the general design and intelligence of the titular monster and the aesthetics to name a few.
The start of the game introduces us to Amanda Ripley, 15 years after her mother disappeared into the void of space. She is taking jobs in the area Ellen went missing, looking for any clues as to the fate of her mother. As it happens, the flight recorder of the Nostromo has been discovered and Samuels, a representative from Weyland-Yutani, is offering Amanda the chance to get some closure.
When it was first announced that the protagonist of the game would Ripley’s daughter I was a little sceptical at the plot convenience but I soon found myself comfortable with the very likely possibility that Amanda would go searching for her mother.
After a very intense and explosive start to the game where an explosion interrupts a simple spacewalk the game takes it very steady, progressing very slowly through the story. This offers us a chance to explore the desolate Sevastopol station that the game takes place on. There was something disturbing about exploring this obviously lived in location, knowing that the hallways you were slowly walking through once held 100’s of people. From a pacing point of view, it also gives the player a couple of hours to become accustomed to the world the game takes place in before being thrown into the terrifying deep end.
Through the use of the various access terminals and tape recorders, we are offered a deeper insight into the history of Sevastopol and the people who lived and worked there. Whilst they also offer an opportunity for replay (to collect them all), they also serve as fantastic elements of world building, further drawing the player into the mystery that Dan Abnett, Will Porter and Dion Lay had crafted for us.
And then we’re thrown straight in. Once the Alien makes its first appearance the game ramps it up. My heart-rate shot through the roof and the adrenaline that coursed through my body compelled me forward despite the fact I was perfectly content to spend what seemed like an eternity hiding under a table. The sheer euphoria that came from avoiding the Alien or making it to the next objective was immensely satisfying.
Alien Isolation is a game best played in the dark, with the gamma levels at minimal and your headphones firmly clasped around your head. I have never played a game like this; that was so terrifying or that caused such a physical reaction that I was on an adrenaline come down when I stopped playing.
Thankfully towards the middle of the game the pace does start to slow down – something my heart was grateful for. After hours of the cat-and-mouse games with the Alien in the dark hallways of Sevastopol, I was thankful for the respite. However, this leaves it up to the Working Joes and humans to take over the spotlight and the game does start to falter slightly here. Whilst the Working Joes are immensely creepy (those eyes!) they just don’t have the weight to carry the game.
As the story progresses familiar Alien narrative tropes start to crop up. For those of us familiar with the various stories from the Expanded Universe, it feels very much like treading familiar ground. However, thanks to the immersive and terrifying game that Creative Assembly has crafted we get to experience these familiar aspects in a completely new way that no amount of comics or novels can compete with.
I would also like to credit Creative Assembly on their ability to keep secrets. There were some aspects of the game that just had the fanboy in me shivering with both excitement and fear. In particular there is the Derelict flashback towards the middle of the game that I simply had not expected. It allows us the opportunity to recreate one of the most memorable scenes from the original – with some minor changes. I would have loved to have been able to explore more of the Derelict and I felt the size of the corridors should have been bigger to reflect the size of the Engineers but what I was treated to was simply wonderful. I have never been that excited to see the Derelict in a video game as I was in Alien Isolation.
Being a mostly single player experience, the campaign is significantly long (and it depends on your own play through). To facilitate the long game time the story does introduce quite a few plot points which takes several different “endings” to wrap up. These false ends might jar some players but I just kept wanting to go on, I did not want the game to end and I was so disappointed when it finally did.
While the game does feature a number of characters, not many of them receive much in the way of attention or development. It is only Amanda Ripley that we really get to forge any kind of connection to and that is through the fact that we’re experiencing the same terror as she is.
In the last few hours of the game, the punishment that Ripley takes increases to such a level that by the time the credits start to roll that Amanda Ripley has easily wrenched the trophy for most abused video game character from Lara Croft’s hands; and I thought no-one could receive more punishment than she did in the 2013 Tomb Raider! As progressively horrific things happen to Ripley, all I could think was “please, no more!”.
Andrea Deck was also wonderful as Ripley’s voice. She brought a convincing sense of vulnerability to the character. I’d also like to throw a special mention to the fact that William Hope, Lt. Gorman in Aliens and Dr Groves in AvP 2010, is the voice of Marshall Waits for Isolation. So even without the franchise staple Lance Henriksen, Creative Assembly managed to sneak in another connection to the franchise and I’m slightly surprised they didn’t make a bigger deal out of this.
Although the majority of the other characters aren’t given much attention, there are some characters who have gleaming moments. Next to Ripley, Samuels is probably the most interesting character who disappointingly disappears for half of the game. Most of the other humans we spend any significant time with end up with slightly predictable deaths.
I would like to give a special mention to Marlow and how he is handled towards the end of the game. I was very pleased to see a deviation from the norm and actually featuring more honourable, yet flawed, characters instead of the a-typical Company suits just in it for the money.
I do have to wonder if the lack of attention to the other characters was to the further the feeling of isolation as Ripley, and by extension you.
But the real star of the show is the titular Alien. The game is named after him after all. He is lovingly modelled in the style of H.R Giger’s Alien – with some minor adjustments. One change in particular is the design of the legs which allow for the Alien to pull off some convincingly swift movements. The animation for the Alien is absolutely stunning. The way in which it moves into the vent is mesmerizing to watch.
As has been emphasized by the team at Creative Assembly the Alien is unscripted with an AI engine that allows “independent thinking”. It uses a series to senses to locate and hunt you down. This creates cat-and-mouse style gameplay and emphasizes a more conservative style of play, sneaking around rather than rushing through the levels as this will create noise that will alert the Alien.
The unscripted nature of the Alien also means that everyone playing will have differing experiences and each play through will be unique. It also presents a challenge in that you are never quite sure what the Alien is going to do or where it will be, meaning you can’t learn a pattern to the enemy.
At times it does seem like the Alien should have seen you and as much as I appreciate being able to hide under a table – I spent so much time hiding under tables, paralysed by the mere presence of the Alien! – how does the Alien not see my legs sticking out?! I’d be curious to see the how the Alien’s senses work in more detail.
The Alien also learns from you and what you do. If you are constantly hiding in lockers, the Alien will soon wise onto the fact and pull you out of the lockers. If you keep trying to fool him with noise makers, he will soon stop running for them. This encourages a variety of hiding and distraction methods and helps keep your gameplay fresh.
It would also appear that the Alien is on a tether to you. This means he is never far away from you. Again, this means that once the Alien has disappeared back into the vents, you can’t go stomping around as he will be hovering nearby, upping the overall difficulty. This may frustrate some players so I emphasize the fact that you will need to approach this game with a cautious mind set.
When you finally get the flamethrower – which is just around halfway through the game – it has the possibility to diminish the threat of the Alien as it can force the Alien to retreat. It does require you to be in close proximity to force it away (otherwise it simply halts him for a few seconds) so it does require good timing, otherwise he will still steamroll through you – a lesson I learnt quite a few times.
To offer some diversity to the game, the Alien isn’t the only enemy roaming the halls of Sevestopol. Primitive synthetics known as Working Joes also take up some of your combat time. Whilst not as terrifying as the Alien the Working Joe’s design is still really creepy and easily takes the award for the best synthetic enemy in an Alien game. There’s one section when you find yourself in the Working Joe showroom and wow…that section had my nerves shredded.
The Joes are tough as nails but unlike the Alien, they can be killed. Simple brute force can take them down eventually (and there is an achievement for it) but you can stun them with EMP devices or stun batons to name a few.
It offers some nice variety in the combat and some of the memorable portions of the game are from the Working Joes but unfortunately they do start to become a nuisance, especially towards the end of the game when you just want to progress. There was nothing more annoying than coming across a Joe that wanted to kill you whilst being chased by the Alien – this is due to the sound of combat drawing the Alien down from the events. I found myself being grabbed the Joes, only to see the Alien emerge behind him and barge the Joe out of the way to grab me.
There are also various humans still remaining on Sevastopol. Some are friendly, some are hostile – although in my experience I found most to be hostile. They are understandably easier to kill and offer fodder for some interesting moments. As with the Joes, the sound of combat with humans will draw the Alien out and could get you caught in the crossfire. So why not draw the Alien to them? It was so satisfying, in a sadistic way.
The AI for both Joes and humans does seem less intelligent than the Alien, especially the humans. It isn’t game breaking but it can be noticeable at times.
Alien Isolation features a crafting system that allows you build various items. It requires you obtain the blueprints from around Sevestopol and you need to be on the hunt for the various components to use. These include items such as EMP mines, pipe bombs, flashbangs or noisemakers. These cobbled together devices are vital as they make your playthrough significantly easier to manage than without.
Is that a group of hostile humans in front of you? Throw a noisemaker towards them, lure the Alien down from his vents and let him do your dirty work for you. There’s something sadistically satisfying about hearing that inhuman scream and seeing the dots decrease in number on your motion tracker.
The gameplay feature I enjoyed the most was the old school save points. The game features very little in the way of autosave and most of your save data will come from these save points dotted around the station. This means that if you haven’t found the save point in your area and you die you could potentially lose a lot of progress. Another memorable moment from my own experience was trying to get to a save point in the hospital. The Alien kept coming back as soon as I went to approach. It was so immensely intense.
For some this will be frustrating, for others this will further encourage the cautious play-style that is needed to progress through Alien Isolation. The save points also serve to further the tension the game creates, as the saves take several seconds to occur, all the time the Alien could be nearby and as those lights go out you can let out that breath you didn’t even know you were holding.
Creative Assembly shipped Alien Isolation with a second game mode called Survivor. Survivor is a challenge mode where players compete to place on the two scoreboards. There is one scoreboard for time completed and one for score. The mode also features objective and hidden bonuses that enhance or multiply your score.
What I like about this mode is that it offers differing play-styles to use. The score mode nurtures the kind of play that you would use during the actual campaign and it encourages experimentation: try it without using the motion tracker, will throwing a Molotov earn you additional points?
The objective was simple: turn the generator on and get to the elevator. It reminded me of the majority of the Alien Trilogy, an older game which still holds a close place in my heart for terrifying me in 32-bit.
Alien Isolation has only shipped with one Survivor map but the downloadable content all seems set to be maps for Survivor. I would like to see a variety of maps (hived up levels, Jockey levels, etc) to help keep this mode alive as it seems to be Isolation’s draw for replayability once you’ve finished the campaign several times and I’m not convinced it can hold it up.
I would have liked to have seen some form of co-operative play but I understand that goes against the very core of what Creative Assembly was trying to achieve with the game. Perhaps instead it might be nice to see some additional story driven content. Whether it’s further backstory for the events that took place on Sevestopol or like Gary Napper mentioned he would love to do at the EGX panel, an adaptation of Alien 3, I would jump at the chance to dive back into the experience that has been created for me.
The visuals in this game are simply gorgeous. You can really tell a lot of love went into designing and creating the world of Sevastopol. It looks like Sevastopol came straight from the same construction yard as the Nostromo. The designs are expanded upon and new looks were also used – I loved the 70’s-style airport aesthetic for the spaceport. Sevestopol felt like it fit right into the world of Alien.
Sevastopol also looks wonderfully lived in and I was convinced the station could drop apart on me at any moment. The level of design the team at Creative Assembly put into the station I was exploring helped further my immersion in the game I was playing.
The only complaint I would have with the visuals of the game was the lack of emotion in the human characters. There was very little animation in the face of the models which resulted in them looking somewhat robotic.
The sound in Alien Isolation is terrific. On so many levels. The soundtrack itself is so effective at increasing the tension, even when there little happening. The music for the Synthetic Plant had me more on edge than any section I had played previously. I don’t think a soundtrack in an Alien game has been this effective since Alien Trilogy. I really hope to see an individual release at some point.
The use of motifs and movements from Jerry Goldsmith’s also furthered that sensation of being in the world of Ridley’s Alien. I also loved that these themes weren’t overused and that a good portion of sound in the game was original, yet still as effective as the original.
The sound engine in the game continued to impress, adapting the sound levels to the current situation. It’s as if Creative Assembly didn’t think the mere sight of the Alien would be enough to leave me a shivering mess in the corner, they really wanted me to hear those thumping footsteps getting closer and closer and quicker towards me, my heart beating in conjunction with those terrifying sounds.
If Alien Isolation doesn’t win some an award for sound design I will be shocked and offended.
For those of you playing the game on other platforms, the game does seem to have issues, particularly with framerates. However, the PC seems to be the most stable and I still encountered some issues. In particular my game used to crash when loading a saved file and I have encountered missing texture bugs a couple of times. I certainly hope that Creative Assembly work to put some fixes out for the issues that are affecting all the platforms.
To me the Alien franchise has always been fascinating because of its ability to induce fear and nightmares. It is for that reason that I have had a near life-long fascination with the acid-blooded xenomorph. All my favourite memories revolve around the fear that I suffered at the hands of H.R Giger’s monster.
Whether it was my inability to pick up and play Alien Trilogy as a child, or Rebellion’s Aliens vs. Predator Classic keeping me trapped inside of APC. However, the 20 hours of heart-pumping, adrenaline infused terror of Alien Isolation pushed all these buttons. I did not want the game to end. In some sadistic fashion, Creative Assembly had convinced me that I was enjoying the torment and anguish they had inflicted upon me.
For those of you who can’t play patiently you will not enjoy this game. But for those of you looking to sink into a world of convincing aesthetics and experience what it is like to be hunted by the Alien, this is the game for you. Turn the lights down, ensure the game is on the lowest possible gamma setting and enjoy.
To put it simply: Alien Isolation is the best Alien game to date. I have never experienced the level of fear and excitement that Creative Assembly infused into game. If you call yourself a fan of the Alien franchise you have to pick up a copy of this game.
As much as I would love to give it perfect marks, the game does suffer some minor flaws but the overall experience was exactly what I’ve always wanted from an Alien game. From Aaron Percival, here at AvPGalaxy, I award Creative Assembly’s Alien Isolation a 9 out of 10.