Alien Isolation is a horrifying, demanding, and stressful experience, which is what makes it so enjoyable.
Developer Creative Assembly
Formats PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC
Released 7 October 2014
Alien: Isolation takes so many aspects from the original 1979 film, one characteristic in particular; fear. Creative Assembly have managed to finally make the Xenomorph freighting again. Isolation is more focused on Ridley Scott’s incarnation than the later style of James Cameron’s adaptations. The story follows Amanda Ripley, an engineer who’s still looking for answers to her mother’s disappearance, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in the first Alien.
Sevastopol is a space station which has recently been decommissioned due to its financial difficulties, this is visible as you explore the dark and desolate corridors. The setting is murky, the technology on the station is outdated, everything creaks and groans as you walk past and everything around you is practically falling apart. The environment of Isolation is nostalgic, it takes much inspiration from the original film, the general look of the space station is similar to The Nostromo, the big chunky PC monitors, the tubing along the walls, the doors, and just overall style has been given such care and attention to detail, it is almost like a love letter to Scott’s original film. Graffiti has been scrawled on the walls; showing how tensions had been rising between the occupants of Sevastopol. There are audio logs scattered around the station; telling the story of those who were living there, trying to survive while some unknown creature began picking them off one by one. This creature is of course the notorious Xenomorph, Creative Assembly took their time to build up the atmosphere before having the alien make it’s grade appearance, it takes a good hour – hour and a half to even see it in the flesh, but from this point on, you know he’s there; you can hear him, crawling in the vents around you, (wearing a surround sound headset creates an even more immersive experience) you can sense his presence. The sound used within Isolation is one of the games main pinnacles, it generates fear, every time you hear a the station groan, footsteps down a corridor, hissing from a nearby vent, you know something could be about to find you at any moment, in Isolation, you rely on your hearing to survive.
Not knowing where the alien is, is undoubtedly the most terrifying element in Isolation. When you are able to actually track his whereabouts, the fear seems to dissipate, but as soon as it jumps into one of the vents or ends up vanishing round a corner that fear hits right back at you and soon enough you find yourself crawling underneath tables and hiding in lockers for a good five minutes at a time, unsure of where the alien has wandered off to. The motion tracker which Amanda finds gives us somewhat of an estimate as to where the Xenomorph may be prowling; although, by using it you are taking a risk, the noise it omits may alert him to your current location which can prove fatal, i.e. – death.
During the course of Isolation you should be prepared to die, a lot. The alien is unpredictable, It’s intelligent, and can supposedly adapt to the way in which you play the game. This also means that you cannot just sit under a desk trying to figure out its movements or hide in a locker looking for the perfect time to leave the area; there is no perfect time, the longer you’re immobile, the more chance you have of the alien dragging you from that pathetic hiding spot where you thought that you might have been safe; in isolation, nowhere is safe. Fortunately for us, Amanda does have a few tricks up her sleeve, as you progress you gain the ability to craft gear on the go, this includes medical supplies, flash bangs, noisemakers, and more. Although you may not be able to kill the alien, you can at least cause distractions which will let you get from A to B that bit easier. While making your way around Sevastopol you will also occasionally bump into other humans (most of who are hostile unfortunately) you can use these encounters too your own advantage, they are the perfect distraction when it comes to keeping the Xenomorph busy.
If it’s not the Xenomorph on your back then it’s more than likely going to be the androids, or as they are otherwise know; the working joes, who, are still wandering around the station causing havoc. They are unnerving and, in general, just look pretty creepy; on the plus side you can at least kill these guys, revolver to the face usually works well (unless the alien decides to join the party that is), but you may not have much in the way of ammo or supplies left once the fight is over, scavenging is the key in Isolation, the more items you find, the easier you’re going to find these encounters.
The save system on Isolation is rather unforgiving, you are required to reach in game saving mechanisms; locations of these are visible on Amanda’s map. Once you reach the machine, Amanda must input a card so you can save your data. This like many other actions in Isolation, takes time, you can’t just high tail it to the nearest one with the alien in hot pursuit as he will kill you; A. before you get there or B. in the process of saving. In my opinion the saving does work in Isolation, most areas pose you with a decision; after doing an incredible amount in one area do you risk it and carry on, which includes the possibility of dying meaning you have to do it all over again? Or do you take the cautious route and backtrack to the save point just to be on the safe side? I backtracked, A LOT. Yes you could die either way, but replaying 30 minutes is better than an hour. The save system keeps the player on edge at the thought of losing all their progress, which in a game like this, is actually a good thing, it makes it challenging, if you could just save and load any part of Isolation you liked, it just wouldn’t be scary anymore.
There are rewire systems dotted around Sevastopol, these, in my opinion, were a bit of a disappointment; they allow you to alter certain states in game (on Sevastopol), for instance you can turn lights on or off, to which the enemy A.I will hopefully go and check on this, giving you a few added seconds to get around them, speakers can work on the alien as it will go and investigate the noise, allowing you to possibly sneak past him, but it only gives a limited window of opportunity, and sometimes it can do more harm than good, as it can put the alien on red alert, as he frantically runs around knowing that someone is screwing around with the rewiring system. I very rarely touched these myself, I found very little use for them and my crafted items worked perfectly fine and the time spent messing with the re-routing was not really worth it. It would have been interesting to have seen this system have a bigger purpose, it’s a fantastic idea, but doesn’t feel like anyone invested enough time in it.
Alien: isolation is most definitely not going to be to everyone’s taste, it’s difficult, and at times, can be frustrating, but that’s why, in the end, it’s so rewarding. Maybe it isn’t fair, but why should it be? It is a survival horror game after all. Isolation doesn’t hold your hand, or tell you everything will be ok, nor does it give you advice when you’re struggling to carry on, no; it throws you in the deep end against an ugly beast you can’t kill and leaves you to fend for yourself, I hope you’re ready, because the alien certainly is.