Alien--Isolation-Review Alien: Isolation Review

   06/10/2014 at 23:51       Richard Horne       2 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Alien: Isolation, SEGA, Creative Assembly, Ripley, Stealth Shooter

If the recent history of video games has taught us one thing, it’s that games licensed from movies are almost always terrible. And this is usually down to one of two reasons. One: movie narratives are not particularly appropriate or transferrable to something so dynamic and interactive as video games. Or that two: licensed game releases generally have to coincide with the release date of the movie, which means that the games are mostly under-developed and haven’t been given sufficient time to bake thoroughly. It’s lucky for us, then, that SEGA and Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation suffers from neither of these hindrances. 

Firstly because Alien the movie was released 35 years ago. No, really. And secondly, because, rather than trying to shoe-horn the movie narrative’s round-shaped peg into a square-shaped hole, the game’s developers have instead come up with a plot and arc of their own that brilliantly supplements the original movie and tries to fill in some of its gaps rather then trying to replicate it wholesale, story beat for beat.

Much like the original movie, Alien: Isolation is positively dripping with atmosphere and tension, and its lighting and sound design, in particular, are quite phenomenal. I played the game using Turtle Beach DX 11 surround sound headphones, which frankly, made for a breathtaking and terrifying experience. The early encounters are particularly note worthy. You know the Alien exists, it’s on the bloody box for God’s sake, but you haven’t yet encountered it so you treat the game’s opening as an extended tutorial without too much dread. But the scratches, bangs and clatters it makes as it scurries around the surrounding ventilation system combined with the subtle, yet dramatic ambient score mean you’re always perched on the edge of your seat swamped by a feeling of dread, crushed by the overwhelming sense of imminent danger.

I also played the game with my Xbox One connected up to a Lightberry lighting kit, which you’ll be able to read more about in my in-depth review later this week. And if ever there was a game this was made for, well Alien: Isolation is it.

In yet another example of hardware enhancing the overall experience, Isolation also proves itself to be one of the most effective demonstrations of Microsoft’s Kinect that I’ve ever come across. The game utilises head-tracking and sound detection to terrifying effect. For instance, when hiding behind cover, holding down the Left Bumper enables head-tracking, and then the action of physically leaning from side to side or peering up and over an object is immediately reflected by your character on-screen. There’s no lag or delay. It’s immediate, responsive, immersive and extremely effective. This is also further enhanced during the many instances in which you’ll find yourself on the run from the titular Alien. When taking refuge in one of the game’s many cubby-holes, cupboards or storage lockers, once inside you literally have to lean to one side so it can’t see you through the air vents, while simultaneously holding your breath so it can’t hear you. I even tested the voice detection by positioning myself far enough away from the Alien so that it couldn’t see me, but then taunted it by shouting “Come on then, you bastard.” Needless to say I got its attention and things came to a head immediately with me coming off much the worse.

It’s also worth drawing attention to the movement and animation of the Alien itself. Watching it safely from a distance, while hidden, as it lithely unfurls itself from a ceiling vent and gracefully twists and contorts as it silently lands on the floor is stunning. Creative Assembly has captured the likeness from the movies almost to perfection.

What’s less impressive, however, is when you see it walking about on hind legs, almost human-like. It’s much more creepy and intimidating when you see it on all fours skulking around, poised, ready to obliterate anyone or anything it sees fit.

There’s also a brilliant analogue kitsch-ness to the design of both the actual game’s systems as well as the systems of the world you inhabit. There’s a fantastic nostalgic, grainy, scratchy, worn-VHS effect applied to the game menus that is really effective, while the low-resolution blocky graphics, 8-bit beeps and chunky controls of the space station’s terminals and panels really take you back in time to when the original movie was released and help enhance the overall experience.

So while Isolation undeniably begins brilliantly and establishes a stunning premise right out of the gate, some of that dramatic tension and atmosphere is un-necessarily diluted by frequent trial-and-error sections, during which you’ll die a lot. An awful lot. For instance, one scene I had particular problems with required me to find a computer containing a passcode, then use that passcode to enter another room in order to find a key card, which then required me to explore another series of rooms. Sounds straight forward enough, right? The problem was that during that time, the Alien also happens to be patrolling the very same area. And wthout exaggeration, I must have repeated this section forty to fifty times, which got infuriatingly irritating. It’s great that the AI is so dynamic and that the Alien’s routes and patterns are rarely repeated, but it also means a lot of perseverance and belligerence is required to complete certain sections of the game. 

While Creative Assembly should rightly be praised for developing such a dynamic and interesting premise with a single AI enemy stalking you for the pretty much the entire game, it’s not a system that’s without its flaws. For example, while the act of being stalked by such a lethal and powerful enemy is genuinely nerve-wracking, knowing that you can’t actually kill it changes how you approach certain scenarios. Take the opening first hour for example, it’s pretty apparent that the game is trying to teach you its basic system and controls as subtlely as possible while tying them into the game’s cinematic opening. And maybe I over-analysed things, but this meant that even that even though tension was palpably building, I was quite relaxed about it because it was obvious that this was the unofficial tutorial and that no real harm would come to me as a result. Sure, I could hear the Alien scrabbling around in the vents and the noises it was making left me feeling quite uneasy, but I never felt like it was going to jump out at me mid crafting system tutorial. 

Conversely, the reverse also unfortunately applies to the Alien. Isolation wouldn’t be much of a game if you could kill this most ferocious of enemies quickly and easily, indeed at all. Which means that in order to prevent the game from becoming staid and almost impossible, Creative Assembly had to introduce other enemies for you to contend with. So, as well as evading the Alien, you’ll also face-off against other human survivors and the androids that keep the space station ticking over. Androids which are particularly annoying when they’re actively searching for you. I found it especially frustrating that you can’t actually run past without them without them grabbing you and thus instigating a quicktime event that requires you to hammer the A button in order to break free. Even if you’re running a good 5/6 feet either side of them and in reality there’s no way they could actually reach out and grab you. If you’ve got their attention you simply at times seem unable to barge your way past them.

Fortunately, you can rewire the ship’s systems and turn off lights, open doors and disable the air purification system, which reduces visibility and makes it easier for you to hide in the shadows. Like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell before it, Alien: Isolation occasionally degenerates into the sort of stealth game where you feel like you’re trying to break or exploit its systems as opposed to just enjoying and being fully immersed in the world and environment sand reacting naturally and organically. You’ll soon start to get a sense of how much noise you can get away with making and how quickly or slowly you have to move past certain enemies. And you will inevitably learn these systems as you repeat sections countless times.

Isolation’s controls also help contribute towards generating its claustrophobic and stifling atmosphere, thanks to their weight and heft. Ripley’s movements are deliberately relatively slow compared to other first-person-shooters. In fact to even call Isolation a first-person-shooter is to do it a disservice. It’s a survival horror game that happens to be played in the first person. Its shooting mechanics feel realistic and slightly clunky with weapon recoil and aiming not something that comes naturally to Ripley. Having to manually reload individual bullets into a revolver is deliberately time-consuming and painstaking and again helps ramp up that tension and make you feel that you’re the hunted rather then the hunter you’re so used to playing in FPSes. The game even makes reference to this in one of its tool tips which states something along the lines of Ripley not being comfortable using a gun but that she will defend herself if she has to.

Alien: Isolation is not without its faults then, but it gets things right more than it gets them wrong. Its single player campaign is lengthy – too lengthy some might argue - and is supplemented by the additional survival mode, which sees you facing off against the Alien yet again, but on a restricted map with limited resources and time. The fraught, edge-of-your-seat atmosphere it manages to creative is pervasive and claustrophobic and I had to play it in small bursts as I found extended play-throughs too intense. Which is something that many of you will totally relish. Unfortunately, the insta-deaths and countless replaying of certain sections will leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but they’re not enough to detract from the experience as a whole. 

Alien: Isolation is gripping, memorable and something of a unique experience, especially on next-generation consoles. It’s also an excellent companion piece to the movie, and, much like the previous Alien-licensed games, bucks the trend of licensed games being rubbish. Bravo Creative Aseembly, bravo. 

User Comments:

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evilashchris - on 07/10/2014 at 09:31 wrote:
This is far too scary looking for me, and I LOVE the films :D

peej - on 10/10/2014 at 12:01 wrote:
Christ, those choppy cutscenes. Unbelievable!

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Better late than never, eh Ror?
Khanivor - In response to: Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review - 281day(s) ago.
Enjoyed this, cheers!
evilashchris - In response to: Reflecting on the Life of a Tomb Raider - 366day(s) ago.
Looks who's back. Shady's back.
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Micro Machines was my favourite!
ClaytonNotClive - In response to: Mantis Burn Racing Review - 738day(s) ago.
i agree chris, the Aliens table makes the others look bad.. because its so goood!! but they arent that bad.. haha! ...
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