Alien: Isolation is a great game, not necessarily because of its technical achievements, but because it changes the ground rules. It challenges not just your skills as a gamer, but how you play games. It is, in a major way, a step forward in gaming. It will also, at least once, make you want to chuck a controller.
It’s The Only Way To Be Sure
Set between Alien and Aliens, this game follows Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, as she visits the space station Sevastopol looking for evidence of what happened to her mother. Needless to say, this being an Alien game, everything promptly goes to hell and she has to figure out how to get out of Dodge while learning what happened to her mom.
It’s a gorgeous game, sticking to the original movie’s chunky green-monitors-and-solid-state gear aesthetic. But we’ve been burned by this franchise before. A lot, actually. So what matters is the gameplay, and fortunately, it’s revolutionary.
Cowardice As A Viable Strategy
Most survival horror games are tightly scripted experiences; you go through door A, horrible beast bursts through door B, you run screaming back through door A right into the clutches of another horrible beast. It works the first time, but once you know what’s coming, the scares go out of it and it’s mostly about solving the puzzle.
Alien: Isolation is not scripted, at all, and in fact it throws out a lot of rules of survival horror. The Xenomorph, here, is not following a script or even a set path; each level is essentially a profoundly nasty game of hide and seek, and there is no bulletproof strategy to avoid the Xenomorph. The only reliable behavior you can expect from the thing is that if you make noise, it’s going to come running.
Everything else, you’re gambling. You can hide in a locker, and it might pass you by… or throw open the locker and eat you. You can hit it with a flamethrower, and that might drive it away… or just make it angry. It won’t wait until you’re done fulfilling a level objective, it won’t politely stay away when you’ve got androids to kill, it’s basically the relentless killing machine we know and love from the movies. It feels just like you’re in the original Alien, and that’s something Creative Assembly should be proud of.
Difficult Is Not The Right Word
Part of what makes Alien: Isolation work, and will also make it a divisive game, is that it puts your abilities as a gamer to the test. Part of the marketing has actually been a series of YouTube videos hyping up the challenge. But that difficulty isn’t because the game is unfair or that Creative Assembly is cruel, it’s because you have to rethink how you play games.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s a tough game, albeit a fair one. Once you’ve played for a few hours, you can generally get a sense of what will make the Alien detect you and what won’t, some of which you can address and some of which you’ll just have to work around. And you have both a motion tracker and a well-engineered soundscape to help you track the Alien; you can hear it clomping through air ducts, hissing as it tries to find you, and so on.
But how you normally play survival horror games is not going to work here. Even strategies that work the first time in a game might not work the second, or the third. You can’t default to or count on anything; you need to be aware of your inventory, aware of your environment, and be ready and able to use both to your advantage.
Flawed, But Minorly
There are a few problems, mostly around the humans; clearly all the money went to the atmosphere and the Alien, because the humans are, by comparison, poorly animated. Then again, they mostly exist to be a pain in the ass and fire guns at you at the worst possible moment, so they can go to hell. But, by and large, it’s a unique gaming experience, a step forward in enemy AI, and a tense survival horror experience. Whether you want a challenge for your strategic abilities, or just want to play something different, Alien: Isolation fits the bill.
This review was written based on review code provided by Sega. ‘Alien: Isolation’ is available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms.