As a fan of the famed Alien movie franchise, the hopes of one day living out the on-screen movie experience has been something I’ve always aspired to indulge, interactively of course. So when it was announced that developer Creative Assembly by way of SEGA, would be taking a stab at doing what those before them have failed to do, I of course had my doubts.
What made the first two movies in the series so memorable was the way in which both directors, Ridley Scott of Alien and James Cameron of Aliens captured the suspenseful terror of the unstoppable Xenomorphs. In addition, both movies were brilliantly cast while set against the dark emptiness of space. It wasn’t as though anyone could just stole off the ship to safety. Vulnerable humans were pitted against immeasurable odds. Death could come from anywhere, at any time. Weapons seemed completely useless against the enemy, ventilation shafts might have seemed like safe havens for a little while, but eventually they only made matters worse and scarier. With a lot of determination, luck and ingenuity, Ellen Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver was able to beat these impossible odds.
Walking away from those experiences and you were completely exhausted, wiped out from the tension of the arduous journey through hell. Now, Creative Assembly has launched Alien Isolation, in an effort to recapture the drama and thrilling authenticity of the movies in video game form, and I am excited say, they have completely nailed it!
Swept away in a scenario of life and death, Alien Isolation is an intensified thrill ride, surprisingly and convincingly raising the bar very high for licensed video games. As the story goes, Alien Isolation is set in 2137, 15 years after the events of the first movie and 42 years before the events of Aliens the sequel. You play along as Amanda Ripley, daughter of legendary Ellen Ripley who is eager to investigate her mother’s whereabouts. Excited to be transferred to the Sevastopol, the massive space station, Amanda seeks to discover the flight recorder of the Nostromo, where her mother was one of its crew members before going missing.
For this journey Amanda is accompanied by Taylor and Samuels who are eventually forced to perform a space walk in order to board the Sevastopol due to landing complications. This is of course routine for Amanda who is a seasoned engineer possessing the same bravado as her mother. Unfortunately this routine space jump isn’t so routine. Due to the terrible outcome of events, Amanda finds herself alone in unknown territory.
As if Creative Assembly took the would be play book of Ridley Scott and James Cameron to tell a tale bridging both of their directorial efforts together, from the outset players are thrown back into the world of Aliens as fans have always remembered it. Level designs and corridors sing praises to the movies, even the slightest ambient sounds make a return. Enter certain corridors and the lights begin to flicker on just as you remember. Piping runs along the walls, to the upholstered wall padding, the smoke effects illuminating causing shadows, to even the sound of the electronically powered entry ways, it’s all here.
Even those ‘state of art’ green lit personal computer terminals are back, adding charm to the experience. In fact, these terminals play a major role in revealing insight and background into the lives of the people living aboard the Sevastopol before all hell broke loose and terror ripped through this space vessel. I would encourage users to not overlook the intel piecing together the history of the space station found on these computer terminals. This information not only assists in furthering your progression of the campaign, the depth of the story and plot are greatly increased when your understanding of what is really at play is fully realized. Character ID’s are also scattered throughout the levels. Finding them gives brief individual info such as names, last known location and ID codes.
Always keeping you on your toes, while you are carefully reading logged files, the tension of life and death are ever present with intimidating sounds of the Alien, scurrying through vents, sometimes as though right on top of you. Throughout your quest for the truth and near brushes with death, Amanda will occasionally be greeted by ‘Emergency Stations’ which work as your manual save points in addition to making you aware of when danger is nearby. Emergency save stations become vital to your progressive existence as overlooking them can mean the unfortunate difference of having to relive prior unpleasant events. Instead of searching aimlessly for these save kiosks, users will find it most helpful to simply pop up their map to easily locate a save point if one is in your vicinity.
Prior to meeting your most formidable adversary, Amanda comes to realize that something awful has befalling the Sevastopol space station. The place is a complete wreck. People are running for their lives, you even come across groups of survivors who have decided that anyone they come across whom they consider a stranger must die.
Eventually you realize the stations synthetic humanoids or working Joes as they are referred to, also pose a considerable threat in most cases throughout your journey. I really didn’t see this coming, however the idea of taking the synthetics and placing them on the side of uncertainty is a great touch giving Amanda sort of a crash course of her mother’s own dilemma with synthetics from the movies.
Not everyone on the Sevastopol you run across is your enemy, giving room to the forging of helpful and much needed relationships. While the game does offer a fair amount of relationship takeaways, for a space station of this size, it would have added more of an emphasis on the emotional loss with better developed characters and their bond to Amanda, who eventually becomes a solo act. Early on I took quite a liking to Axel and was hoping for more encounters like this.
As an engineer Amanda has the ability of using her McGuyver intuition to construct weapons which prove most useful in many cases, depending on how you use them. Players will find scrap parts and useful blueprints for all sorts of other makeshift tactical tools. Aside from finding a shotgun, a revolver, a trusty bolt gun as well as the classic flamethrower, Amanda assembles her own medkits, noisemakers, pipe bombs, smoke bombs, emp grenades, flashbangs, the works. She even gets her hands on an stun baton which works well with some synthetics, paralyzing them for a brief spell before allowing Amanda to then pull out her revolver and finish them off with a few shots.
Before your initial run in with the star of the show, you have already killed humans and ran from synthetics by hiding in vents to avoid detection. When taking out human threats don’t be alarmed when you cannot take their weapons, while this would seem like the obvious course of action, Creative Assembly chooses not to make it that easy, opting to leverage Amanda into a state of vulnerability forcing her to work for every inch. This becomes never more apparent when the Alien reveals itself and relentlessly begins hunting you down like The Terminator.
Running from the Alien is the worst mistake you can possibly make any and every time. Amanda is made to suffer the agony and anxiety of walking and the sometimes slow crouching movements from objective to objective when the Alien is near. Players quickly realize it is vital to survey surroundings areas ever so carefully in hopes of finding lockers and smaller containers to hide in or tables and or desks the hide under. Just fair warning, when hiding in lockers makes sure you have Amanda leaning back, if not, due to the Aliens keen sense of smell, it will detect you.
In one scenario where I just knew I was undetected, the Alien as if playing cat and mouse with my emotions was thoroughly combing the area, stomping past the container I was held up in. Despite being as calm and quiet as possible, the Alien literally knocks over the container with Amanda flying out. Deviously the Alien slowly appears from behind the container looking straight at Amanda making his sinister approach and of course you know the rest. Just before my execution I caught myself quickly looking away from the monitor as if our friend was literally right in front of me.
While crouching towards tables, Amanda automatically goes even lower under the table in order to keep out of sight of nearby danger. In addition, the helpful use of the peeking feature is a great bonus as users can peek up over objects and around corners without being fully exposed.
Alien Isolation is a horror game, yet I was not necessarily afraid of the actual sight of the Xenomorph. However, the idea of being savagely hunted by such a powerfully irrational creature and what death means from the outcome of being captured is a brutal one. Everything instigating this experience is top notch. From the surrounding environments with its distant sounds of nearby death, or the dark passageways daring you to turn on your flashlight headset only to be greeted by the boogeyman, the sheer amount of high tension and suspense is incredible. At times the suspense may cause you to jump out of your seat and then there are times when the Alien is aggressively roaming the halls looking for you keeping you hidden, contemplating your next move all while you are staring at your classic Alien motion tracker.
Not only a motion tracker, the device thankfully displays the direction of your next objective, but if further clarification is needed then jumping over to the map also highlights what you need. Learning this the hard way I discovered that the Alien can actually hear the beeping sound of the motion tracker so be careful how and when you use it. Basically if the Alien is near you don’t use it if you can bear it. There are also map terminals found throughout the Sevastopol, interacting with these will update Amanda’s map screen with lay-outs of the facilities and public areas to explore.
With the ability to quickly traverse levels through corridors and the complex ventilation, the Alien may seem as though it isn’t near, but it is. On second he was nearing the northern part of my motion tracker just about out of proximity, to swiftly within seconds being back in our area sniffing us out, oftentimes forcing Amanda back into hiding. The game keeps you not only anxious to complete your next objective, but again you are forced to survey your surroundings making sure you have a nearby safety insurance plan.
It would have been helpful to have a throwing designator as an option to better position where Amanda could toss objects of distraction such as her flashbangs and noisemaker. All too often I found myself wanting to throw my noisemakers down a corridor or somewhere that would draw the Aliens attention away from my area, only to have an object deflect my toss keeping the Alien nearby. Flares worked like a charm but other devices forced me to be more than careful and sometimes exposed in order the make an accurate toss.
As the tension builds the Alien finds comfort in dispatching you from overhead ventilation shaft openings. After having your life cut short from this maneuver, you may find your head on a swivel looking up and all around sticking to walls as best you can. While the classic Xenomorph may not possess the same scary appearance as it once posed over its audience of the late 70’s and 80’s, Ceative Assembly has nevertheless orchestrated a brilliantly intense atmospheric experience, easily rivaling the directorial efforts of the acclaimed Ridley Scott and James Cameron.
Well represented as a resilient engineer and survivalist with believable, true to life emotions of expression, Amanda Ripley as well as Creative Assembly are the best things to happen to the Alien franchise in decades. You like Amanda as her cause is honorable, she doesn’t want to kill but will if she must. Simply put, Amanda has all the makings of a real iconic video game character for future games in the franchise.
Alien Isolation is a great looking game all around with highly expressed character models and more than believable voice acting bringing it all together for an epic tale of survival. I can’t emphasis enough how well designed the games full attention to detail has been showcased. I strongly recommend users experience Alien Isolation while wearing digitally supported surround sound headsets, which completely immerses you into the experience.
With a promising conclusion, Alien Isolation is a must play sci-fi suspense thriller, allowing your inner survivalist to live out that one burning question we have all asked ourselves when watching that unforgettable boogeyman movie, “what would I do in that situation?”