“The following is a guest review by The Black Humor Mage.”
Did you ever watch Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien and think to yourself “I would really like to be put into this extremely terrifying position myself”? Exactly! Me neither! I’m only kidding. For some twisted reason I’ve always had the desire for a video game where you feel the same suspense and atmosphere that Alien oozed from all of it’s crevasses. AND THIS GAME IS IT HOMIES!!!
Yeah… okay, let’s face it: this review is two years too late. But I didn’t have a platform to sing its praises before, so I’ll take it upon myself now since you all asked nicely. Surprisingly, it was Sega who ended up giving the people what they wanted. Who knew this dusty fossil could put out something refreshing for a change? And I need to give a special shout out to Creative Assembly for creating such a solid game. Alien and the survival horror genre are a match-made-in-heaven. The game’s visuals and sounds are true to the Alien franchise. It’s suspenseful, smart, and extremely difficult. You experience the stress and fear of being stuck inside a small space with the ultimate killing machine. Try to forget that Aliens: Colonial Marines ever existed, kick back, clench your butt cheeks, and feel the rush of a true Xenomorph experience.
The game’s premise is as follows: you play as Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda Ripley, a crafty and intelligent engineer. She is trying to find out what happened to her mother aboard a decaying space station called The Sevastopol. The space station has gone to disarray, and has spiraled into some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare. You encounter violent humans that have been reduced to their survival instinct, murderous malfunctioning androids, and of course the chilling Xenomorph itself. So, how does the game do overall?
As much as Alien: Isolation passes with flying colors in the visual and audio department, the narrative suffers a little. It’s pretty long game that you can definitely feel at some points. There aren’t many characters you can be emotionally invested in, and character development is almost non-existent. But I don’t want to give away everything in my introduction, so let’s get into…
The 8-Bit Review
This game is gorgeous. As I’ve mentioned before, it stayed true to the visuals from the film franchise. It’s in the overall claustrophobic atmosphere and even in little details. The doors, the compartments, ladders, wall-padding, so many things are directly from the franchise. You can tell the developers are true fans of the films.
Other than staying true to the film series, Alien: Isolation boasts some amazing lighting. The lighting is soft but sparse. It’s used masterfully and adds so much to the immersion of the game. The developers really knew when to use light and when not to. Darkness is just as much of an asset when it comes to visuals. When you look down hallways or you’re cramped in small space, the small amount of light is not enough comfort to relieve your fears.
The clean graphics are excellent too. The detail and design of the Sevastopol is impressive. Alien: Isolation’s environment is lived-in, with scattered books, papers, chairs, and so on. The creators even put the effort into the sheen on linoleum floors! I love the design of the technology in-game that emulates the 80’s interpretation of futuristic computers and devices. Looking into the void of outer space with speckles of stars and the hideous might of Jupiter is breath-taking. But if there’s a somewhat noteworthy complaint that I have, it would be the character models. The characters in this game look slightly cartoony. I understand this was a stylistic choice, and I can overlook it. However, the character models in-game appear stiff compared to when they’re moving in a cutscene. It’s only a minor complaint compared to how well the rest of the visuals hold up.
I believe that this game will hold up over time. I’m not too sure how realistic video games will look in the future, but Alien: Isolation deserves praise for what it’s accomplished now. Every time I look at this game my breath is taken away. It makes me want to drop over $300 on VR equipment (almost).
The soundtrack is really good. There’s a lot of harsh string instruments, ambient sounds, ominous choirs, etc. Y’know, the usual music you’d hear in a horror game or movie. It even sounds similar to the original soundtrack, and that’s because some of the people who worked on the music for the the original movie came back to score this game. The soundtrack is definitely authentic, it sounds like what you’d expect it to be, and it’s used at the right moments. It’s a solid soundtrack that heightens the suspense of already suspenseful game.
Where Alien: Isolation really shines in the audio department is the environmental noise and sound effects. The sounds are enthralling. Slipping on a pair headphones while playing will submerge you into the environment, like submerging your head into a bucket of water. Part of Alien: Isolation’s atmosphere is created by the quietness and low moaning sounds of the space station. The sound of Ripley’s footsteps are the loudest noises you’ll hear for a while. And it’s disconcerting because you’re left thinking “Can someone or something else hear this?” It’s like the suspense you get from trying to sneak downstairs and eat some cold pizza at midnight when your kids told you not to.
Loud crashes and humming machines can be heard in the distance. The noises and sound effects from the environment sound realistic, and their proximity is accurate. The Xenomorph’s shrieks and roars can echo through metallic vents or be terrifyingly close and sound like they’re inches away from your ear when it’s on its way. The sound designers even utilized sounds from the film. The sounds are electrifying and loud when things get dangerous. It’s impeccable sound design.
Here’s a quick look at the process:
Alien: Isolation is a survival-horror game, and it plays like one. It’s a first-person perspective coupled with weapon selection, crouching mechanics, and some puzzle solving. Remember that comparison I made as a joke to Bioshock? Well the similarity is apparent here. A lot of the gameplay feels like you’re playing a Bioshock $20 Alien DLC. It’s nothing innovative and feels like a lot of games before it. But if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it, I guess? I shouldn’t be complaining too much though. It’s solid and it works. You’ll need a lot of stealth techniques at your disposal. It’s Solid Snake time, baby. There are moments when you’ll need to hide behind tables or inside vents, and bide your time. You’ll also rely on your trusty, yet sometimes noisy, motion detector.
You’ll have a good selection of weapons and items to pick from. Using the right one for the right situation will determine your survival. There’s a wrench, guns, bombs, throwing items that serve as distractions, and flashlights. You have to scavenge for ammunition and items to build items, They aren’t plentiful, so use them wisely. “Wisely” means you’ll be holding up a flamethrower, A LOT.
Unfortunately, the narrative is not as impressive and awe inspiring as the visuals and audio. I consider it above average. To jog your memory: the premise is that you play as Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, looking for information about her mother on the Sevastopol, a decaying space station. If you’ve already seen the film franchise then you’ll know exactly what happened to Ellen. That aspect of Alien: Isolation’s is put on the back burner, fortunately, and focuses more on Amanda’s survival. This leads to some searching, running into iffy characters that can be allies or enemies, and quests. Amanda Ripley is intelligent and quick on her toes. But she’s a little one-dimensional. She reacts to situations realistically and she’s good at surviving, but we don’t get to know much about else about her. I suppose that makes her a lot like Ellen, because to be honest the first movie didn’t have the most fleshed-out characters either.
To be fair, the movie and this game never really sold themselves as stories with interesting character development or a complex plot. It’s more of an experience and a series of shocking events that you watch unfold. It’s extremely entertaining to watch, if I may add.
This game is hard. This game is excruciatingly difficult. It’s frustrating, clever, and constantly challenges you. You’re going to die a lot. You can try a whole run through the game without dying to achieve the coveted “One Shot” trophy/achievement. Or it’d probably be easier to get the trophy/achievement for dying 100 times, which is extremely easy to get in this game.
A feature of this game that I appreciate is saving at emergency phones. It’s a call-back to when games didn’t automatically save. If you die, then you better have saved and gotten a good checkpoint. Otherwise, you’ll have to start from all the way back there. That’s right: ALL the way back there.
The Sevastopol is a maze. Better bring a map Lewis & Clark, ’cause you’re going you going to get lost. There’s some backtracking involved too, which can be very frustrating. As far as enemies, you’ll run into human beings who have a pattern you recognize and pass. Some of them can be pretty hard, but it’s definitely not the hardest part of the game. The second hardest part would be navigating the “Working Joes”. These are cold and unfeeling plastic androids that have a new objective: kill any human being on sight. These androids are pretty hard to kill. Any ol’ fleshy human can go down with a few bullets from a revolver, but that won’t do you any good against the Working Joes. You can throw fireballs at them and they’ll still walk toward you, menacingly.
The crowning achievement of difficulty for Alien: Isolation is the Xenomorph itself. It’s gargantuan and haunting presence will send shivers down your spine. It’s fast, it can hear the smallest sounds, and it’s unpredictable. I am so glad that they made the Xenomorph AI so unpredictable. There’s no set pattern it will follow. It can turn whenever it feels like and goes wherever it wants to. It’s only seeking any loud noises or sudden movements. On top of that, you’re unable to kill it. Even when you get the flamethrower later on in the game, it’s only good for holding it back and scaring it away. You’ll have to outsmart it with distractions like noisemakers, and pick good hiding spots.
Oh, and if you’re trying to run away from a Working Joe and a Xenomorph is in the room, you dead.
Like most linear games, there isn’t a whole lot of replayability. There’s the usual like collectible ID tags, beating your original run time, etc. There are also Survival mode missions. If you really want to test yourself, you can try beating the game at the harder difficulties, because I know you didn’t beat it on Nightmare Mode the first time around.
Although the gameplay is similar to Bioshock and the setting/story is directly inspired from a film franchise, Alien: Isolation is unique in the sense that it is probably the best movie-licensed game ever.
The gameplay isn’t horrid and it understood its source material extremely well. Alien is a movie that I’ve always wanted to experience, and this game answered the call. What made this game so unique is that they developers actually put effort into this. It’s not shoe-horned in like movie tie-in games. They didn’t make a game based on a 35 year-old movie franchise to make money, they made it because it was a good idea.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
This is a great game. It’s visuals and audio are amazing, in spite of a stellar story. I suggest playing this game, even if survival-horror games aren’t your thing, because they’re certainly not mine either. If you love Alien, then you are doing yourself a disservice by not playing this game. As Marlon Brando once said, “Horror has a face…” and it looks a lot like a face with no eyes and another mouth inside its mouth.
Aggregated Score: 8.3