Alien: Isolation review – Hold your breath

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The first time I watched Alien was when I was 13. I wanted to engross myself into Ridley Scott’s space horror masterpiece after experiencing the more action-oriented Aliens from James Cameron. There was a sense of tranquil beauty that Scott’s Alien had that really can’t be explained in words. Certainly it’s not one in the trilogy that easily translates into a video game. That’s where Creative Assembly comes in with Alien: Isolation. How can a developer whose portfolio consists of mainly strategy games create an authentic survival horror experience? For all its positive previews and reaction videos, Isolation is a game wrought with expectations and scrutiny. It’s hard not to when the fiasco that was Colonial Marines stained the hopes of anything good to come out of the Alien franchise. Nevertheless, Sega tries one more time to impress the legions of Alien diehards.

Isolation is touted as a direct sequel of Alien, throwing the player into the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of the original’s Ellen Ripley. A transmission arrives from the space station Sevastopol that claims to have discovered the flight recorder of the Nostromos, the ship that her mother was aboard. Amanda joins a crew to retrieve the device, hoping it would contain some information to bring some closure to her mother’s mysterious disappearance. Unfortunately, the station seems void of any human being while Amanda begins to discover someone or something has turned the station into a ghost town. It ddoesn’t take long for Isolation to pull the player into its impending nightmare.

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The creature (or Xenomorph, however you want to refer to it) is the singular most terrifying thing on the Sevastopol. It makes the first hours of the game all the more difficult to check every nook and cranny of your surroundings to make sure it doesn’t suddenly maul you. Even something as simple as turning on the flashlight leaves you breathless for that one moment hoping that phallic head isn’t staring directly into your unfortunate human eyes. The alien’s keen senses will react to any sound you make and will often patrol an area for an extended period of time stalking its prey (that’s you). Having virtually nothing to combat, the creature leaves you with little choice but to stay out of sight. Wait long enough and it might leave, but that only creates a false sense of security before it drops on top of you again. Running is also another option that spells certain death no matter how tempting it is. The brutality of the AI will punish even the most patient players. Make no mistake, it’s out to kill you and you will die a lot.

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As much as I make the Alien sound like an unrelenting killing organism (well, it is), there are a handful of ways to keep it at bay. Ripley can make the use of a handful of items to deal with whatever problem arises. Scattered across the station are raw materials you can combine together to construct items that may be useful along the way. The noisemaker emits a sound that attracts the alien to its location. Throw it in the opposite direction and hopefully it would stall it long enough for you to reach your destination. Eventually you will come across some firearm, but their usefulness is limited only to human opponents and the android workers you will meet. Your best friend in the game is the motion tracker. Pulling up the tracker will display any moving objects on its radar, giving you adequate time to make your getaway or find a “safe” hiding spot. Much of your time will be spent staring at the little dots on the screen hoping the dots move far enough to give you enough time to slip past it. It also will contributes to that false sense of hope I was referring to earlier leading you peering into the two sets of jaws about to impale your face. In fact, the most relieving thing about the game is discovering a new manual save points disguised as payphones thanks to the developers thinking it was a good idea to make you WAIT 3 seconds as you insert your keycard and hold your breath hoping nothing appears in that short span of time to make that progress all for naught. It’s nerve whacking to say the least.

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What really makes Isolation an authentic experience is that it really nails down the aesthetics of the original Aliens. The retro futurism of the DOS-like terminals, messy crew quarters, the almost sterile white of the endless corridors you’ll traverse are worth praising for detail alone. Dark hallways lit up in succession to reveal what once was, pillaged medical rooms show signs of struggles, and commercial shops have closed shutters. Those are all the evidence of a former bustling hub. When the alien isn’t breathing down your neck, the desolation and silence of the Sevastopol is truly breathtaking. You’ll discover a rich amount of history hidden in the terminal computers scattered across the game. These give you clues of the station’s eventual demise and why the hell you’re running away from a ten-foot killer. (Something I wish would apply for the other survivors you encounter along the way.) The number of characters you eventually meet can probably be counted on one hand and they serve no more than a means of messing things up and often end up making your escapes harder than it already is.

Among the other enemies you have to worry about besides the alien are the working Joes, synthetics manufactured by the station’s own company Seegson. They make up the majority of the actual combat you’ll face in the game. While they’re slow and easy to outrun, the looming threat of the alien makes them difficult to fight. Ammo is scarce and add to the fact that aiming your tiny reticle at anything means “run ‘n’ gun” approach usually ends in a swift game over.

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It’s all good that Isolation is the piss-in-your-pants horror game that Creative Assembly promises, but that came with one glaring issue: when to know closure. Like Amanda seeking information on her mother, there needed to be some form of closure to the game’s most poignant or even crucial moments. The characters you meet along the way become largely unimportant in the grand scheme of things. The game presents itself in a way that feels like the “climax” is happening and the ending is near, only to have another bomb of twists dropped on you. It’s Murphy’s law cranked up to the max so much that it becomes a natural line of progression to hoping when Isolation wants to end. Don’t get me wrong, these later sequences are as intense as they come, however it felt bloated and unnecessary given the circumstances you fall into. By the time you realize it’s the ending, you’ll feel like someone was taking more scenes just to screw with you. And by the latter half, I became frustrated by the game’s lack of resolve to conclude even anything that transpired in the 17 hours of hell.

Isolation does a lot of things right when it comes to fulfilling the dreams of an authentic Alien game. The sense of dread is always prevalent as you jump through hoops to cover the smallest distance between you and your destination. But unlike the crew members of the Nostromos, Amanda is gifted with the powers of a video game and will learn to deal with the alien. Even the creature will eventually become more of a nuisance than a fright. It’s not the perfect Alien game, and finishing it may even give you a new perspective on lockers. As they say: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Rating: 3.5/5 Atoms

NR 3_5 Atoms - B-

 

Review code provided for PC version. First play through took about 17 hours. And lots and lots of dying.

 

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Hokan Lo
Hokan Lo 324 posts

Hokan Lo is a contributing writer and photographer for Nerd Reactor. He likes Pizza Butts and Mello Yellow. You can contact him on twitter @colorinlive. <a href="http://nerdreactor.com/about/">Meet the Nerd Reactor Team</a>