Title: Alien Isolation
Developer: Creative Assembly
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBOX One
Verdict: 9 (out of 10)
The following review is based upon my experiences with the XBOX One version of the game.
The motion tracker picks up movement, though there is no discernible location. The erratic pings indicate whatever life form is nearby is coming from all directions. I cannot see it, but I can hear it – in the walls. The ceiling quakes as foot steps are heard on the floor above, dust falling before me as the light flickers, interrupted by the weight of whatever is upstairs. I can only imagine what is pursuing me, but I would rather not, as an animalistic scream, like nothing I have ever heard, broaches the atmosphere. Remaining crouched, to minimize the sound of my feet, I finally get to the elevator, a raucous noise emanating from within as it begins to make its descent. The elevator nearby suddenly opens, and as I approach, two humans make their way out into the open, each suspiciously observing me, their fists raised. We stand off, waiting to see who will blink first. I raise my motion tracker, noticing there are not three life forms in the vicinity of the elevator; there are four. Lowering the device, I spot the tail of an alien life form dangling in the vent shaft behind the humans in front of me, which is retracted as quickly as it appeared, the animalistic cry again piercing through the air. The humans run, the elevator still yet to arrive. The sound of something being torn open is heard over the creaking of the elevator doors, as I rush inside to push the button that will raise the lift, the sound of heavy footsteps approaching reverberating across the walls. The sound of Ripley’s heartbeat is erratic in my ear, and I cannot help but wonder whose is beating faster; mine, or hers? As the elevator moves onward, I heave a sigh of relief. For the moment I am safe, but in less than thirty seconds, the process will repeat again.
This is just five minutes of Alien Isolation, a game which perfectly thrusts you into an atmospheric nightmare, where the hiss of a pipe, the drip of liquid, or the clanging of a ventilation shaft, could be sure signs of the xenomorph’s proximity. This is intensified by the foreboding soundtrack, the unsettling ambiance indicating that something terrible is approaching. That tight knot you feel in your stomach as you find yourself moving down a corridor, is fear, and Alien Isolation cranks up the juice until you’re retreating into your chair, and temporarily forgetting how to control your bladder.
For me, I have always been a fan of intelligent horror movies, including recent additions to the genre: Insidious, The Conjuring, Dark Skies and Mama. What makes Alien Isolation so terrifying however, is that you are not watching as a temporary visitor to this fictitious world; you are instead, up to your eyes in it, and in a game that is capable of spanning more than twenty hours, the tension is certainly enough to unnerve even the most hardened horror veteran. I actually had to laugh when my father, who is often bored by horror movies, leapt several feet into the air, the first time the alien came charging down a corridor towards him.
Upon beginning the game with the Kinect attached moreover, I was notified that if I wanted, the Kinect sensor could detect the sound in the room. As an example, if I were to sneeze, speak, or suddenly receive a phone call, the alien would track the noise, rendering the safety of home, obsolete.
What makes Alien Isolation even more disconcerting, is the immense difference it has when in contrast with other survival horror titles, including, The Suffering, The Thing, Cold Fear and Dead Space, where the character is bestowed with a wealth of fire power. In Alien Isolation though, the severely limiting resources and lack of offensive armaments ensue flight rather than fight is the most common response. Again, unlike in these other titles, Amanda Ripley is bathed in fear as she constantly fights for her life, the sound of her heavy breathing or thumping heart bursting through your ears. In this sense, you truly become the character, and in doing do, you not only witness evil, you feel it, crawling up and down your skin.
This is made even more hectic by the situations you are frequently placed in. Occasionally you need to memorize codes to unlock doors, or use a blow torch or specialized device to hack into a locked area (people who have played the Dead Space games will witness a similarity here), all the while attempting to operative covertly and quickly to avoid being detected.
The graphics additionally assist in developing the terror. Sweat covers the faces of human characters during game and in cinematics alike. Locations appear and feel as they have previously in the first two alien films, but especially the original. The cloaking darkness fills you with a sense of despair as you attempt to fathom what could be hiding in its depths, but light itself also fails to provide you with a sense of comfort. Despite been armed with a flashlight (although batteries in the future are apparently no where near as powerful as they are today), I infrequently found myself using it, with even the darkest areas becoming visible after my eyes acclimatised to my surrounds. Unlike in traditional horror movies where the dark is never your ally, in Alien Isolation, if you are anything like me, you will feel marginally safer when in darkness, rather than traversing around with a source of light accompanying you, which serves as the perfect tool to be spotted sooner.
Furthermore, similar to an adventure title, there are lots of opportunities to scavenge random items about the environment which can then be used to build an assortment of pieces, from health packs, pipe bombs, to EMP grenades (which unfortunately require eight separate items to be constructed). Ripley can only carry so much of each item, however, none of it is unanimous, with your character only carrying three of one item, while having the ability to hold five of another. In this sense, your choices on what to craft, are as essential as your choices on which corridor you move down next.
Occasionally though, it is imperative to explore other locations where checkpoints may not be available, for in these areas, equipment blueprints may be uncovered, and if you do not find one, then that particular item will be henceforth unavailable to you for the entirety of the game. Similar to a number of the survival horror titles I mentioned above, rather than the game automatically check-pointing your progress, Ripley needs to do this for herself by finding save stations on her journey, which are normally only located in the direction of primary objectives (hence straying off the path to find items becomes quite the gamble). I know GameSpot in their review mentioned there were few checkpoints available, however I would argue against that. Checkpoints are often spaced rather close together. What makes it so difficult, is that an area that might normally take four minutes to travel through, may take up to twenty, when you are attempting to sneak around an enemy. This leads me to another disagreement I have with the statements made by GameSpot. Their claim, was that you infrequently see the alien. I strongly disagree. Although every person’s experience will be different, there were several missions, one after another, in which all I ever did was see the persistent life form as it proceeded to hunt me down, time and time again.
Bulletproof, and equipped with a very bad attitude, the alien tracks the player not only by sight, but by sound and smell as well. You would think Amanda would have this knowledge herself, and yet, when going to hide in a locker, she violently flings it open, before slamming it closed, and anyone in the vicinity would have to be tone deaf not to hear the ruckus. Hiding, in this sense, as you are sure to discover, is never a permanent solution.
Distractions, including flares, smacking walls with your equipment, and creatable machines that make random sounds, can be thrown to temporarily lure the alien’s attention. The alien however adapts to the tactics that you use, and after a while, rather than choosing to investigate the flare, the creature will instead choose to investigate where it originated. It certainly is no fool, and although the motion tracker helps give an approximate location, not only is this device loud, and very bright, but it isn’t always accurate. On more than one occasion, I confirmed the alien was moving in one direction, but, without my knowing, it double-backed, and I ran right into it.
Humans and synthetics alike also prove a common threat (though there are exceptions, with the occasionally helpful individual), with synthetics especially proving to be a difficult foe to dispatch. Despite having the capacity to be thwarted (you can escape into a vent and travel out the other side without a synthetic knowing), the amount of damage they can take is astronomical, and unless you have a shotgun, or an EMP, it is perhaps a recommendation to avoid acquiring their attention at all costs. Later still, there appear synthetics immune to EMP grenades altogether, making the journey even more strenuous, so even after having mastered a specific technique to defeat a particular combatant, you are then required to again, alter your tactics.
Alien Isolation is a terrifying descent into a stress-provoking environment, and if you happen to suffer from an anxiety disorder like I do, the game does nothing but unnerve you further. Although sometimes environments might feel repetitive, and on rare occasion there may even be a graphical anomaly, Alien Isolation captures vulnerability and terror perfectly in this sci-fi horror masterpiece.