This game was a lot of fun (PC Version)! How can something that scares you and keeps you constantly on edge be fun you ask? Well, that’s the key with these survival games. You have to be a fan and you have to approach this kind of game in a special way. Of course I’m a huge Alien fan and love the universe that Ridley Scott’s Classic introduced in 1979 and was continued by James Cameron in his more action oriented ‘Aliens’. Why I mention the two movies? Because they’re very radically different movies, handling the same subject.
The games industry would of course focus on the action aspect of the Alien franchise and most prominently use the Colonial Marines side of things, we get to see in James Cameron’s film. I must admit that I missed the console and arcade game era and the first Alien game I played was ‘Alien Versus Predator’ that came out in the late 90s for PC. This game was tough. If you didn’t move forward it would keep on throwing hordes of Aliens at you. Something ‘Call Of Duty’ even does today. It’s a cheap mechanic but hey, it was an Alien game… AWESOME! Was it fun? Well… more frustrating. Was it scary? Not so much. A couple of years later came AvP 2. That one was fantastic. I had a good time with that game. Then, nothing for a long time. Two or three years ago then came AvP 3. I bought it expecting to have a good time with it. But it wasn’t. After reading all the bad reviews of the 2013 released ‘Colonial Marines’ game I pretty much gave up. How can these people NOT create an awesome Alien game? Something that solely focusses on the Alien universe, without the Predator aspect. And why does it always have to be the god damn Marines? Why not try something different? Why not focus on what the films made so special and the first movie a classic? The ALIEN!
Well, now in 2014 I would say we finally got the Alien game a lot of die hard fans waited for. It’s not focussing on the Marines and their insane weaponry. No game that wants us to beat the crap out of some Xenomorphs. Absolutely not. Instead you are a young woman who’s an experienced engineer, in an extremely vulnerable situation, just trying to survive. You are the prey of some strange creature from space. And you are not able to kill it. The creature is superior in almost every aspect. All you can do is to avoid it at all costs. If you can’t, there is not much you can do.
Alien: Isolation is set between Ridley Scott’s 1979 ‘Alien’ and James Cameron’s 1986 ‘Aliens’. It tells the story of Amanda Ripley. She’s the daughter of Ellen Ripley who is played by Sigourney Weaver in all the Alien movies. After the events in ‘Alien’ the flight recorder of the Nostromo is found. So Amanda gets contacted by Weyland Yutani (the company that owned the Nostromo) and invited for a trip to a deep space station called Sevastopol. That is where the flight recorder has been brought by a crew of scavengers. Weyland Yutani is a mega-corporation that seems to have a very special interest in everything extra-terrestrial. Amanda of course wants to find out what happened to her mother 15 years ago. So she and a small team want to find out what’s up and are in for a surprise when they arrive at the space station.
The station is owned by a company called ‘Seegson’. Throughout the game we find out more about the history of the station, the company and also about how they wanted to compete with companies like Weyland Yutani. The station was on its way to be decommissioned and so the crew on station is already very reduced when Amanda arrives there. The station immediately has a graveyard vibe to it. Plus the fact that the station has this Alien problem to deal with. For quite some time in the beginning there actually happens nothing in the game. All that’s done there is building atmosphere and kind of tutorial you into the game. Immediately you have a chance to explore the environment and enjoy the fantastic lighting and design. Since the game is pretty much limited to interiors the designers had a lot of resources to use for creating complex lighting and atmospheric effects. It completely pays off. I read one review saying that the game needs a ‘Visitor’ mode… so you can stroll through the station and enjoy the sight. Especially since you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy the environments when the Alien is hunting you.
On your journey through Sevastopol you not only have to deal with the Alien. There are also humans, scared shitless and shooting at everything that moves. We also have the ‘Working Joe’ Android that’s kind of a maintenance bot for the station. These are controlled by APOLLO which is some sort of Operating System for the station. Much like MOTHER for the Nostromo from the Alien movie. These Androids more often than not see you as hostile and try to kill you. Now while you’re able to kill humans rather quickly… the Androids are a different thing. It gets really tricky when you have to deal with the Androids and the Alien at the same time. While other humans can be a welcome distraction to buy you some time when the Alien attacks them… it doesn’t care much for the Androids. Then you need really good timing or an item that helps you to lure the enemy away.
Said items can be crafted. Molotovs, Noisemakers, Pipebombs and Healthpacks can be crafted with materials you find throughout the station. But be careful not to waste them! Other items like ammunition for your Revolver or Flamethrower cannot be crafted of course. There is also an Electroshocker that helps to disable Androids for a few seconds. That allows you to violently beat them down. That’s a pretty intense scene. You could also shoot them but you need a lot of ammo and that would be wasted. Overall it can be said that it’s best to avoid contact with the bad guys at all. Often enough that’s not always possible. And that’s what creates these stressy scary moments that make your heart-rate explode.
Something this game also does is reinventing ‘how to open doors’ in games. I don’t know exactly how many doors I opened in my playthrough but it were a lot. It didn’t bother me much since it’s probably a realistic thing for a station like the one we’re on. It also shows that Amanda is an engineer that knows how to use her skills. Which brings me to a game mechanic that also creates a lot of tension. Actions need time. When you open a door, pull a lever or even save your game… it takes its time. It’s often only a couple of seconds. But when you’re at a savepoint and you hear that sound of the Alien appearing behind you, that creates quite a thrill. Or when you’re looking around in a room trying to find resources and a quick peek on your motion tracker tells you the Alien is about to show up… that sprint to hide in a nearby locker at the very last splitsecond… very thrilling. Then sitting in that locker and watching how that creature is trying to find you and how it (almost paranoid) looks around in that room. That are the moments I always wanted from an Alien game. It’s that cat and mouse game with something that will eventually catch and kill you. Luckily it’s just a game!
Since I liked what Creative Assembly did with this game I looked around watching and reading a lot of reviews. When the game is criticized then it’s very harsh. AI problems, GFX problems, unfairly placed savepoints and the Alien being too predictable. At this point I would have to ask: what version of the game these critics actually played? I encountered none, really NONE, of these problems. Especially the Alien AI is remarkable and only in very rare cases predictable at all. The game can be unfair if you don’t play by its rules and have a good amount of patience. And I guess patience is something that becomes lost more and more? Looking at today’s media… I guess so. And unfair savepoints? I had no problems. This game simply wouldn’t work if you were able to save at all times.
The game does have flaws. Human characters in the game aren’t very fluidly animated. As if they wanted to save some cash by not investing it into some solid motion capture. Civilians you sometimes encounter don’t feel like persons and are nothing more than placeholders. A wasted opportunity to create some emotions for the survivors on station. Also, while I personally didn’t mind it much, I have to admit that it uses a lot of backtracking. Some locations have to be visited multiple times to do something or to get something. There were two or three times where even I thought that it’s a little too much. On the other hand it’s a nice way to let you see and explore more of the station. I wished they also would have had a little more interaction with the station personell in general. There is a passage at the beginning with an NPC that was actually nicely done. Maybe it’s an idea for a sequel to implement a mission where you have to find a person and try to protect them. That would be a nice chance to bring in a character (other than Amanda) you actually really care about.
Ultimately, yes it’s not a perfect game. But when it comes to the Alien material it’s the best we ever got so far. Creative Assembly took some risks with creating a game that’s so different in its game mechanics than any triple A title that’s out there right now. Even with the difficulty on Easy it’s not a sleepwalk through the game. There are a couple of passages that can be quite tricky. When you find the right flow though and use everything you have to distract enemies… you have good chances to make it. It’s also important to use your map and really check out the environment for escape routes or places to hide. The game gives you enough to understand when to be quiet and hide or when to go out and look around. It’s a game that believes in its audience and I think it already found its audience. And that specific audience loves the game. I do love it!
There is a lot to like in that game. It’s not flawless and some might call it repetitive. But I still enjoyed the hell out it. For me it’s the perfect connection between the movies Alien and Aliens.