So, it’s been a long time since something has peaked the interest of that which is both Cynical and Cyclical, but here is one thing that has finally broken the monotony: Alien Isolation. This is a game terrifying, heart racing, infuriating, brilliant, beautiful, sinister and completely aware of and faithful to its source material. Although it is possible that the series previous bag of entrails Aliens: Colonial Marines was such an extraordinary let down, my belief in Sega was so low, that I was always going to prefer this game, it’s safe to say that I actually love it.
First up the gripes (I like griping):
Why are Androids evil? And do they dream of Electric Sheep? The androids have to be evil because Ash. It feels a little force fed. The inhuman androids are not the Wayland Corp human replicant type that we’ve seen before however, but a little more plastic, like someone just skipped out on spending a few extra quid to make them human – a theme of Seegsons lack of investment in the station and indeed its ultimate downfall.
You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, of Alien/s/3 fame. It’s a little feeble. If her addition is a little “by the numbers” we do get rather attached to Amanda or at least attached enough to want to avoid seeing her brains not being splattered by an eight foot, drooling, acid blooded, banana headed killing machine. So this point is forgiveable.
Sometimes, the AI lets itself down a little. The Alien itself is great. It’s an ever present danger and oft appears when you’d least want it to – try running from deranged Androids only to get plucked through an air vent by the waiting, hungry Xenomorph for more details. But some of the human and android AI’s are a little bit, well, dumb as a bucket of soup. If you hide in a closet long enough you can watch enemies walk around a pre-programmed circuit, if they are not staring straight at you they often don’t notice you stalking across a room or banging a closet door shut. Example: When a guard is more intent on staring a beautifully rendered dust mote falling from the ceiling than a door which just opened unexpectedly behind him, whilst an Alien stalks about station, it does take you out of the game a little.
Enough moaning. Alien Isolation is incredible!
Environment: The environment feels at once familiar and hostile – like an Old Folks home. The walls, the pipes, the enclosed spaces, the controls, the computers, even the deck plates, lockers, storage rooms, the sphincter/iris ventilation shafts, all put you right back into the universe of the original film.
Atmosphere: Rather like it’s celluloid based forbearer, Alien Isolation is a cramped, claustrophobic, intense, nerve wracking experience. You move (slowly) from one crouch point to another as the banging pipes above your head threaten to drop an Alien on top of you. Every corner is approached with apprehension, every door or vent that opens leaves a palpable relief when IT isn’t in there waiting for you. The lighting and sound effects and the rising and fading of beautifully timed music all add up to create a wonderfully immersive experience.
Gameplay: This is a survival horror in every sense. You have to survive by wits and cunning, you don’t have a weapon with unlimited rounds to blast your foes away, you have to be smarter than that. You work your way through the game by hiding, baiting traps, waiting and only ever striking directly at the most pressing need. That said, this is not boring, rather it’s an intense battle of will to stay alive, to avoid the grasping talons of the beast itself, or the gun shots of frightened survivors or even the brutal Seegson Ash wannabes. Fighting is not your friend. Amanda is not inhumanly strong, she doesn’t even run fast. She is very human, a bit slow, a bit loud and not a great shot – although that last may have been more my slow fingers than Amanda’s slow aiming time. You spent a lot of time watching the motion tracker bleeping as things that you don’t want to play with hover around you, sucking in your breath as something decides to take a close up peek at the cupboard you’re hiding in. Patience and force of will to survive are your allies.
Story: The story is solid enough. You are on a mostly abandoned space station, Rapture in space almost for those Bioshock fans out there. A few survivors scurry this way and that, usually stopping just long enough to try to kill you if they are that way inclined, which most are. The individual objective changes as the game progresses, but the essence is: trapped on space station, have to leave space station – it’s basically the premise of Alien, but with the first hour cut out. I won’t go into plot spoilers of course, but you are there initially hunting down the recently unearthed flight recorder of the starship Nostomo. You arrive at the space station Sevastapol and it is quickly apparent that all is not as it should be. As you move around the Station you pick up the – almost mandatory – audio logs of those dead and gone, which fill in a wonderfully rich history of the downfall of Sevastapol and Seegson, whilst giving you some nods to the nefarious Wayland Yutani of course.
Solid game, superb gameplay, great effects and atmosphere. Much love, blood, sweat and tears has clearly gone into this and by God, it almost makes up for the pulsating mass of bile and intestinal scrapings in video game form that was Colonial Marines…okay, I may have gone too far. Nothing can undo that game. But this one is a darned fine try. It’s lightning in a bottle to be honest though and I hope that Sega don’t try too hard to push the franchise in this direction by creating a “series” of these. The next attempt will surely be a poor impersonator of this work of graphical and technical art – though surely preferable to the shooty-shooty mess that they keep making every time they put the ‘S’ on the end of the word Alien. A couple of issues, but overall, the best game that I have played in a handful of years. Fully recommended.
81 out of 82 stars. Enjoy.