27 December 2015

Alien: Isolation is a true science fiction horror experience and as it has a lot of shoes to fill after the failure that was Aliens: Colonial Marines. It seems we might have a bright future ahead for the franchise. The game takes on a whole new spin as you find yourself hunted by an unstoppable force that is the Xenomorph. But was this new take on the well known FPS style of gameplay for the series the best choice? Prepare yourself, this is a long one.

Set 15 years after the event of Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi horror masterpiece Alien we follow the story of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Louise Ripley, who since the 1979 original film has been missing in action. Last seen on board of the Nostromos with the only evidence of her survival being on the black box recorder, Amanda is determined to finding the truth behind her mother’s disappearance.

 

Thoughts

Alien: Isolation is different coming from the franchise that usually revolved around the FPS style of gameplay. Developed by Creative Assembly and published by SEGA, we find ourselves pretty much weaponless and on the defense. The story opens with a quick reflection of the events on the film as Ellen Ripley names off the friends and crewmates who have perished in the Nostromos incident, ending with her signing off as her escape vessel sails towards Earth. We are then introduced to Amanda, who 15 years later is an engineer for the Weyland Yutani Corporation. She is asked by Christopher Samuels, a synthetic humanoid employee of Weyland Yutani, if she would like a place on a company excursion to retrieve the black box flight recorder belonging to the Nostromos aboard Sevastopol station. She ultimately accepts as she feels it would bring her some closure to finding out what really became of her mother.

There is a lot to say about Alien: Isolation, but the one we can focus is on has to be the lack of S in FPS. Of course Amanda was not meant to be prepared to fight for her life (who really is anyway?) when she brought aboard Sevastopol. The game wants really wanted to emphasize the feeling of confinement and helplessness as you are ill-equipped to fight what’s to come. The big bonus is that you are adrift in space on what essentially is a floating pile of welded metal and beds with computers filled with a crap-ton of ventilation ducts. It's an amazing throwback to the style and atmosphere of the original film, with the use of late 70’s era rendition of what computers were imagined to be and the techno-gothic inspired ships and structures found through the series. A true homage to the Alien universe, since the previous predecessor to the gaming franchise was not so impressive (Aliens: Colonial Marines). With breathtaking visuals supported by the amazing and already award-winning sound design, a true immersive horror experience is created. 

 

Design

The Experience

There was a lot of design choices in the game that were great to see and a lot of it was used to set tone. Some of the memorable ones are the crap-ton of vents found through the level, as they made you aware that the Xenomorph will and is always close enough to hear you. Things such as the lockers and hiding spots (under beds, counters and table) were also good to include as they provided ways to avoid detection, as long as if you weren't spotted or heard entering them. The game never was exactly clear about the whole hiding under other things besides lockers until the initial tool tip came up or you had accidentally crouched next to one and Amanda's height was adjusted to fit the space. This "cover system" opens a whole new element and experience of gameplay, you find yourself more aware of those spaces as the alien walked by.

Crafting, but why?

See now, I get that Amanda is an engineer but gosh do you not think anyone who finds themselves suddenly in her shoes (regardless of background) can find bits and pieces from a space station, suddenly craft a bomb or an electronic noise maker without some kind of previously acquired toolkit or some extensive knowledge on the topic? So what if Amanda can read those blueprints, it is just not super convenient for Amanda to be carrying these things.

(Those blueprint do NOT count, that is something an insane person drew up or had his equally crazy kid did) 

Especially when you want the player to feel helpless and make them really think about their equipment so that you can drive the reality of "I am stuck on the space station with an alien", instead what had happened is you've given them a drug store inventory equivalent of batteries, ethanol and bottles of glue that Amanda (as long as they preserve them) can pretty much have access to always.

But at least some item had more than one use, as an example the noise maker. You can choose to lure humans NPCs to other areas to either flank from behind of lead them away from an objective they are protecting but if the blood thirsty asshole within you is present that day, then it can also be used to lure the alien to your vicinity and it will take care of the problems for you... but that includes you. So I guess not all the items were a complete waste to invest the scraps into but I do not think it should have been a thing in the first place. Could have just found a rock or throw that scrap you have been hoarding to make noise? Don't need to get so technical with it.

The Alien...

It was both frightening and a pleasure to get to see the alien in its HD glory. It was obvious that a lot of time was invested to crafting and modeling the Xenomorph. You get a lot of up close personal time with it and can really get the sense of quality when you go face to face with it for the first time. Oddly the Xenomorph is obnoxiously loud and is sometimes seen on a patrol, strutting about looking for it’s next prey (likely was just for the level). It felt really out of character BUT in a way this detail felt somewhat intentional as it gave a dominant, alpha feel to it’s characteristic. As if you shouldn’t mess with it and in doing so will be the end of Amanda.

A lot of personal deaths were due to being impatient and rushing objectives due to outright fear. The feature I enjoyed is that the Alien is not scripted to show up (on most “missions objectives”) but instead it likely will and can appear at any point of the game meaning that you should never drop your guard. The Xenomorph seems to enjoy playing with it’s food before striking as I have seen on multiple occasion, it had chosen to use the vent instead of running directly to me. It only made you wish it would just kill you so you can start over but it never does.

Animation Awkwardness

The animation in some cut scenes are unusual as I find Amanda doesn’t like to make eye contact with a lot of people and even the people on Sevastopol are also a tad bit robotic. It doesn’t happen ALL the time but it is very noticeable when it actually does. Weirdly and creepily the Seegson Robots or Working Joe’s seems more human like. Lip syncing is not the easiest thing to animate but It seemed at some points the characters looked like they were speaking a different language and it was dubbed over in English.

To me it looked like some parts were rushed and others were done extremely well. I won't hold it to them since I can't do it any better but from an IP this big you have some level of expectation right?

When does it end?!

Alien: Isolation is a very long game for a solo journey (about 11-13 hours if you take you're time). You get to meet plenty of people of various personalities aboard Sevastopol as you trek through the various areas of the station and all of which are jaw dropping in visuals. But I think Creative Assembly achieved this longevity by really dragging the story since they have you moving to places just to turn this on or off and pushing buttons, pulling levers just so they can hold on the story and a lot of it feels very unjustified. You wander back and forth between stages just to reach new parts of the station and it's a heck of a lot to travel. 

My first 6 hours of gameplay were fresh and kept me very immersed, but the further you get into the game the more you start to stress it. My suggestion would be to try and hold on for as long as possible... Just endure the lengthy travels and really obscure request and just continue the journey, it will get better as the near end is full of action. Plus as a fan of the movies, it's a unique perspective and experience.

True terror

This is a fantastic game, but the worst part was that it brought out my deepest and darkest fear (next to deep ocean waters), being chased. With the help of the outstanding musical score done by Joe Henson and Alexis Smith being queued the moment the Xenomorph spots you, it gave me knots in my stomach as the alien begins those 4-foot long strides in your direction. I'd like to say that It is very possible to escape the alien, (I have heard from multiple people that it's near impossible) you can try to take sharp corners and try to quickly use a locker or go under a desk but just be aware that sounds plays a huge role in the alien AI and it knows the difference between metals doors and plastic desks. Be sure to drop some of those makeshift MP3 players and hope it follows those instead of you.

Conclusion

Alien: Isolation has set a new bar for the franchise and we should not expect any less in the future. Not to say that there is more Alien games to come but we can only hope. The amazing environmental visuals and award winning sound design bring a true immersive horror experience to the game. The Xenomorph AI is brilliant and fitting to the creature as it stalks and hunts you, and kills when you least expect it. At the current price of $54.99 CAD or $39.99 USD it is great game to add to your collection. I would still advise waiting for a sale before picking it up but either option I think is still a good deal. 

This review was done on a PC Gaming platform with the initial game fully updated to the latest release with all DLCs installed (no DLC was included in this review). All screenshots were done personally and edited by myself. All aspects of this review is a personal opinion and is not meant to be an official statement from Scaredtoplay.com. 

PC Rig :

Asus Maximus Hero IV Motherboard / Intel Core i7 - OC to 4.2ghz / G.Skill Ripjaws 16Gb 1600mhz / Asus GTX970 STRIX 4GB / 750W Seasonic MI2(II) EVO / x2 Samsung 850EVO 250GB SSD - RAID0 Config w/ 4TB Western Digital Green HDD 

About the Author

Jason Tsang

Editor

https://scaredtoplay.com
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