It’s been a long time since I started playing Alien: Isolation. I liked it immediately, but a personal hiatus from horror caused a massive delay. Now, at last, I’ve beaten it… and I can say without hesitation that every survival horror fan should give Alien: Isolation a try.
For fans of the original Alien movie, Alien: Isolation is a tribute at its finest. Instead of feeling like fanservice or a successor in name only, it captures the tone and aesthetics of the film with startling attention to detail.
When it comes to survival horror, Alien: Isolation provides a modern spin on classic mechanics. Unlike modern survival horror games like Amnesia and Slender, you don’t play a helpless protagonist. You have weapons, and you can fight–but pick your fights wisely, because you’re far from a powerhouse and too much noise could attract the Alien’s attention. It brings back the fight-or-flight elements many horror games have lacked lately. Locked doors, backtracking (oh, it feels so good to return to an older area and see a locked door you now have the means to open), minor puzzles, and scattered notes to help tell Sevastopol Station’s story all revive the mechanics of classic survival horror without feeling dated.
And what Alien: Isolation accomplishes best of all is instilling a persistent sense of dread and tension. Maybe it isn’t the scariest game. Something like Amnesia (or Justine) might have it beat for brief moments of sheer terror. But if you want a game that will gnaw at you, leave you feeling anxious and unsafe, and torment you with quiet, unrelenting dread, Alien: Isolation is the one for you.
The Alien, the xenomorph itself, is the same sort of menacing presence from the original film. It can kill you in one hit, don’t even think about running from it, and its ability to travel through the space station’s vents means it can get around very quickly and pop up just about anywhere.
You’ll spend a lot of time hiding, sneaking, watching your motion tracker (but be careful the noise doesn’t attract it!), and possibly using distractions, but if you try the same trick too many times, the Alien will eventually catch on. Yeah, it’s smart. Just what you wanted to hear, right? Conventional weapons don’t work on it… molotov cocktails and the eventual flamethrower will make it back off, but only for a short period of time. Everything about the Alien is designed to make you feel vulnerable and paranoid.
I mentioned combat earlier, and that’s because the Alien isn’t your only enemy. Many other human survivors are hostile, and Sevastopol’s resident androids, the Working Joes, are out to politely kill you. They’re also deliberately in the Uncanny Valley.
A lot of the Joes’ dialogue falls somewhere between black humor and pure nightmare fuel. As they calmly say, “You are becoming hysterical” while throttling you or remind you of proper safety protocols while hunting you down, they remind me of the Taken’s bizarre lines in Alan Wake… but much more sinister. As I crawled into a vent and listened to the android outside tell me how patient he is, I was almost as tense as if the Alien was after me.
Almost. At least Working Joes can be killed, if not easily.
In addition to standard weapons, Alien: Isolation has a crafting system. I devoted most of my crafting resources to making medkits, molotov cocktails, and EMP mines, because my lack of stealth skills made it easier for me to risk taking damage than to try to use distractions. Still, the number of craftable items means you can approach different situations in a variety of ways.
So the gameplay is brilliant survival horror and the atmosphere is perfect… what about the story?
As a standalone experience, Alien: Isolation doesn’t have the strongest storytelling. You play as Amanda Ripley, who goes to Sevastopol Station after it obtains the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Her search for her mother is the game’s premise, but even that is overshadowed by the survival story. As a sequel to Alien, however, the story’s little touches and shout-outs make it more notable, but the plot still isn’t its strong point. None of the characters were particularly memorable aside from Amanda’s sheer will to survive, but all the same, it has some moments that resonated with me.
Now, one of the biggest complaints about Alien: Isolation is that it drags on a bit. That, I have to agree with. Near the end, its plot twists started to feel less like plot twists and more like forced setbacks to make the game go on longer, which was a little aggravating. I don’t think it should have been much shorter, but a couple of the final chapters could probably have been cut to the game’s benefit.
Even so, this was a great experience and I’m happy I played it. It’s one of the most enjoyable survival horror games I’ve played in a while, and I’d love to see The Creative Assembly explore the genre further. If you’re a survival horror fan looking for a new game that lives up to the classics, I have no qualms about recommending Alien: Isolation.
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