Alien: Isolation Review
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Alien: Isolation Box Art
System: PS4*, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Dev: Creative Assembly
Pub: Sega
Release: October 7, 2014
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood, Violence, Strong Language
You Almost Had It
by Angelo M. D'Argenio

Alien: Isolation has me torn. On one hand, it is leaps and bounds above basically every other video game that has used the Alien IP (with perhaps an exception for the original Alien vs. Predator). It finally understands that Alien isn’t just purely an action franchise. It has elements of horror and stealth in it, which is actually what makes Alien: Isolation so much fun to play.

On the other hand, it still lags behind other games in all genres that is toys around with. Its action elements are fun but clunky and stiff. Its stealth elements are interesting, but basic. Its horror elements are genuinely scary, but are few and far between and separated by long sections of game that just don’t build tension correctly. Alien: Isolation is a constant back and forth of “OOOOOH THAT’S AWESOME!” and “oh man this is so frustrating.”

In Alien: Isolation you take control of Ellen Ripley’s Daughter Amanda, wandering through the space station Sevastopol. This broken down hunk of junk just so happens to have a problem with the titular Xenomorphs, and it’s up to you to investigate what happened, discover the truth about your mother, and generally do everything you can to not die.

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The game shines brightest whenever you are having an encounter with a Xenomorph that would really rather have you for lunch then talk about good old Mom. Far separated from previous games in the Alien franchise, the Xenomorphs here aren’t simply cookie cutter enemies for you to unload an SMG into. They are a dark and malevolent force, ready to end your life if you make on mis-step. They are characterized much more like the ominous presence in Silent Hill, and this is a HUGE step forward for the whole Alien series.

Alien: Isolation Screenshot

You see, Alien movies work because we are afraid of the Xenomorphs. We are on the edge of our seats, waiting for the point where the Alien drops through the ceiling and thins the ranks of our plucky group of survivors. That’s what you feel like while playing Alien: Isolation. You know that an Alien can attack you at any moment, and your job is to survive when it does.

You will be able to use several different gadgets in your quest for survival. You can use a motion tracker that maps out the location of other moving objects (note: likely an Alien trying to kill you). You can use a couple guns and a flamethrower to hold enemies at bay (note: likely Aliens trying to kill you.) You can use noisemakers to cause a distraction (note: in order to run away from aliens trying to kill you.)

Alien: Isolation Screenshot

However, the most useful tools you will have are your eyes and ears. Get a good pair of headphones or a good surround sound system if you are going to play this game. Being able to hear Xenomorphs skittering through ducts is not only terrifying, but also a great way to avoid them. It breeds this sense of immersion in the game, where you aren’t being given an on-screen prompt to say “uh-oh, the enemies are coming.” Instead it’s your, the players, own survival instincts that kick in any time you hear clanging metal.

Aside from this, your most effective method of avoiding Xenomorphs is hiding. Keep your back to the wall, crouch down low, peer around corners, and slowly make your way through dangerous areas. If you notice an Alien and it hasn’t noticed you, turn in the opposite direction. If an Alien has noticed you, run for the nearest hiding space, like a locker or behind a door, and hope that it didn’t see you get in there. There is even a “breath holding” mechanic that lets you stay even more silent and invisible to Aliens, but holding your breath makes you lose health, so you can’t just do so randomly and frequently. This also means that, if you already took a lot of damage from an Alien encounter, it will be harder to stay calm and hide, an interesting little play on stealth mechanics that we really haven’t seen before.

So, I’ve only sung the games praises so far, but note that I’ve only been talking about the Aliens themselves. Whenever there isn’t an Alien on the screen, the game progresses at a snail’s pace. The story progresses through bits and pieces of exposition that play as you explore the space station. However, even these bits of exposition are dealt out slowly after long periods of wandering. In the beginning of this game, this wandering serves to create a feeling of… wait for it… isolation (#TitleDrop). However, as the game goes on, these exploration segments just feel like padding to draw out the game. You’ll frequently feel yourself groaning and waiting for something to happen, and that’s not a good feeling for a horror game.

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