After six days, my journey across the Sevastopol comes to an end as I reach the climax of Alien: Isolation. So how was the game? In a word: FANTASTIC. …Not without its fair share of problems, however.
Let’s get this out of the way first – Alien: Isolation is the Alien game I always wanted to play. It’s tense, taught, and has a story that fits right in with the mythos created by the first and second films (as well as some of the comics and books). When you’re traversing the Sevastopol avoiding the xenomorph, the atmosphere created makes you feel as though you really are part of the Alien universe. The attention to detail is absolutely astounding, with a special focus put on the lighting. The sound design is also phenomenal, using everything from music and sound effects from the first film to cameos by the original cast members via audio logs. If you’re an Alien fan, this game is a complete feast for the senses. It’s the third Alien film we always wanted and never got.
Gameplay consists of, mostly, sneaking around. As you begin, sneaking is relegated to hiding behind various props within a room, ducking in lockers, and generally avoiding line of sight. It’s especially tense in the beginning, as you have no items to assist in this endeavor. The creature itself comes relatively late in the game, two hours in, but you do get hints and quick shots of its presence several times before its grand entrance. Don’t think that means you’re safe until that point, however – there are also humans on the station ready to fill you with bullets just for being there. The Sevastopol is a dangerous space station pushed into anarchy by a chaotic situation, and it’s your job to survive while accomplishing the tasks at hand.
Playing Amanda Ripley, a character introduced in a deleted scene in Aliens, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, your main task is, ostensibly, to discover the truth behind what happened to your mother during the first film (remember that Ripley became trapped in cryo-stasis for 57 years between Alien and Aliens, leaving plenty of time gap to tell stories in the interim). There are, of course, other tasks to be had, such as turning on and off certain systems within the Sevastopol, but finding the flight recorder of the Nostromo is the main task always looming over you. You do, eventually, accomplish this task to a certain extent, just enough to give the player closure, but the game does not end at that point. There are still creatures, and androids to contend with, not to mention, trying to get off the station in one piece. I would argue that your main task in the game is simply survival, and everything else is secondary, although you need to trigger these events in order to progress.
You do, eventually, start getting items in the form of blueprints and weapons. Once you’ve found a blueprint, you can use parts you’ve picked up around the station to build devices such as “noisemakers” and “pipe-bombs.” Each item can help you as you either try to remain unseen, or blow the crap out of your enemy. The more items you collect throughout the game, the easier it becomes to achieve that task, though the fear of running out of ammunition or parts always looms. Eventually, once you get the flame thrower, a lot of what made the game tense dissipates, as it allows you to dispatch the creature for a short time. The flame thrower, essentially, becomes your health bar. Just make sure to use it in short bursts. There is a short section of the game where you loose your arsenal, but don’t worry, you’ll get it back. It’s meant to bring the tension back to the game after getting overloaded with stuff, I’m sure, but the area in which it happens is so long that it eventually becomes frustrating and you just want it to end.
About three-quarters into the game, there is a long – about two hours – section where you don’t deal with the alien at all, but rather, the Working Joe androids. They’re dangerous, and you can’t really melee them like you can humans (unless you get stun baton ammo, but I only had 5 reloads of that throughout my playthrough), but they’re fairly easy to dispatch nonetheless. I ended up kiting them around several areas, including a row of computer banks, not unlike a perverse game of Pac-Man. A few pipe bombs and molotov cocktails later and they’re destroyed. The stealthy and tense nature of the game is practically nonexistent during this prolonged section, and you’ll be praying for the return of the creature by the time you find the bolt gun, which can dispatch androids in one hit. It’s a misstep in pacing during an otherwise fantastic game.
Although I won’t spoil it, the ending is also rather anti-climactic. It leaves the game open for a sequel, sure, but so did every other Alien movie, so I’m not sure why we couldn’t have a bit more closure with Amanda rather than the abrupt nature of the final scene. It’s a sour note, to be sure, but I understand why they did it. I just don’t think it was necessary.
Overall, I absolutely relished my time with Alien: Isolation, and cannot, for the life of me, understand how any reviewer could call this game mediocre. Even if you don’t like the genre, it’s a slick, beautiful, well made title, and the first Alien game that truly nails the scope of the mythos. It feels like an apology for Colonial Marines, which was probably the low point of Alien gaming. I can say, with utmost confidence, apology accepted.