At this year’s Pax Prime event in Seattle, there was one title that I was extremely eager to get my hands on from the start, so on Friday, during the hour press sneak peek I headed straight for Sega’s booth to finally get my first hands on with Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation. From the moment I watched the Alien drop from the ceiling, I knew this was a day one must have for me.
From the get go Alien: Isolation establishes itself as a successor to Ridley Scott’s terrifying sci-fi vision Alien. The game puts you in the shoes of Amanda Ripley, the daughter that was briefly mentioned in Aliens, a movie solely responsible for my utter hatred of Paul Reiser. (No offense dude, you just played douchebag really well). The events in Isolation take place roughly 15 years after Ellen Ripley “blew it out of the goddamn airlock” it being the Alien, Amanda has been working as a Technician for Weyland Yutani, when she is approached by a Weyland Yutani executive who advises her that the flight recorder for her mother’s tragic flight has been found, and offers her the chance to be part of the salvage team that retrieves it from the space station where it was brought. Unfortunately, as it is anytime Weyland Yutani is involved in something, things do not quite go as planned.
The first thing I noticed about Isolation is the insane level of detail the team at Creative Assembly put into the game, everything looked as if the team was part of the production team for the original Alien movie, from the hallways to sound effects Isolation captures perfectly the claustrophobic dread that Ridley Scott had created so wonderfully in the film, and somehow transferred it to a massive space station, populated by an Alien, Working Joes, and hysterical survivors who are trying to simply survive against the perfect organism, and that’s the thing, the Alien is perfect, it cannot be killed, players are forced to rely on various devices that Amanda can find blueprints for around the station, setting up an interesting risk vs reward type scenario that led to many “Do I really want to try to sneak through that dark corridor” moments during my play through, and dark corridors are in abundance in this game, add in ventilation shafts and you have yourself the perfect environment for the longest most terrifying game of hide and go seek made into a video game.
The overall atmosphere of Isolation is dread, and this is accomplished rather exceptionally by the programming that went into everyone’s favorite bipedal, acid for blood creature. One of the biggest things that caught my attention about this title was how the Alien was approached. It knows Amanda is on the station, it actively pursues, hunts and uses every option to track her down, and kill her, something it does extremely well, in the few confrontations where players survive the encounter with the Alien, they are left with minimal health, something I got used to the further I progressed through the game, in fact I think the only time I had full health in the game was in the beginning, and I mean the very beginning, like opening scene beginning, but enough about my health through the game, and back to the Alien. As I stated, the Alien itself is a formidable ever relentless killer, and is animated beautifully, each movement deadly and graceful, like a jungle cat. My first encounter with it left me sitting on the edge of my couch, gripping my control with a white knuckled grip. The creature came out of the ceiling, like an inky droplet of death, hissing as it rose from all fours to look around, this was a moment I thought I was ready for, but even though I had played through this exact scene while in Seattle, I was still left with goosebumps, wishing there was more than just a computer desk between me and the creature. This particular scene played out multiple times, and each time left me in the same state, clutching my controller, and holding my breath, praying that the creature would continue to walk by. Patience in this game, is most definitely a virtue. While the focus of the game is definitely the Alien, the same level of attention to detail was paid to the environment players find themselves in, Sevastopol Station is decaying, and evidence of that decay surrounds players as they make their way through the darkened hallways of the decrepit space station. Fires burn un-contained throughout the station, doors sit a half open, or are locked shut, only able to be open through emergency access. Cables run through the dilapidated hallways, linked to generators that need to be cranked to start, even the save stations are manual, designed as emergency phones, and players will want to save, as much as they can, whenever they can. At times it feels like the station is trying just as hard to kill players as the Alien. The station is brought to life with the same attention to detail the crew over at Creative Assembly paid the Alien, the retro-future tech look of the station fitting in seamlessly with the designs used in the movie, in fact fans of Alien will feel right at home among the terminal glow and jittery screens of Sevastopol’s condensation covered computers powered by wires that snap and spark.
Sevastopol, and the Alien are not the only things players will be forced to deal with, scattered throughout the Sevastopol are pockets of survivors who are focused on one thing, and one thing only, survival at any cost, and very few of them are friendly, in fact, it’s best to assume that none of them are friendly, so that way you can enjoy the few times you walk up on someone are aren’t shot at. Along with the human survivors, the station is populated by synthetics called “Working Joes”, created by Seegson technologies, these androids are not designed to represent a human being in any way other than a blank face and being able to walk on two legs, nothing about these guys says “warm and cuddly” although they are courteous enough to allow their eye color to denote their mood, blue, you’re okay, red…run away, or rather walk away as fast as you can because running attracts the other big baddie. The problem with these two groups on the station, is that running into them leads to conflict, which leads to the Alien showing up, which leads to death, which was often in my case. (There’s actually an achievement for reaching a certain number deaths at the hands of the Alien). The Working Joes, while not invincible are a pain to take down without the proper tools, and often times are far better to avoid than engage. The Working Joes add another level of fear to Isolation, never wavering from their want to remind players of the Sevastopol Station’s safety protocols as they strangle Amanda with their bare hands.
While the picture I have painted so far of Alien: Isolation is extremely bleak, there is a small pen light, or lit match at the end of the tunnel, Amanda is given a few tools to survive, including a flamethrower, which for me was one of the greatest moments in the game. Along with Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, and flash bangs, Amanda is given one tool crucial to survival when roaming the halls of Sevastopol, and that is everyone’s favorite beeping device, the motion tracker. The motion tracker is a bit of a double edged sword in the game, as it can possibly attract the attention of enemies that may be near you, not only can it possibly attract enemies, moments spent focused on the motion tracker screen are moments where the player is not able to focus on the environment, it’s a one or the other trade off, much like when someone is staring at their phone while walking, they’re so focused on their smart phone screen they don’t see the fountain they’re about to fall into, except in the case of Isolation there’s no fountain to fall into, only a murderous organism dropping from the ceiling right in front of players.
Alien: Isolation doesn’t succeed only because of amazing graphics, Creative Assembly also understood how important sound would be in this game. The Sevastopol creaks and groans as fatigued metal is strained, and twisted, ventilation
shafts open with the same hiss offered up by the Alien, which led to frantic searches as to where the sound came from, and just as in the movies, the familiar beep of the motion detector became the “oh shit” alarm. With sounds of the decaying space station ringing through the hall ways, players need to listen to their direct surroundings as well, Sevastopol station is criss crossed with ventilation shafts, which echo with the sounds of movement, add in the hissing of escaping gas, snap and pop of exposed circuitry and you get an ambiance that only adds weight to the feeling that the next hiss heard isn’t going to be a ventilation shaft opening. While the environmental sounds are more than enough to lend weigh to the sense of dread players will feel while roaming the crumbling halls of the defunct space station, it’s the sounds attributed to the Alien that really raise the hair on the back of players necks, it’s chirps, hisses and chatters blending in with the background noise of the station, often times I relied more on the sounds of the heavy footfalls of the organism than the noises emanating from the creature, as by the time players hear the tell-tale hiss of the Alien it’s most likely behind them with it’s tail ready to impale.
Isolation is the first Xbox One game that I have been impressed by it’s Kinect integration, players can enable the Kinect camera’s microphone and head tracking. With head tracking enabled, players can use their own body motions to peek around corner instead of the thumb stick on the controller, while enabling the Kinect’s microphone allows sounds picked up to be translated in the game. My cat got me killed a few times with an ill-timed meow, embarrassingly enough I believe I may have gotten myself killed with a belch as well, needless to say if you have the microphone enabled, be very quiet.
As an added bonus, players that pre-ordered the game got access to a bonus mission set on the Nostromo, titled Crew Expendable the bonus mission reunited the original cast of the Alien movie, with the exception of Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings, From Hell) to provide the voices for the characters they played in the movie, and yes that does include Sigourney Weaver as well. Crew Expendable allows players to play through the events from the movie where the crew was attempting to lure the Alien into the airlock. For those that did not pre-order the game, both Crew Expendable and Last Survivor will be available for download at a later date.
Over all the experience of Alien: Isolation plays out like a terrifying game of hide and go seek, with no way to kill the creature, and an entire space station set against players need to improvise, hide and do whatever they can to get away as they try to survive long enough to make it off the Sevastopol. Through attention to detail, Creative Assembly has developed a game that returns to the roots of survival horror. Never once did I feel like I was going to make it out of a section unscathed, even with the flamethrower. At the end of the day, this terrifying game of hide and go seek feels more like a true sequel to Alien and is a must have for Alien fans, and survival horror devotees alike.
Alien: Isolation is available now for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4, and PS3 in stores and as a digital download.
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