The Alien franchise has long been a fan favorite but not very often has it translated to games all that well. There are a few outliers however most of the Alien games have been atrocious and just didn’t bring the feel of the movies to the games, looking at you Colonial Marines. This is pretty strange because in the instance of the first two movies, Alien and Aliens, you have two vastly different movies; one horror and one action. You would think that developers could pull off one of the two. However besides AVP (1, 2 and 2009) this really hasn’t been done. Alien Isolation however attempts to bring the feel of the first movie in which Amanda Ripley is trying to survive on the ship without truly being able to kill the Alien.
Alien Isolation takes what made the first movie great and made it into a game. It is a Survival Horror game with a few shooter elements. Now this isn’t to say you can shoot and kill the Alien, oh no, this only angers said Alien (unless you are using fire). The shooter elements are mainly meant for the synthetics and the other scavenging humans on the station. Being as it is, this game being a survival horror, the objective is to get to where you need to go and not be caught by the Xenomorph (woo Alien terminology), synthetics and humans. You have various tools at your disposal that allow you to accomplish this including flares and noisemakers but for the most part the best way to avoid detection is to be careful and time your movements well while crouch walking. I think my biggest problem with this gameplay is that all this ends up being is just slow careful timing to avoid detection. Now Monolith threw a little wrench in this plan because they made the Xenomorph’s AI a little random. It never takes the same path and can return a second later after it left the room you are in. It can decide to stay in the vents and wait for you to pass one where it can grab you, wait to hear something or it could stay on the ground and search room to room and each locker inside. Church, our other reviewer, found that the Alien found him far too often despite him being completely quiet. However every instance of it finding me was thanks to my own fault; making noise or being too close to the front of the locker (you can move around in a locker and hold your breath too). The beautiful thing with the Alien’s random behavior is your path has to always change to your goal. I’ve had instances where I had to take several vents instead of the hallways just to avoid him but I’ve also had instances where he would get me inside the vents as well which means the motion tracker you get is your best friend.
Now I mentioned earlier that you have different devices (including your fireball magic) that you have access to in order to help you out. Most of these items including the Molotov, Noisemaker, Medkits, EMP bomb and others can be crafted by materials you find throughout the game however you can only hold so many. On top of that you gain five weapons that can help kill the humans and synthetics or ward off/anger the Alien. You eventually get the revolver, shotgun, stun baton, bolt gun (this is REALLY effective versus synthetics) and the flamethrower which is extremely effective scaring the Xenomorph off. With these weapons however there comes problems with using them. If you use one of the projectile weapons within ear range of the Alien, it will come to attack whatever made that sound. If you end up using the Molotov or Flamethrower too much then the Alien will be less frightened of it and will tackle you as it flees causing half damage.
In Alien Isolation you play as Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter. It is set about 15 years after the events of Alien where Amanda is working with Weyland-Yutani in the hopes of finding out more about what happened to her mom. During all this a station called Sevastopol got in hold of the Nostromo’s (Ellen Ripley’s ship) flight recorder and Weyland-Yutani send Nina Taylor and Amanda Ripley to go get it from them. When they get there they noticed something is very wrong with the station. While doing a cable walk in space to get to the station there ends up being an explosion which separates Ripley from the two others that were with her. As she makes her way through the ship she ends up discovering that there is some sort of creature on board that is killing people and on top of that the Synthetics are killing humans and the humans are killing everyone else in order to survive. As it turns out a ship called the Anesidora was the ship that found the Nostromo’s flight recorder but while following the ship’s flight path they come to LV-426 which had the Alien eggs on the crashed ship. While investigating the ship one of the crew of the Anesidora gets attacked by a facehugger and it hatches on Sevastopol while getting medical aid. All during the game Ripley is trying to get into contact with the ship she was brought on in order to escape the station while trying to discover what happened to the Nostromo and Sevastopol. One of the best things about this story is the pacing and how fluid the game is. Not once do you feel like you are repeating things and the slow flow of the story is very much like how it was in the original movie. In Alien (film) you don’t even seen the Xenomorph until an hour or so into the film and the same could be said about the game as I didn’t encounter it until about an hour or two into it.
Now the graphics in this game are incredible but what really makes the graphics is the aesthetics or how close this game replicates the feel of the original movie. The hallways, the motion tracker, the rooms, doors, the station, even the Xenomorph itself are to the letter of the original movies and for fans of the series you’ll be in nostalgia overload. The game despite releasing in 2014 has the exact sense of being an old 80’s Sci-Fi. On top of that the set pieces are all beautiful and so well done. Alien isolation also has some of the best fire I’ve ever seen in a game which is quite impressive; that flamethrower is so satisfying. The particle effects are also incredible in that the lights will blink through the smoke and look incredible.
On top of the graphics this is probably the best sound effects I’ve ever heard in a game. Now any game that claims to be a survival horror needs to have great sound effects but every little sound in this game are so well done. Monolith matched the sound effects from the original movies so well that I felt like at times I was just watching the movies instead of playing (this doesn’t mean that the framerate was a “cinematic” 30 fps). The siren sounds, motion tracker, the Alien’s sounds and even the synthetics dying all sound amazing and Monolith should really be given a lot of credit for how well they did in this respect. Even the music does well to replicate the movies. It has that edgy feel where the music will suddenly get louder or it will play those quick reverberating notes that you hear all too often in Alien and Aliens.
Now screenshots can’t really illustrate how well they did so here is a video of me playing a bit; WARNING the first 10 seconds have spoilers:
Overall this game is an incredible homage to the Alien franchise and is up there for best game so far this year. The gameplay is quite solid albeit sometimes random and frustrating. The flow of the story and events is great and doesn’t feel like you have to do any minute tasks. The graphics and aesthetics are so well done and the sound and music is some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. My only real complaint is that despite the game being fun I can’t really play it over again without knowing exactly what is going to happen. There are small DLC that expand the game further and the survival mode is a fun test of skills but the main campaign can really only be played once.