Most licensed games are historically either bad or at best decent, but from time to time some games really do the justice to their source material. With that being said, let’s take a look at Alien Isolation, one of the best games in the Alien franchise.
The Alien franchise had a fair share of video games over the years, but most of them were either loosely based on the movies, or focused on the action. After the disappointing release of Aliens: Colonial Marines by Gearbox Software, a lot of people thought it would be a while before we see another Alien game.
Not long after a new game, Alien: Isolation was announced and soon released in 2014, and to everyone’s surprise it was developed by Creative Assembly (of Total War fame). The news that Creative Assembly will be developing the new Alien game, came as a surprise because they were primarily a strategy game developer and horror games was not something that they usually developed.
The idea of developing the game came years earlier, and Creative Assembly had already worked with 20th Century Fox (Viking: Battle for Asgard), and Sega (who acquired the license in 2006) was already their publisher. Throughout development CA, hired people from other studios such as, Ubisoft, Crytek, Bizarre Creations, Black Rock, and Realtime Worlds. In 2014, according to the director Alistair Hope, the studio grow to a group of around 100 people in 2014.
The story follows none of the movie’s plots, and instead focuses on the character of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley first mentioned in the director’s cut of Aliens (1986). The story is set between the first two movies, and it follows Amanda on her mission to find out what happened to the crew on Nostromo and her mother.
This was an excellent choice by the developers as it takes a character already mentioned in the lore, and gives them the freedom to experiment with her character and personality.
The game is in 2137, 15 years after the first movie, and Amanda Ripley has learned that the flight recorder of Nostromo has been located by a salvage ship, and is currently held by at Sevastopol station, a huge Seegson Corporation space station currently orbiting gas giant KG-348. Amanda and Christopher Samuels (a Weyland-Yutani android) have been placed on the retrieval team, in hopes that Amanda can finally found what happened to her mother.
Amanda, Samuels, and WY executive Nina Taylor, reach the Sevastopol station via Torrens a courier ship. Upon arrival, they find the Sevastopol badly damaged and its communication offline. With no one answering they decide to board the station, but during their EVA line is broke, and Amanda is separated from the others.
She finds the station is decommissioned and abandoned except for a few looters and a skeleton crew keeping the station running. To make matters worse an Alien is lurking aboard the station, and killing everyone.
The setup to the story is amazing, and it shows that CA actually cared about the license that they were working with. It could have easily been used as a script for a movie (or a spin-off movie). Creative Assembly also avoided the huge problem with the game, and that is that everyone knows how the Alien looks. Instead, CA opted to build up the suspense and invoke the feeling of loneliness and paranoia. In fact, the Alien doesn’t appear for nearly an hour, and when it does you know you’re in trouble.
During your time aboard the Sevastopol, you’ll encounter survivors who are untrustworthy and paranoid, seemingly malfunctioning Working Joe robots and of course the Alien. The focus in Alien: Isolation is not on combat, but horror and stealth. The game doesn’t put you in the shoes of an action hero, but instead you’re in the control of a normal person. Sure, you can pick up weapons such as the maintenance jack or pistol, but these things won’t help you against enemies (or the Alien), and must only be used as a last resort. Instead, your best bet is to avoid enemies or any contact with the Alien, as it’s faster and stronger than you. Also, there is no option to save your game at any time, and instead you can only save using save stations, which forces you to pay attention and think, even if you might repeat certain sections several times.
You also have the option to craft various useful items, that can be useful when dealing with different enemies. For instance, you can craft Noise Maker which can help you distract the Alien for a short period, giving you time to escape, but not every item will help you out. Similarly, the EMP mine is useless against the Alien, but it’s really helpful when dealing with Working Joe’s.
You can also craft Medikit (which restores around half of your health), Molotov Cocktail’s (which are always useful), Flashbang (useful against human enemies), Smoke Bomb, and Pipe Bomb.
All of these items, require that you have the right components such as Scrap, Sensor, Blasting Cap, etc. These items are usually found either scattered around the station or on corpses. During the game you can find blueprints that will upgrade the items or unlock new items. The only downside that the game has, is that you can’t cancel your crafting, so pay attention when you craft something.
You will also pick up a Gas Torch (which can be upgraded) that will allow you to enter previously sealed rooms, a Security Access Tuner for hacking systems around the station, as well as Flashlight and Flares.
As you explore the station and figure out what happened, you will listen to various audio logs, read emails, and hack computers. You can also collect ID tags, but these act as mere collectibles and serve no purpose. The game also has various references to the first movie, including a recreation of a couple of memorable scenes, that surprisingly work well with the plot.
When you encounter the Alien, you will either hear it, see it or spot it on a motion tracker. The motion tracker is a very useful tool in the game, but if you use it when you’re close to the Alien, it can hear it and easily find you.
To avoid the Alien you must either seal off doors (which might not always work), hide in service tunnels and lockers. The Alien’s patterns are random, but it will check the lockers, and you have the option of backing away and holding your breath. However, if it sees you entering the hiding place, or hear you breath it’s game over.
During my playthrough, it appears that the Alien appearing in the map is also randomized every time you load a previous save.
However, the game is not without issues, but fortunately it’s the smaller ones. You can experience graphical glitches (where the Alien can glitch through the locker, but not see you), enemies that can see you a mile away, the damage varies from time to time (even at close range), and QTE events can be buggy, forcing you to load a previous save.
Personally, my biggest issues are story related, and that when the game gets to a certain point in the story, the human enemies are still attacking you.
Ok, the unarmed people will run away, but people who were still armed could have still teamed up, especially when it’s pretty clear that the Alien is killing everyone. The explanation that the game gives, is that they don’t trust you and the game even puts them away for a good portion of the game. In the story there are two groups of survivors, and you can find their messages, even offering to work together, but they never do.
This felt like a missed opportunity, and maybe the devs wanted to implement it in the game but run out of time, and later in the game it looks weird (without spoiling the game).
Other than these few minor complaints the game is amazing in its presentation. The graphics and audio are amazing, and the developers managed to copy the look and the atmosphere from the movies. The look and the feel is spot on, and the game feels like a missing movie and is probably then some movies in the franchise.
Alien: Isolation received seven DLCs packs, of which two of them Crew Expandable and Last Survivor were made available at release. These two DLCs feature the crew from the original movie and are even voiced by the original cast. A nice addition to the game, paying homage to the source material.
The other DLC packs, Corporate Lockdown, Trauma, The Trigger, Lost Contact, and Safe Haven, expand the Survivor mode of the game and feature new playable characters and maps.
Overall, if you are looking for a good horror or sci-fi game, you can’t go wrong with Alien: Isolation. The look, the feel, and the atmosphere are all spot on and add to the amazing and memorable moments. Alien: Isolation is available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Linux, OS X, and Nintendo Switch.
In short, if you are looking for a good horror or a good game, give this one a go.