Alien: Isolation Review

Played on Windows
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, macOS, Linux.

I have no idea why I played this. I’m not a huge Aliens fan, in fact, the only movies I’ve seen are Aliens 3 and Alien Resurrection. I just loathe horror in all its forms. So clearly I’m not the target audience for Alien: Isolation, yet I own it, I wanted to see how it accomplishes its scares, and so I gave it a shot.

I don’t have a huge problem with horror or scares, but I don’t like them. I rarely watch any movie that’s “scary”, and I find most games like to use jump scares and ignore the sense of dread that is required for true horror. I’ve seen games like Five Nights at Freddy’s and honestly don’t have a real opinion other than those are the type of games I have no desire to play.

Then there’s Amnesia, before Alien: Isolation it was the only horror game I wished to play. But every time I’ve played it, within two hours I start noticing my hands shaking and just realize I would be unable to continue.

Still, something compelling me to play Alien: Isolation, however, to see which of these categories it fell into, and the quality of the game. Now I will say I turned off all the lights and after my family went to bed I played the game, so I tried to achieve the optimal experience. You can even see what the game looks like for the first two hours I played on the first night.

In Alien: Isolation you play as Amanda Ripley, but her first name could be Sue since no one uses her first name. It’s always “Ripley”. Yeah, the game is trying to give you a reason to feel that you’re playing as Ellen Ripley from the movies, and that’s fine, though admittedly I don’t have a strong vision of the character.

The game starts with you searching for your mother, so when a space station that’s getting decommissioned called the Sevastopol says they have found a recorder from the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley’s ship, Amanda jumps at the chance to join the team and find out what happened to her mother.

I mentioned before I have no idea what happened in the original movies, and so when I reached the Sevastopol, I had no clue what I’d find. The entire beginning of the game is extremely well done, the player explores a space station alone and scared, and tries to find out what’s going on. In fact, there’s very little communication in the beginning building that required tension. There’s no people and no one out there, you’re just trying to find out what’s going on.

In my mind, I constantly was thinking about the monster, and I kept listening for any clues, and the game provides the perfect atmosphere for that journey.

Then you meet your first human, and the game opens up. It actually creates an amazing world that contains various humans in groups, androids and of course the Alien. Each of these entities is done well.

The Androids are probably my favorite and least favorite part of the game. There is the emotionless monotone Androids reporting to the unknown “Apollo” AI that runs the station. They never show anything but blind obedience, and they are creepy to the point that I never wanted to be around them. Then you see one of them murder a person, they become even scarier. Worse, they will come after Ripley quite often and they’re just terrifying.

Then there are the other humans on the ship, and while there’s clearly a panic going on, this is one of the parts of the game I feel that is weak. As everything is going to hell, people have broken up into clear groups, but the problem is all the groups seem to hate or distrust Ripley. There’s really no interactivity with them, even groups that seem to be hiding, the game never gives you a prompt to say “I’m just passing through” or build anything other than avoidance. The problem is that a number of these groups sound like you could work with them or just pass by and they should let you or even help you. Instead, almost every human in the game attacks you or gives you a warning and then in a few seconds if you don’t hide, they’ll attack you.

It’s a shame because small alliances could have been really effective in the game. Maybe trading some salvage for a perk, or even safe passage could have worked, and built these characters out to be more interesting, but instead, we get every man for himself almost every second of the game. Even when there are horrible things going on, humans never seem to go “you know what, maybe we should team up.” It’s the one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t feel like it fits normally.

Finally, there’s the Alien. And dear god, it’s everything it should be. It is exactly like H. R. Giger designed. Every scary part of it is there, and every time I saw one I felt terror. Even when I was crouching behind it to move between two positions I was terrified. The first appearance of the Alien is extremely terrifying and what it can do always puts you at odds with it. Even if you’re on a level with humans, androids, and the Alien, the Alien always is the biggest threat.

What really works here in Alien: Isolation is there’s not really a lot of scripted events with the Alien, and that makes the alien feel more alive than anything else in the game. There’s also a sense of randomness with the Alien. When you reload a save it’ll be in a different location. I’ve watched the alien a few times from hidden locations and seen different actions, or timing. It’s incredibly effective in making the Alien feel different and better.

That seems to be why you would play an “Alien” Game, and Creative Assembly nailed that feeling. Every time I see the alien in the game, I get a sense of fear, and it’s very effective.

The other thing that really builds the game world, is the graphics. The graphics in this game is impressive. There are a few obvious tricks, but overall the world looks amazing. And then you reach the computer systems and you get the 80s tech feel every time you use them. It’s a throwback to the movie style, but it works so effectively.

But still the game can be VERY pretty.

The only thing is, I wish the menu had more of this 80s feel to it or the map system. But I get the reason, that it wouldn’t have been as useful, still the aesthetics of the game really do add to the environment and when you look at your map, you get pulled out of that feeling.

So with the story and graphics out of the way, let’s talk about the game and the horror. And I’ll say it again, this game is really freaking scary. There was a point about a third of the way through the game where I almost threw down the game and called it quits, hating every single part of the game.

That’s not saying the game failed, it just became too intense for me, and the constant fear of the Alien was getting to me. Yet I pushed on and got past that part of the game, and luckily something scared away the Alien for a short time.

When I say the Alien is done well, that’s true, but the problem is the other scares and intense moments tend to have problems. The areas with the Androids almost always are done very well once you realize what you’re supposed to do. Until that point, they become trial and error at times. I know one time I tried to go through a shutter, and then had to kill the android wasting supplies, and then I realized the shutter I was trying to exit never opened there was a second shutter that opens even without killing them. The two shutters look exactly the same.

They also seem to have an inhuman ability to see you even when you feel like you’re safe, or a second one sneaks up behind you. It’s effective, but also once they see you, you tend to have to kill them. I had a lot of problems getting away from a couple of them at once, even hiding in closets never seemed to work.

I also didn’t like the fact that there were Androids laying on the floor in a position to “scare” the player when you did something. So if you go and activate a generator that you have to, this Android is going to jump up and grab you. This is effective, but I wasn’t sure if you could stop them. I hit them with a wrench and maybe that did work, as I think most of the time they didn’t do the jump scare, but there’s no visible feedback to say they’re dead now. It’s one thing to use it as a jump scare for a player who didn’t notice, but at the same time, I’d like to know that I actually did kill the jump scare, or have the ability to.

However I had a real problem with the humans. I once got trapped in a vent that Ripley can get into but only had one exit. The issue I have is that the humans seem to camp outside of that vent and never moved. Maybe it was a glitch, maybe I didn’t wait long enough, but it was more of an annoyance than fear after a few seconds.

Things like that happened and it ruins that feeling of intensity, you sometimes feel like you’re trapped and have to take a death, or a reload. It’s a shame especially when you realize how much horror comes from the Alien and the fact that the other pieces almost never give you the same experience.

There’s also the idea of hacking in the game, and really it’s just a minigame but it’s extremely effective every time. You focus on a little screen while around you anything can be happening. Normally it can be made safe, but there’s a number of these minigames, whether it be hacking or burning a hole in a door that happens when enemies can be around and it’s terrifying to think anything could grab you in a moment. However, the moments of fear related to them is exactly what the game should have.

Is anything behind me? Oh god! OH GOD!!!!

When I say you have to burn a hole in a door I mean that you have to move your left stick in a circle around to open a panel and then perform some actions. The game constantly has you complete QTEs like that, including every handle or button needs to be manually pushed. I have a great hatred for QTEs, but actually, I feel that Alien: Isolation does it right, because it’s not the QTE that’s the challenge, it’s the losing the control and having to perform some action while something might be sneaking up behind you that makes it effective. It’s not just “time wasted” it’s an attempt to make that time more meaningful, and it works. I almost never died while doing any of these actions but while early ones are not as effective and made me wonder why this game included these most hated features, once you’ve met the enemies, these QTEs become more important and it’s obvious how effective it is.

In fact, saving is the same way. Saving isn’t instantaneous, instead, you wait about three seconds before the game saves and those three seconds can be intense as well. Especially if the game says “hostiles nearby”. It becomes a question if you’ll make it. And it works. A few times I was just saying “go faster go faster”. I even died quite a few times when saving because I didn’t take the right precaution.

But if you’re four seconds away from being eating you can save, you shouldn’t because  you’re in immediate peril, right? Well no, you might take a death after the save, but the game actually randomizes the world when it reloads. The Alien, in particular, goes to a different location. This is somewhat effective because rather than just trying the same thing over and over to master the next section, you always have to be aware of where the Alien spawned this time and work through the level in an organic style.

Save locations are few and far between so usually while you play the game, there’s a feeling that the progress you’re making can be lost. I’ll discuss this more in a moment but a lot of the fear and dread I felt in the second half of the game was that loss of progress. But it’s just so well done to limit the save to certain points, and how often you can save (usually needing to wait 60 seconds between a save), but not to limit how many times you can save.

The game does give you a motion tracker that I believe is in the movie and it’s an excellent feature. Humans, Aliens, and Androids show up on it when they move, and the Alien actually appears on it while it’s in the vents, so creates a level of tension, rather than relief. The game also blurs your vision while looking at it with a button press that allows you to focus back on the game world and blur the device. It’s incredibly effective, especially if you’re stuck hiding somewhere and looking at it to see something outside of your view, such as when you’re stuck in a locker. It’s not very powerful but it’s the perfect addition to the game because it often adds to the terror, knowing where enemies are but not how that will be on the map requires more spatial awareness and a focus on the map while using the device.

I stared at this thing a lot during the game. It became my best friend.

I want to talk more about the Alien though, because as the star of the game, so much work has been put into it that it deserves more consideration. The Alien works at what feels like a primal level. It pays a lot of attention to sound and sight and this all works well. If it sees you though, it’s pretty much a game over.

There are a few instances that really stood out to me. Pretty much after the Alien appears you will quickly learn to never sprint again if the Alien could be around because it makes too much noise and will draw the Alien. However, that noise is effective. There was a guy who was warning me to stay out of his area, and he got angry, and shot at me, in a couple of seconds the Alien had dropped down and ate him. It’s a very cool organic part of the game that I enjoyed so much that I didn’t hide and the Alien ate me as well, and… honestly, I’m ok with that because I loved watching it.

There was another guy who was patrolling an area, and I couldn’t figure out how to get past him so I made a noisemaker with the game crafting system and threw it at him, it distracted him but also drew the Alien. Another great moment, the only problem was that instead of a human, I now had the deadly Alien pacing around.

These moments are all organic, you can create them easily, and they’re fantastic. I love the feeling of playing with the Alien because it’s unpredictable, but sometimes slightly usable. That really made me love the Alien because most of the rest of the game was a little average in my opinion.

I’m standing a foot in front of the save, and almost crapped myself.

There’s a problem with the Alien though, as you play the game, you get a Flamethrower and… well… the Alien runs when you use it against him. There are a few tricks with it, mostly you have to use it when the Alien is far enough away but overall it becomes the “go away” button. The fuel is somewhat plentiful if you don’t waste it, and it’s the uber weapon in the game. Once you have that a lot of the alien scariness is gone.

Yet, the Alien does have some problems, and it’s that the Alien in the game is an Alien in the game. The station has tons of people on it, but the Alien seemed to only follow Ripley because Ripley is the player. If I hid in a closet for an hour or two I’m pretty sure the Alien would still be in the level I’m on. Why does it only seem to stay around me? The Alien also seems to only exit through the overhead vents, and I never saw the Alien in the vents Ripley could crawl through which could have been scarier to think it might be behind me.

Once you start to piece this all together you start to realize “this is just a game.” and a lot of the horror drains. As I mentioned, I found that I was more afraid of losing progress than my life after a few deaths. The deaths are good, but there are only maybe 6 ways to die from all the enemies. I died to the Alien 50 times or more, and ultimately after you see the three or four deaths the Alien has, you’re not as scared of the death anymore.

In addition, once you realize it’s a game and how dangerous the Alien is, you start to realize the Alien can’t attack you in the elevator, and so it shaking and trying to make you feel like you might fall to your death doesn’t make a lot of sense. The “unpredictable alien” is quite predictable in the game, and that’s a shame.

The “It’s a game” mentality also appears in the station design. Some parts of the station feel duplicated often enough, but the layout of the station is pretty poor. There’s one medical center, that has a single access through a tram, there’s a communication array that is a long distance from the radar dishes, all these things work effectively because it’s a game, but the station doesn’t feel well laid out and it takes a bit away from the immersion once you start realizing it.

It’s a shame because about half the game is all about that horror and I love it as I hate it, but there’s a moment where the game’s horror starts to fade and you start to realize how gamified it is. I hoped the ending would rise to the same levels of horror as the rest of the game but I feel that it never did.

Then there’s a final problem with the ending. The final chapter of the game drops everything that worked in the game and instead gives you a very cinematic style ending. It’s disappointing because up to that point the one thing that stood out to me is how unscripted most of the game feels. Level design felt very unique, and the Alien continues to surprise me through different moves.

In the final chapter, everything including the Aliens seemed to be placed in the level to give the “optimal experience” and you realize how suboptimal it really is after fifteen hours of really solid gameplay. Even if I didn’t get the perfect cinematic moment, the fact I’m not getting a “cinematic moment” and instead getting gameplay is what drew me into the game. Those cinematic moments rob the game of it’s “anything can happen” feel.

It’s not the worst moment in the game, but it feels like it ends on the wrong note, because the rest of the game is really solid, even if the horror gets stripped away a little too early.

Still, this game does a lot right. It’s not perfect, and I don’t know if I really want to play it again, or another one, but if you do like horror or Alien movies it’s a must play because when it’s effective, it’s really effective. Play it with the lights off, and no distractions and you will have an amazing time with it. However the final score does have to take in some of the mistakes in the latter part of the game, and that leaves me with a final score of


Final Thoughts: A master of horror and terror, which brings one of the film’s greatest terrors to life in a game. If you want to be scared this game will achieve it. Though it has a few flaws it’s incredibly effective.

Stats: 16.4 hours 39/50 achievements.

I bought this game for myself on Steam during a Steam Sale.

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