Alien Isolation is the latest in a long string of games that have tried to capitalize on the popularity of the seminal Alien movie franchise. Most Alien games have been, well, really bad, but Alien Isolation breaks that mold. While the game has some flaws and is full of objectionable content (it’s rated M for good reason), it still does the best job capturing the spirit of the franchise and offering up some interesting gameplay. It’s a survival horror game for the Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, and you really feel the fear and dread associated with dealing with one of the title creatures while playing, at least in the beginning.
Alien Isolation follows the story of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, who was the main protagonist in the films played by Sigourney Weaver. The game is set 15 years after the event of the first film. The elder Ripley is still missing, but word that a team has recovered the flight recorder from her ship sets Amanda on a trip to the Sevastopol station to find answers. Unfortunately, things on the station are not on the up and up. Besides the fact that it’s falling apart, it’s also on lockdown and the synthetics who are supposed to help run things have gone a little haywire. The remaining human inhabitants have formed small groups and barricaded themselves in various areas of the station. They don’t trust anyone they don’t know and are openly hostile to strangers. In addition, and the whole reason for the mess, it turns out, is that a creature is aboard the ship, terrorizing everyone by killing people one by one. That creature is, of course, the familiar xenomorph with nested jaws, acidic blood, and a spiky tail.
You play as Amanda Ripley in the first person, exploring the Sevastopol, attempting to figure out what’s going on, and trying to find answers about your mother, all while trying to not get killed by the alien stalking the station. The game requires the player to employ stealth tactics to survive. You’ll spend a lot of time crouching, taking cover, crawling through the air ducts and outright hiding in lockers or other cabinets. As you progress through the game, you collect blueprints and components for a variety of gadgets that you can construct to help you reach your goals. You’ll also pick up weapons, but using them is rarely the best option. You’re often much better off sneaking around the other humans than facing them in a gunfight.
When it comes to the alien, combat is useless. It can’t be killed, and if it so much as spots you, you’re dead. You can scare it away briefly with a flamethrower that you collect about midway through the game, but before that it’s instant death. The only way to deal with the alien is to hide from it and wait for it to leave the area you’re in. One of the gadgets you use is a motion tracker that’s designed to look and work just like the motion trackers used in the films. This becomes an invaluable tool that you’ll want active almost all the time to determine where the alien is. One of the interesting things about the gameplay is that you can actually use the alien to your advantage in areas where there are hostile humans. You can make some noise near where they are, run to hide, and then wait for the alien to dispatch them for you. I found this strategy particularly effective on more than one occasion, provided I was able to avoid the alien itself when it showed up.
In my opinion, the game’s biggest flaw is the sparse amount of save points and the great distance between them. This means you’ll find yourself repeating long stretches of gameplay over and over in order to progress. I think I had to do one particular stretch where the alien was lurking around every corner and in every ceiling vent more than 20 times before I was able to successfully complete it. At that point, I ceased being scared of the alien and simply regarded him as a big nuisance. It was a huge point of frustration where I was tempted to simply stop playing on multiple occasions.
As mentioned before, Alien Isolation is rated M with content descriptors for Blood, Strong Language, and Violence. Although there are a few instances of swearing in the game (f*ck, sh*t), it’s not pervasive. In most cases, since combat is usually a poor solution to a problem, you’re witnessing violent acts happening to someone else rather than initiating them yourself. Seeing other people killed by the alien can be particularly gruesome, with tons of blood. If the alien gets you from the front, you only see its smaller second jaw shoot out before the screen goes black. If it catches you from behind, you’ll see the end of its tail come through your stomach before its hand grabs at your face. One thing the descriptors don’t tell you is the feeling of unease and anxiety the game creates for the player, especially in the first few hours. The extremely well-done art and music add to this effect. It’s at least as unsettling as watching a really scary movie, if not more so. Even if you’re ok with the blood and violence, it’s something you should definitely keep in mind when deciding whether or not your kids should play the game.
Alien Isolation does a fantastic job recreating the atmosphere of a broken-down space station and really gives the player a sense of fear and dread in early encounters with the alien. Unfortunately, this tense feeling soon wears off due to a lack of save points that force you to repeat long stretches of gameplay. But despite its flaws, Alien Isolation is still the best game based on the Alien franchise to date.