Alien Isolation Review: Xenophile

October 10th, 2014 -

The Alien series has seen many games looking to bring the series to life in a way the movies couldn’t. Alien: Isolation is the 18th Alien game (not including all the Alien vs. Predator titles) to make an attempt, with The Creative Assembly in the developer seat this time around. If that name sounds familiar, it may be because you play the Total War series. In any case, this title is sitting in a dangerous area with the recent release of Aliens: Colonial Marines. So does this give hope for the future of Alien games, or does it fail its promises like its predecessors?

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Isolation starts you off wandering around a ship after waking from cryosleep en route to Sevastopol Station to hopefully find your mother Ripley. This bit introduces you to other characters, gets you familiar with the game’s interface, and makes you think you’ll hit your head on really low ceilings. Upon entry into the Sevastopol, you are tasked with finding your crew that you got separated with. It’s during this time that you find yourself completely powerless to the dangers around you, though there is no danger until you meet your first human, who agrees to help you. He serves to teach you the ways of the ship, which is exclusively survival. You quickly learn about creating distractions, traversing the vents, and fighting. You are also introduced to the ultimate threat – the Xenomorph.

I started this game with the intention of doing a no-death run. Before I ever saw the alien, I’d spend time in lockers and cabinets whenever I heard a weird noise. I was constantly crouched while I explored before ever needing to, but it’s because of some advice about the game I saw on Polygon from Napper, which was “If you play it like you would in the real world — as if you were actually there, then you’d probably survive.” I made it through level five without ever being killed, which netted me a trophy. Then came level six. It’s not that it’s any harder than the previous level, but I wasn’t aware that I’d be found from my favorite tool. See, once you get the motion sensor, that’s what you look at for a good majority of the game. Much like the radar may be your crutch in something like Metal Gear Solid, the motion sensor will save your butt, but unfortunately, it holds a weakness. If you play the game on PS4, you’ll notice a constant beeping coming from your controller, which intensifies as it detects movement close by. This beeping isn’t exclusively heard by you. I found this out the hard way while waiting in a locker thinking I was safe. I was surprised to see the locker door thrown off and then forced to face my fate.

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The sheer terror of being found out is one of the best parts of Alien: Isolation. It’s worth noting that I’m not a huge fan of horror games. There are exceptions, like Silent Hill 2, Dead Space, and a few others, but for the most part it isn’t my genre. So it’s really weird that I revel in the fear that is brought about in this game. When I see a dot on my motion sensor, I walk as fast as I can (because running would end in my death almost indefinitely) and am hitting the action button to hide with such passion I wonder if the controller will handle much more after this. I can feel my heart pounding as the music escalates and I hear the door open. Luckily I don’t have a PlayStation Camera, because if I did, I’d feel inclined to utilize a couple of the features the game offers, which include head tracking and sound detection. Sound detection would be the cause of many deaths for me, as it’d either hear me breathing heavily or my reactions to seeing the Xenomorph at the end of the hall opening a door that I was heading toward.

Death is so often a minor deterrent in games nowadays, with the joy of automatic checkpoints and respawns. Gone are the days of “lives” and actual “game overs.” While this game doesn’t bring back lives, and you can respawn, checkpoints and saving are up to you. And it is stressful. Saving requires finding an emergency phone, inserting your card and waiting for the sequence to boot. While this is a matter of a few seconds, you aren’t safe doing this. If you’re being chased after playing thirty minutes of hide and seek with Xeny, the last thing you want to do is do all of that again, as it’s never the same. And with no set pattern for the Xenomorph’s path, you can’t learn by trial and error. Though you can attempt the same path over and over, as it may prove successful at some point. So while you are saving, you are putting yourself in danger. Do you hide while being chased in hopes of not being found, or do you risk saving with the possibility of being ripped in half while waiting for the boot sequence to initiate?

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In addition to the perfect organism, you’ll come across less threatening beings on-board the Sevastopol. Namely, humans and androids. That’s not to say that they are harmless, as they can both end up killing you. However, going up against either when hostile doesn’t mean instant death. You can take damage, run and hide, or even end up killing them if you so desire. However, interacting with them may lead to your downfall. After all, noise is what attracts your death, and yelling or shooting is definitely loud enough to detect if merely running can bring about impending doom. But killing may be the best way to silence the situation before hiding. It’s up to you to decide what will be the best path to your destination, though it’s entirely possible to do so without harming anyone. It’s also nice to know that you can do something to the Xenomorph, though it requires fire (and other heavy duty means) and should really only be used in instances of extreme need. While you won’t kill it, you will have a moment of reprieve to find safety before an alternate path to you is found.

The game is lengthy, and assuming you don’t lose that sense of terror (you won’t if you’re doing permadeath runs), a wonderfully unique experience in survival horror. A friend compared it to Outlast based on videos he watched, and while I can definitely see the comparisons (camera with batteries versus flashlight with batteries, hiding in lockers), Alien: Isolation provides a much deeper experience in regards to what you are allowed to do. Outlast doesn’t give you anything to work with, which limits what you can do in regards to interacting with the game world. That’s not a bad thing, as Amnesia started the trend with recent horror titles. But with the added items and abilities, you are given choices. The game no longer becomes something you can make a video playthrough of that everyone can follow to a T. And while it’s not a procedurally generated game experience, it is something that feels much more organic than most horror titles. The fact that you think you’re safe because the room was just investigated can be your biggest downfall.

I’ve seen a lot of praise for this game based on the style they went for, recreating the 1979 epic. It certainly nails it, and the animation of the Xenomorph feels very natural. Unfortunately, there are parts that would take me out of the world, though very minor gripes. Things like climbing the ladder (as I said, minor) would feel jerky and not polished. Button responses were also lagging at times, hence my mashing the button like a madman when trying to hide. But neither of these issues ruin the game by any stretch.

The art direction, sound design, and gameplay all works so well together. This is easily one of the best Alien games I’ve played in a long time, if not THE best. If you’re tired of the constant shooting of Destiny, the grinding in RPGs, and have a lot of patience (you’ll need it), I highly recommend grabbing Alien: Isolation. Turn up the volume or put on some headphones, turn out the lights, and get ready to fear for your life.

BUY

Pros

  • Aesthetics
  • Xenomorph
  • Utter Fear

Cons

  • Few Weird Animations
  • Drains Mental State

Alien: Isolation was created by Creative Assembly and published by SEGA. It is available on the PS4 ($59.99), PS3 ($49.99), XO ($59.99), 360 ($49.99), and PC ($49.99) as of October 7th, 2014. The PS4 copy reviewed was provided for us. If you’d like to see more of Alien: Isolation, check out the official site.

 

Here at FFoP we use a rating method that you may be unfamiliar with, so allow us to clarify. When we review a game, we see what sort of BRA fits. Buy, Rent, or Acquire is the rating we give out – we’ve boiled it down for simplicity. A Buy is worth the full retail value; a Rent is something you may want to try before you buy, or grab at a discount; an Acquire is something you can play, but we’d suggest borrowing it from someone, grabbing it in a game bundle, or some other means. If you want further clarification, please feel free to get in touch.

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