Alien Isolation: What An Alien Game Should Be
20th Century Fox
Alien Isolation introduces us to Amanda Ripley, the estranged daughter of Ellen Ripley, for the first time as a protagonist. Amanda was first mentioned in the director’s cut of Aliens, the James Cameron-directed sequel to Alien, after Ellen is awakened from her unnaturally long hypersleep.
Amanda was deeply affected by the sudden disappearance of her mother at the age of ten and became an engineer, working in the sector of space the Nostromo(the ship from the first Alien film) disappeared in. She is notified by a representative of Weyland-Yutani that the Nostromo’s black box has been found and is offered a position on the team being sent to recover the recorder.
She accepts the proposal and the team journeys to Sevastopol Station, where Ripley hopes to discover the truth about her mother’s disappearance. Once the team is on board, it is clear that everything is not as it should be. Graffiti mar the walls, fires are spreading unchecked, androids are malfunctioning, civilians are roaming the halls armed, and killing for supplies. To make matters worst, a killer lurks in the shadows of the vents and corridors… And it is hungry.
Alien Isolation is a horror survival game that focuses heavily on stealth and crafting mechanics to build tension. As Amanda, you are being hunted by the xenomorph, androids, and even other survivors. While the game has a limited combat system, you are better served by relying on your ability to hide, as a gunshot or any other noise, threatens to reveal your location to the xenomorph. You can also use this mechanic to your advantage by bringing the xenomorph down onto others hunting you, although you run the risk of finding yourself face to face with a far deadlier threat.
As Amanda, you lack the resources to kill the xenomorph. It is essentially immortal. Your only defense against the alien is the aforementioned stealth, crafting items to distract it, and a flame thrower, which causes the creature to temporarily run away. With limited ammo and supplies, you’ll want to be conservative with your fiery bug repellent.
This game is essentially a 16 hour game of cat and mouse. The game excels at maintaining the tension, sometimes a little too well. I could only play this game in bursts, as it reduced me to a quivering mass of frayed nerves. There’s no terror more complete than hiding in a locker as the xenomorph walks into the room. You watch as it sniffs the air, clearly aware that you are near. It gets closer, and closer to the locker, until its face is right in front of yours.
You press up as far against the back of the locker as possible and hold your breath for as long as you can as the beast stares into your precarious refuge. If you are lucky, the alien will give up and walk out of the room as you try to suck in the air you’ve been so cruelly denied. If not, you are treated to a spectacular sequence of animations as the alien rips the door off the locker and proceeds to devour your face with its mouth within a mouth. Now imagine this scenario, stretched out over 16 hours. This is probably not a game you will find yourself playing marathon sessions with.
As much as I love this game, it isn’t perfect. The narrative is a bit lacking, which is disappointing as I liked Amanda as a protagonist. While playing as Ripley’s daughter might sound as an eye rolling attempt to connect the game to the film, the motivations make perfect sense from a character standpoint. It’s natural to want to know where you come from and many people seek to answer that question as adults. I only wish they gave her more to do from a story standpoint, other than repeatedly pawning off tasks to get off the space station.
The cast of supporting characters could have been more fleshed out. Few of these NPC’s are memorable as they aren’t given much to do either. However, in the game’s defense, this is very much Amanda’s story. The flow of the campaign also suffers from multiple ending syndrome, meaning you think you’ve beaten the game, but then the game keeps going… And going… And the game does this multiple times. There is also a survivor mode, where you run a series of timed missions, but its not enough to keep your attention for very long. Most of the DLC adds more of these survival missions, with more characters for you to play as, if you are into that sort of thing. If you’re in a nostalgic mood, there is DLC that allows you to play through the events of the first film as the cast from the first film. However, this addition is almost insultingly short and only worth a single play through.
In conclusion, the alien is a PERFECT predator. It terrified me as a child, while simultaneously capturing my imagination. Both the xenomorph and the predator would pop up repeatedly in my nightmares as a kid. To say these films have influenced me is an understatement. The game developers so perfectly captured the tone and terror of the first film that I started having those nightmares again as an adult.
Though the game isn’t perfect, it plays so beautifully with the film’s world that I would be remiss not to recommend it to any fan of the original film. If you are new to the series, I would watch the original film before playing this game to fully appreciate what the developers have done. If you’re not good at stealth games, play the game on normal instead of the harder recommended difficulty.