Alien: Isolation is an obvious masterpiece and an achievement in the horror, stealth and strategy genres. It has sharp and steady controls, precise lighting and atmosphere, intelligent A.I., a well-developed storyline, a detailed world and above all else it is terrifying as fuck.
Isolation starts you off as Amanda Ripley investigating the disappearance of her mother and film protagonist, Ellen Ripley.
Amanda and her crew arrive at the Sevastopol station where a salvaged recording of the Nostromo spacecraft (Ellen Ripley’s ship) log is being held.
Upon arrival Amanda is separated from her crew into Sevastopol Station and quickly realizes the station is in danger. Androids are attacking people, people are attacking people. Worst of all, a hyper intelligent, physically peaked advance hostile alien lifeform is also attacking. This alien, known as a Xenomorph becomes interested and starts to stalk and hunt Amanda after their first encounter. Through the course of the game she’s forced to learn to survive the Alien as it has learned to survive her.
The story of this game is highly engaging. It moves forward at a pretty steady pace and has interesting interactions with androids and humans alike through its course. Amanda’s story is told through well scripted cut scenes and in game conversations between her and survivors on Sevastopol,
most times through radio communication, cut scenes and flashbacks. The background and events in the station prior to the arrival of Amanda and her crew are mainly kept in terminals with logs revealing more depth into the world.
The story leads us through the events unfolding around Amanda as she encounters the Xenomorph and attempts to understand its origin, what has happened to Sevastopol station and how it connects to her mother's disappearance. Although the characters are well developed and well performed, the true star remains Amanda, which leads us to gameplay.
Note: When playing this game for the first time to maximize enjoyment play alone, in the dark, close up to the screen. Difficulty on Nightmare. Use headphones to have the highest quality sound and track the Alien through your senses. Turn game brightness three fourths of the way down. Turn the game’s music all the way down. You’ll be terrified. Thank me later.
Throughout the game you will more than likely have several interactions and close calls with hostile enemies aboard the Station. Amanda’s performance at those times enhances the game quite a bit. As she moves along and survives near death experiences she screams in fear, hyperventilates, talk to herself to calm down and much more. She’s constantly in a state of brave fear. As the player you feel these things are happening to you and thus her fear becomes your fear. The majority of the game has Amanda roaming the station halls and facilities in her attempt to find survivors, a way to kill the alien or an escape from the station. Doing any of these tasks becomes a nearly impossible struggle for survival because of the persistent Xenomorph.
Although, the Xenomorph is learning from the player's play style, it isn’t entirely a hopeless situation. Amanda locates two crucial tools which help her better manage the Alien, and if well used she can constantly have one on the wretched Xenomorph. The first of these two tools is the Motion Tracker.
A contraption with a screen allowing the player to see the distance between anything which moves and Amanda. This is the most useful tool against the alien since the knowledge of its location tells you whether or not you should advance through a particular area. It beeps in the game, and the PS4 controller light blinks based on proximity, warning you of the range or hostiles. The downside is that the alien can hear it when close to the player. The second of these tools is the flamethrower.
The alien cannot be killed by the flamethrower, but it can be startled, scared, slowed and hurt by it. Once located, the playing field between the player and the alien becomes more balanced and it becomes a different game. When the alien realizes the player has become a threat with the flamethrower it becomes stealthier and more strategic in its approach, waiting for opportunities to sneak up on the player instead of directly confronting them at the risk of getting hurt.
The entire playstyle shifts so that alien mostly avoids the player, and the player mostly avoids the alien hoping to get the jump on the other, sometimes using each other to open areas or clear paths. The player will unlock areas of the ship the alien will otherwise not be able to access, and the alien will dispose of human hostiles effortlessly allowing the player to move through the station safer from that type of enemy.
Ammunition for the flamethrower is abundant based on the games difficulty. The lower the difficulty the more flamethrower ammunition at the cost of fear. The higher the difficulty, the higher the fear at the cost of ammunition. Pick your poison.
The third unmentioned tool in this game exists outside of it, but is meant to pull you further in. Long before the player gets the flamethrower or the motion tracker they could connect their headphone to hear the game and have a natural tracker with them at all times. Because the alien is constantly moving in the walls, halls and vents of the station, the player can hear its movements.
With headphones on, the direction and location of those movements becomes easily distinguishable from the other sounds aboard the station. Footsteps and crawling through vents tell the player the alien’s exact location and gives the player the chance to caution themselves before being caught off guard. If combined with the flamethrower and the motion tracker the player is then superior to the Xenomorph in every way except invulnerability. This is also why I highly recommend the game is played on Nightmare difficulty, it’ll level out the playing field leaving both the player and the enemies aboard the ship as dangerous foes.
Although Amanda becomes better suited to handle her enemies through the game’s progression, the game remains focused on stealth tactics, especially when the Xenomorph is involved. It’s general invincibility and ability to learn keeps the player on their toes at all times. It’s necessary to come up with new innovative solutions to old problems as the player progresses. The game as a result works a lot like a real time first person strategy horror survival adventure game… or something like that. You'll be given schematics throughout the game allowing you to build explosives and distractions to deal with your enemies and plenty of other weapons and tools to ease your journey. Nothing kills the alien.
The sounds this game produces when headphones are connected are truly amazing. The alien’s growls, screeches and it’s crawling through the vents, the gunshots through the station, Sevastopol’s ambient sounds, enemy voices and footsteps, the flamethrower, the motion tracker, Amanda’s gasps, yelps, screams and hyperventilating, doors opening and shutting, alarms. Everything this game produces as a sound is sharp and crisp. It’s believable and it draws the player in. This game forces the player to feel as though they truly are Amanda Ripley in a completely shit situation. I do on the other hand recommend the music in this game be turned all the way down. There is something about complete silence that is beautiful and terrifying in this game. When the first thing you hear are questionable footsteps in the distance instead of musical cues that something is near, you get jitters and excited, as well as worried and concerned. HIGHLY recommend the music be turned off for the entirety of the game’s first play through.
Visuals are as highly regarded as sound production.
Sevastopol is beautiful and the view through its windows are too. Each inch of the ship was crafted mindful of the slow paced nature of the game. Detail is abundant. There is no shortage of things to stare at while struck with fear. This is also the only game I’ve ever seen consider its brightness setting seemingly through the entire game development. Whether the game has the brightness turned up all the way, or down all the way, the colors remain vibrant. The life is never sucked from the environment because of tampering with the brightness. It appears more as though someone simply turned off the Sevastopol lights.
All the foes look amazing, mostly the Xenomorph staying true to the film’s concept and vastly improving on it. The ship feels hyper realistic for something set in the future. Its spotless white walls, to its fancy hallways and facilities. Even the stations shuttle transportation systems are no more than futuristic subway systems inside of a space station. It all manages to look and feel familiar yet new and futuristic.
It’s the natural progression to our current technology. The characters on occasion look rough around the edges, but it's nothing major. The game is scary enough for you to never notice anything is out of place when it is.
The controls are the best of any game I’ve encountered this far. Movements are fluent, weapons feel natural and precise. This game goes out of its way to assure the player any fuck up is their fault. No typical dirty tricks are used to incapacitate the player. No stiff controls, no visual obstructions, weapons are provided to handle every scenario, methods to locate and identify every foe and no item management required. Only player error could result in a game over. I’m not even sure I saw a single glitch or drop in frame rate in my plays through the game. If there were any, I was too scared to notice.
The item selection wheel and item management, as well as weapon craft menus and weapon reloads are seamless. After they’ve been used a couple of times they become a natural and fast process. Nothing is complicated to use and there isn’t much in any of those menus to keep the player engaged urging the player to stay focused on active gameplay after rushing effortlessly through the swift menus.
To top it all off, this game has amazing DLC. Most of the extra content plays in an arcade fashion which focuses on the game mechanics with little to no story involved. The player moves through original maps avoiding mainly the alien, sometimes other foes, while accomplishing objectives. This is all happening simultaneously while racing against time. These game modes named Survivor Mode, Safe Haven and Lost Contact reward players who’ve master the game’s controls, weapons and possible tactics against enemies. The more knowledge of a particular map the player has the better their performance and the higher their score turns out at the end. Aside from these DLC there are two more based on the story from the film. Crew Expendables has the player choose between three original film characters, including Ellen Ripley, mother of main game protagonist. The player then proceeds to experience the last moments of the crew’s survival against the Xenomorph leading up to the second story DLC, Last Survivor. In this final chapter, the player takes control of Ellen Ripley and experiences the last moments of the original Alien film.
The main game is lengthy, if you play it on nightmare difficulty, you are looking at upwards of 20 hours trying to find solutions through the entire game. On the easiest setting, perhaps just over 8 hours. The DLC maps for Survival Mode, although short, their value comes with replaying and memorizing which will have you coming back to master whatever you can. Lost Contact and Safe Haven are individually somewhere between two to three hours a piece, and all set to a high difficulty, either Nightmare or Hard. The two story DLCs are short at under an hour each, but worth the experience, and seem to have the scariest scenarios in the game. This game is bulky and you’ll get your money’s worth.
This game could be played one of two ways based on the difficulty setting the player chooses. The abundance of ammunition in the easier settings will allow the player to enjoy the game with more freedom as if it were more of an action horror shooter. Less stealth would need to be used and enemies would be disposed of easily. Even the flamethrower would have enough fuel for the alien to be scared out of your way nearly all the time. The other way to play is when you jack up the difficulty to nightmare. The player no longer has a navigation map, forcing them to commit the station to memory or follow the guiding system in the motion tracker. Ammunition and crafting parts are nearly impossible to locate forcing the player to play stealthily, tactically and scared. Most foes can quickly dispose of the player on this difficulty and the alien is more aware of the player’s location and behavior. The game would then play like a stealth survival horror game. Above all else this game at its core is a dungeon crawler. Claustrophobic small halls and rooms, as well as constricting, tight, and dark vents to move through keep all things up close and personal.
This game plays, feels, looks, sounds and performs overall amazingly. It’s a masterpiece and a sure win for the returning genre of horror games.
Needless to say there is no game that is perfect. And this game does come with at least one flaw. Once I’d beaten the main story for the first time, and successfully learned all of alien’s tricks and tactics I could no longer have fun in the main story. All the DLC remained amazing because it was about racing against your own times and improving your knowledge of the environment and game mechanics, but the game’s main story was dead to me. I outsmarted alien and finished the game. Even starting on the highest difficulty proved to do nothing. I’d surpassed the alien’s capacity and there was no longer a challenge. It came down to refining my tactics rather than learning new ones and I found that I migrated almost entirely over to DLC to do this anyway. Over time I found the interest to play the story again, but a while past before then.
Outside of that flaw, this game has taken a special place in my heart and risen to the top as my favorite game.
I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys horror based games, story based games, dungeon crawlers, strategy games, science fiction games, and first person experiences. Be Amanda Ripley and know what it’s like to feel real fear. Prove you are superior to the “perfect lifeform”, the Xenomorph, and escape Sevastopol Station.