Alien: Isolation – As We Play

Format – Xbox One

Version – 1.0

Just a couple of years ago, fans of the Alien franchise were counting down the days until Aliens: Colonial Marines – the Alien game that was supposedly made by the fans, for the fans – was released. The game would go on to flop, of course, and fans were left still waiting for the ultimate Alien videogame experience.

Bitten by Colonial Marines, it was natural that Alien: Isolation got nowhere near as much pre-release hype, as players were determined not to fall into the same trap again. Put your mind at rest, this is not a repeat performance.

Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of Alien and features protagonist Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley. Ripley is approached by Weyland-Yutani synthetic Christopher Samuels, who informs her that the flight recorder of the Nostromo was recently located by a ship named Anesidora. After accepting a place on the mission, Ripley’s adventure begins as she attempts to uncover the fate of her missing mother.

The famous motion tracking device is your best friend throughout the game

The famous motion tracking device is your best friend throughout the game

If you were hoping to get your hands on an M41A Pulse Rifle or M56 Smartgun as you take control of Ripley for the first time, then brace for disappointment. Isolation is survival horror in its purist form – a decision that allows the atmosphere and tension to truly feel like an Alien movie. The majority of the game sees you crouched down, sneaking around corners and frantically looking at your motion tracker at even the slightest hint of noise or movement. This is exactly what an Alien game should feel like.

Isolation looks fantastic. The Alien lore is rich as you explore your ship and then the space station for the first time. Terminals and items all feel absolutely correct in the 70’s futuristic vision and the odd beep here and there from various computer panels sound like ambient noise from the movies. The slow pace of the game allows you to fully absorb yourself in the world, taking everything in as you sneak around. And when you have that first encounter with the Alien itself, it’s as terrifying as it should be. I could feel my heart beating as I hid myself away – genuinely afraid to move an inch on my sofa.

Meeting the Xenomorph for the first time is genuinely terrifying

Meeting the Xenomorph for the first time is genuinely terrifying

The Alien is one of three enemies you face in the game – the other two being looters and the synthetic working androids that have gone rogue on the station. With guns and ammo in very short supply, dispatching enemies should be considered a last resort. Sneaking around is very much the sensible approach and you’ll soon learn that the shadows (and vents) are your friend. Alien encounters are frequent and the AI is brutal. With very few blindspots, you really do need to be on top of your game when dodging the Xenomorph. Plenty of hiding places are scattered around, but if the Alien ever gets sight of you, you can forget outrunning or outsmarting it – it’ll be instant death. It sounds frustrating, but it works perfectly – anything less would’ve just reduced on the fear factor.

My biggest annoyance with the game is how to deal with the synthetic worker androids. Freakishly strong and very aware of their surroundings, you often have no choice but to take them on with force – ultimately resulting in lots of spent ammo, used grenades or multiple beatings over the head with a wrench. The frustrating part in all of this is that any sort of noise or fast movement will more often than not alert our Xenomorph friend. As you progress through the game, you’ll find a flamethrower that makes dealing with enemies somewhat easier, but until that point, android battles are just an unfair distraction that can make you feel genuinely frustrated.

Android battles feel unfair and frustrating

Android battles feel unfair and frustrating

The game also lacks an auto-save feature. Whilst many have criticised this decision, which can occasionally result in having to replay portions of the game again after a death, I personally feel that it’s what survival horror is all about. It brings back the value of a “life” which you aren’t going to waste by running around the corner just to see what is there. Instead, Isolation gives you a consequence for dying frequently, encouraging you to play the game the way it was designed. Save points, in the form of emergency telephone kiosks, are very well placed and just about the right distance apart from each other – giving you a challenge to reach the next one without getting frustrated.

The Good

  • Survival horror at its absolute best
  • Alien lore is perfect
  • Looks and sounds terrific
  • One of the most atmospheric games I’ve played

The Bad

  • Android battles are unfair, clumsy and tiresome

Final Analysis

There is so much more to Alien: Isolation, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s easily one of the best games we’ve had in 2014 and probably one of the best Alien videogames ever made. Some will no doubt want a “proper shooter”, and you won’t find that experience in Isolation. But what you will find is a world so true to the Alien franchise that you never want to leave it – no matter how terrified you are.

Overall Quality Rating – 9/10