They say in space, no one can hear you scream. Which is most definitely true. However, the same cannot be said for here on Earth. Thanks to this game, I’m pretty sure my neighbours suspect I either scream like a girl, or have one tied up in my murder room. I’ve played quite a few horror games in my day, but few succeed in keeping up the novelty of the scares until the end. Alien: Isolation manages to make this limited list.
Developed by Creative Assembly, Isolation takes place 15 years after the original Alien movie, you play as Amanda Ripley – daughter of the iconic Ellen Ripley – as she searches for answers to her mother’s disappearance. Her chance arises when she learns the flight recorder of the Nostromo has been discovered and the ship that found it is currently resting at the space station Sevastopol. So off you go to find some answers about the fate of your mother, and get that much needed closure. How sweet. But remember, this game has “Alien” in the title, so you know it’s not going to be as easy as that. Hell, as soon as you show up things have already gone to shit. Radio communication is spotty, and there’s no one to approve of your docking, so you get to space walk in – at least until an explosion separates you from your companions. And thus the real game begins.
From the second I stepped foot onto Sevastopol, I knew I was in for a hell of a ride. I was already digging the 1970’s feel of the aesthetics, so when I finally had a chance to creep and run around the environments it really brought me into the world. It’s a truly gorgeous game, yet at the same time it is incredibly unsettling. From the outside, you see a monumental space station, which would usually be teeming with the hustle and bustle of whatever it is people do on space stations in 2137. But once you get on, you see it is falling apart, empty, in the throes of chaos. Where there once was pristine white walls and impressive engineering, is now graffiti and derelict hallways. We soon learn that despite this being an Alien game, there’s more than just that to look out for. In fact, you encounter hostile humans sooner than you have to fend off the Xenomorph.
It’s not until about 45 minutes to an hour – depending on how long it took you to gain the courage to look around each corner – that we get our first true Alien encounter. Holy shit man. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tense in a game before. Being a fan of the Alien franchise (even the third) and knowing what these things are capable of just added to the fear. Then you add in the adaptive AI of the Alien, the phenomenal sound design and you’ve got yourself a recipe for Soiled Underwear. On the plus side, I really got to work on my bowel control.
But for realz though, Jeff van Dyck and his team effing rocked the hell out of the sound design. They were given access to the original sound effects from the movie, and they used it beautifully. There is one part where you are waiting for a transit vehicle to arrive, and you know that Gods damned creature is around, but you can’t see it. The music builds, slowly, but sharply. You can hear the growls as it gets closer, but you have nothing to defend yourself. Everything feels like it’s closing in around you, your palms are sweaty, the growls grow louder. You still see nothing. When the transit finally arrives, you turn to watch the doors close just as the hunter drops from the ceiling to where you were just standing. Good gods. I had to take a smoke break, and I don’t even smoke.
Luckily this game doesn’t just overwhelm you with heart attack inducing games of cat and mouse. It’s filled with puzzles, hacking, items and crafting to make your journey to safety a little easier – like a flamethrower, a revolver, medkits – but it’s not much. As well as humans and the Alien, you’ll encounter Synthetics that have pretty much lost their minds, and are hellbent on eliminating you. All the while, trying to figure out just why this is all happening. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say Weyland-Yutani is up to their usual shady business model.
I thoroughly enjoyed this game. My only two issues were that 1: it was incredibly long. Almost to the point where you’re a little annoyed. Although, the story and twists kept me going on, and I wan’t gonna just stop knowing I was so close to the end. And number 2: some of the animations were a little choppy. It’s really not a big deal, more or less just lips not lining up when NPC talk in game, and a few times the AI would get caught on something. Honestly, there’s worse bugs in other games. This was nothing that kept me out of the story and atmosphere for any longer than a few seconds.
All in all, incredibly solid addition to the Alien franchise, and there’s word on the streets there may be a sequel. If you haven’t yet picked up this game – it’s been just over a year – I suggest you pick it up. As well as some laundry detergent. Speaking of, I have a lot of laundry to do. A lot.