Alien: Isolation is the kind of game that only comes around a few times a generation. It so expertly cribs inspiration from other truly spectacular games, while building an entirely independent vision for modern sci-fi horror that stands head and shoulders above the competition.
Isolation has a very simple premise that steeped in Alien lore. In this game you play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley from the Alien films. This game takes place roughly 15 years after the events of the original Alien, in the gap of time that Ripley is in stasis. Amanda works for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, just like her mother. Weyland-Yutani catches word that the black box recorder from the Nostromo ship that Ellen Ripley was on had been found and was being held on the space station Sevastopol, that is owned and operated by a rival technology company Seegson. Ripley agrees to go along to Sevastopol to pick up the black box recorder in an attempt to come to terms once and for all with the loss of her mother and hopefully close the book on the past. However, upon at arrival to Sevastopol, it becomes apparent that something is up with this facility and that not everything is going well on this station.
One of the things that I love so much about this game is the way that they handle their world building. The entire Sevastopol facility feels like is a real place and throughout the course of the game’s generous 20+ hour duration, you get to explore so much of the facility and the paths tend to wrap back onto each other and it never feels like you are backtracking in the game because it is designed in such a way that you start to believe that you are learning the facility and not just wasting time.
Every aspect of this game is built on Alien lore. There is an especially fantastic flashback sequence at the midpoint of the game that pulled every heartstring that I have for Alien, Aliens, and even gave me a newfound appreciate for Prometheus (which I didn’t think was possible). I caught myself reading every terminal in the game, every piece of graffiti scrawled on the walls of the station, and listening intently to every audio log in the game. The financial situation on this facility and the situations surrounding why it is in the state of disrepair all grabbed me. That is possibly a reflection of what I love about sci-fi and I acknowledge that openly. I have never liked pretty and clean future fiction. I like the idea that Weyland-Yutani with all of their polish and elegance would have a rival that is known for corner cutting and budget robotics. For every Cadillac there has to be a Daewoo, I presume.
I am 500 words into this review and I haven’t said a thing about how this game plays! Isolation is a first-person horror game. This is not a shooter. There are guns in it and other weaponry. But, I can probably count on two hands the amount of times I ever openly engaged in combat and that is because this game is almost entirely driven by sound. The Alien is super sensitive to sound and will jump out of the ventilation ducts that it travels in and murder you if you are sprinting around openly or making a bunch of noise. So, it would behoove you as the player to spend much of the game crouching and staring at the motion tracker that was made famous by the movie Aliens. I would recommend you go and watch some of the video that we shot of the game to learn a little more about the audio design in this game. But, it becomes apparent very early in this game where the Alien is at almost all times. Your motion tracker gives you audio and video representations of where the Alien is and the sound design also feeds into that as well. When the Alien is in the vents it makes a hollow clanging series of noises that let you know that you can move around fairly freely. When he is down in the room, his footfalls make much more pronounced booms that let you know that you should probably hide under a desk or in a closet and pray he doesn’t murder you.
The stealth gameplay in this game feels very akin to the style of stealth that were popularized by the Splinter Cell and Hitman games. There are all kinds of ways to manipulate the environment to make your traversal easier, such as turning off air purification to make the room smoky or turning on loud announcements to make your actions go undetected more easily. I was really taken with the gameplay pacing in this game. The immediacy of the moment is really fantastic and leaves you as the player constantly engaged and gives you tons of agency in the experience. I wanted Amanda Ripley to live. I didn’t want to beat the game, I wanted her to triumph. That might seem like a subtle difference, but it was significant in driving my experience with the game.
The game is populated by cheap robots called Working Joes that are kind of terrifying and a good amount of Sevastopol citizens. It is probably in your best interest to avoid almost everyone. It seems that the Alien attack and the decommissioning of the facility has left the entire populace in a delicate mental state and most people won’t hesitate to kill you on sight. I can’t tell you how many times I would be sneaking through a room under the veil of darkness actually holding my own breath in hopes that it would keep the person I was sneaking past from noticing me.
I love the graphics in this game. I played through this game on the Xbox One and it looked absolutely fantastic. The game maintains a pretty steady 30fps for most of the experience and I didn’t really have any qualms about performance at any time. The art design is the real star of the show. The team at Creative Assembly did a remarkable job of designing every room on this space station in such a way that I felt like I was in space. The entire facility is in orbit around a gas giant planet and all of the open atriums that give you a view outside are really incredible. Man, space is cool, you guys.
I love this game. It is one of my favorite games of this generation and it might actually make it remarkably high on my list of all-time favorites, as well. If you are a fan of stealth, or horror, or Alien, or good games, you should probably check out Alien: Isolation. Best part is that you can pick up that game for cheap. I sincerely hope that the guys at Sega decide to green-light another one of these. There is absolutely no reason in my mind why we should have at least one more of these. It took them a long time to hit a stride. But, it looks like Sega might finally understand what to do with the Alien IP. Just don’t give us any more Colonial Marines… ever.
Alien: Isolation gets 5 out of 5 stars!