Mother’s Daughter – Alien: Isolation – Review

Dracolich – Monday, October 13, 2014 8:48 PM
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Had I been asked to organize the marketing campaign for Alien: Isolation, I probably would’ve come up with a slogan that goes something like this: “Wanna try the most terrifying electronic hide-and-seek game ever created? Because it’s time to play as Newt!”

Alien: Isolation has everything: the entire Alien universe to work with, as well as the atmosphere laid out in the first three films. Of course, there’s also the Aliens versus Predator games to consider; although, it seems like the developers had decided not to turn to these films for inspiration and instead based their game on such classics as The Thing, System Shock 2 or Dead Space. In other words, there are save points, there’s crafting, and – oh yes indeed – there’s a security hacking element as well, which I’m pleased to report was rather cleverly put together.

The game’s strongest asset is its atmosphere; after all, a survival horror title needs to excel in this department. Thankfully, in this regard, the team passed the test with flying colors. Spending a few minutes wandering around the Torrens – a ship that might as well be a clone of the Nostromo – during the game’s introduction manages to channel that genuine Alien-esque atmosphere straight away, making you believe that you are indeed out there in hyperspace aboard a massive space vessel. As the airlocks open and shut close, we are surrounded by the dull hum of machinery all around us – and even as we make our way to the famous emergency room where Ash once examined the facehugger, the entire thing just screams “this is Alien”.
This is all there to set the proper mood, and it’s only the beginning, as every location you’ll explore stands testament to the level designers’ attention to detail. The sound effects and dynamic music all add to this – the only downside I can think of is the game’s handling of different sound levels (that is, character voices and sound effects): as such, I was often unable to achieve a proper balance between the volume of the blaring sirens and the voices of non-player characters whispering into my ear. Minor grumbles aside, Alien: Isolation still ends up being excellent on the audiovisual front… except for maybe Amanda’s hands occasionally flashing onto the screen as she begins to run, like two limp chicken-heads popping into view from time to time in the lower left and right edges of the screen. At yet there is hardly ever time in Alien: Isolation to admire chickens, as your enemies very much react to every loud noise you make while running – and of enemies, there are plenty to be found in the game.

And while we’re at things that didn’t quite hit the mark, the game does have a few peculiar bugs as well: levitating items, disabled androids that come to life to attack you, only to end up in a weird animation loop moments later. And most frustrating of all, a service door that – despite being open – I couldn’t for the life of me pass through.

However! The Alien is mine

While the plot tries its very best to be exciting and the levels are all designed in order to keep the campaign tense at all times, in the end it didn’t quite work out as well as they hoped. When the Alien made its first debut during gameplay (that is, not during a cutscene), I felt overcome by spine-tingling excitement, in awe of how amazing the thing looked, and – to borrow a thought from Ash – how fantastic of a species this monster must be. And yet this pleasant sort of fear – intended to evolve into pure terror, as the developers had no doubt intended – instead turned into an oppressive feeling of resignation in me. If you see the Alien, hide. If the Alien is nearby, hide. If you plan to go anywhere, go slow steady; the moment you move faster, you’re spotted, which means you’re dead. In essence, the game turned into a hide-and-seek simulator played from a 5-year-old’s perspective, with most of your time spent under tables and behind various types of cover.

If you look at it this way, the Alien is the real hero of the story, while you, on the other hand, are a mere spectator, utilizing your surroundings to the best of your abilities. In fact, the Alien stalks you to such an extent that after a while, I started to think of it as an ally. When I was staring down the barrel of a gun held at me by enemies (“Can't you see? I’ve got a gun!”), I could often find myself muttering the following phrase in response: “Yeah, go on and shoot. I’ve got an Alien.”

The Alien is mine
Storyline events aren’t exactly the most creative, with the game only being able to offer any real twists due to its cleverly-presented promotional content (however, in order to avoid spoilers, I can’t go into any more details here). The dynamics of the narrative are quite exceptional here and there, with the game injecting a few brutal scenes into the plot at times – none of which you see up close, of course, further cementing the idea that you are not the hero, but a mere survivor.

I also felt the game was held back by a number of unnecessary elements lifted from elsewhere. We already know that Weyland-Yutani is rotten to the core. But this is such an utter cliché that in order to shed some light on the source of our problems, we have get to the central computer’s core.

When it comes to Amanda’s arsenal, don’t expect to see too many weapons. Ultimately, though, relying on them too much is generally not a good idea, anyway, seeing how gameplay is very much focused on stealth – and in itself, this wouldn’t bother me at all, but I’m not too fond of limiting the player’s options in this way. As far as other collectible items are concerned, most of them will end up unused – other than ones having some kind of functional use, although in my case even the motion tracker was merely dead weight. At the very least, you’ll probably not want to run around collecting them so much that you’d expose yourself to the very real danger of wandering the space vessel’s dark hallways for too long. In sharp contrast with what one would expect from a place like this, you do come across a generous amount of various components. More than you’d ever need for survival, actually. And if you’re persistent (and patient) enough, you’ll eventually be rewarded with various reports from the crew of the Nostromo – however, this is still small consolation for even the most hardcore of scavengers.

Alien – In Retrospective (spoilers!)

Alien retrospective

Alien: IsolationPlatform: PC, PS3, PS4, XBox360, XBox OneGenre: Survival Horror, StealthDeveloper: The Creative AssemblyPublisher: SegaRelease: 10/07/2014Rated: 18+PEGITruth be told, poor Amanda’s been more traumatized by the game’s events than myself, although in her defense, she’s looking for her own mother – still, Amanda in this game undergoes a more stressful experience than Ellen Ripley in all of her movies (well, aside from that whole cloning business). It becomes evident that the developers’ primary concern was for Amanda to merely follow in her mother’s footsteps.

It’s a shame that the game’s storyline ended up being such a mixed bag, because despite everything, it did have its moments – if the rest of the campaign had only been just a little less exciting than those moments, Alien: Isolation would’ve easily ended up as my personal game of the year. It conjures up its nostalgic atmosphere with such skill and power that at several points I spent entire minutes just looking around, examining my surroundings or staring out a window to marvel at the wonders of outer space.

The irony of the whole deal is that the game had plenty of potential to include three different endings: and yet, the developers went for a certain fourth option – a letdown in every aspect –, causing my jaw to drop as the credits began to roll – and definitely not from being so impressed.

Nonetheless, Alien: Isolation is still a game I can easily recommend to fans of horror – this game will both scare and terrify you. Its only problem is that it sets the standard extremely high right off the bat, and later on, it can’t quite keep up with itself.

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