1979 and the world was a very different place. The Village People were at no.1 with Y.M.C.A, Sony introduced the Walkman, Microsoft was just starting to be bandied around by Bill Gates and the big screen saw Alien hit and immediately become a smash hit.
Such a smash hit in fact that ever since, videogame developers have tried to bring us a game that recreates the tension, the horror and the suspense of Ridleys classic…..and for all their efforts, they’ve pretty much failed.
Alien Isolation, from Creative Assembly has been touted as the finest Alien game yet, and to be fair, they wouldn’t have had to work very hard to take that mantle. But have they done the films justice? Have they brought us gamers the Alien game that we’ve been crying out for?
Played as a first person shooter-cum-survival horror and set 15 years after the original film, Alien Isolation plays out through the eyes of Amanda Ripley, on a quest to fully understand what happened to her iconic mother and to recover the black box from the Nostromos which has been found on the space station, Sevastopol. Unfortunately, the station has been over run by a monster….one that cannot be stopped.
Now, I’m not the greatest of film buffs but even I know the rough background and story behind the Alien franchise and from what I’ve seen and played (I haven’t quite completed the full story but after around 15 hours of gameplay, seem to be pretty close), Isolation follows matters brilliantly, bringing the Alien vibe to our living rooms once again.
The game starts off fairly slowly with the first few hours consisting of plenty of storytelling, background emphasising and very little combat. It’s slow paced, a little boring and being completely honest, brings some bland acting to the front line. In fact, if it weren’t an Alien game and if it weren’t for the fact I was reviewing the game, I probably would have given up prior to the excitement starting.
Because whilst it’s all a bit stale for a while, all that completely changes from the moment Ripley encounters the Alien for the first time. The tension mounts, the eerie sounds from the space station seem ever louder and you find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat, ready to run and hide whenever the pings from your tracker gets louder and quicker.
For if you don’t run and you don’t hide, then death is all that ensues. And death is something you should be getting used to fairly quickly because it happens time and time again.
You see, once the big hulking beast first sets its sights on Ripley, it seems to get a taste of blood and will hunt you down for ever more. In a change from the norm in this genre, the Alien has a sense of unpredictability about it, seemingly going wherever it wants, whenever it wants, at any time. This is all well and good and makes for some tense standoffs and even tenser times hidden in lockers or cowering under desks, but if you are trying to get through to a certain objective for the fifteen time, only to be killed yet again by an enemy that doesn’t have a set pattern of attack, then things can become slightly frustrating. In fact, other than a few minor visual glitches, the amount of times I have had to redo certain sections of the game and the irritation that being killed yet again brings, turn out to be the only negatives I can think of about Alien Isolation. Some may call it a test, and those who enjoy playing games on hardcore or insane levels will no doubt be scoffing at this, but from a personal view point, I’d rather have a little less tension and a bit more movement in the path forward.
And at those few times when said Alien isn’t around, you still need to be completely on your guard for the Working Joe Androids that control the station don’t take too kindly to humans and will quite happily dish out a boot or two to the head if you get in their way. It’s preferable to leave them well alone, using the extensive vent system to get around, but if you wish to use the rather decent weapon and tools crafting system that is found in Isolation then you’ll need to gather the appropriate tools for the job first, something which the Joes don’t really want you to have. The inclusion of scattered blueprints for various new tools gives the hoarders amongst us something to search every nook and cranny for, whilst the odd hacking minigame gives a little break from the standard scare fair.
There are also no automatic save points found anywhere in the game, instead reaching out to you as the player to grab the nearest emergency registration point. Whilst it is no game killer, let me warn you now, if you see a save point, use it as soon as you can, otherwise you’ll find yourself treading the same path even more of the time.
Aside from the story mode, you will find yourself thrust into a Survivor mode that seems even more difficult than the campaign. Played out as a one-on-one confrontation with the Alien, you’ll need to use as many of the tools at your disposal as you can in order to complete a few objectives and then escape the Alien’s clutches. You’ll be scored depending on how many objectives you complete, how quickly you complete them and how efficiently you crawled on your hands and knees around the environment, and that score is then uploaded straight to the Survivor mode leaderboards for the world to see. I’d love to tell you more about the Survivor mode, but after numerous attempts at it – well into double figures – the Alien gets his claws on me every single time, hitting me with that frustration stick once again. Survivor rewards the quick and nimble ones amongst us and unfortunately, I’m not one of those.
I haven’t yet spoken about the real stars of the A:I show but feel a quick mention must go out in regards the visual and audio. A couple of glitches aside, graphically you will be amazed at some of the detail in place. The environments are well thought out and superbly recreated giving a great sense of feeling that you are indeed floating around up in space and any cut scene is absolutely perfectly played out. Once the Alien gets involved in things, you’ll both see and hear some of the greatest elements of the entire game, with a beast that is well designed, yet still being one that flows naturally (well, as natural as you can make an 8 foot monster from space). Throw in some sounds that wouldn’t be out of place in a Triple A movie and you’ll find yourself immersed fully in the whole situation. Just be sure to throw those expensive cans on your ears in order to benefit fully.
To sum up, Alien Isolation is indeed that Alien game we have been crying out for. It’s not absolutely perfect and can be very frustrating at times (as I’ve found out!), but comes very very close to getting things spot on. Gamers sometimes go on about the length of time a campaign takes to complete but there should be absolutely no worries about this….you’ll be getting a good 20+ hours of Alien action, with Survivor bringing a few more to those who wish to fully complete it in a decent time.
Fans should be very happy…..as should we all as after 35 years, we’ve finally got an Alien game to do the name justice. Just about anyways.