The Creative Assembly/Sega
I’d heard about Alien: Isolation through a friend of mine who had played it when it had first been released last year (2014). He related to me how similar it was to the indie-horror hit Outlast, how unnerving it was, and how he just couldn’t compel himself to complete it (just like Outlast). He’d made it to just about an hour and then called it quits, saying something about not wanting to compromise his already high blood pressure…yeah, that’s the ticket.
I, of course, scoffed at this notion. Nothing could be as deliberately twisted and play with your nerves as Outlast did, as well as a few other horrific games such as the Penumbra series.
That’s just about where I had made it to in this new Alien game; around the one hour mark, and now I could see what he was talking about…
I guided the game’s main protagonist, Amanda Ripley, down the dark halls of the decrepit and purportedly abandoned deep space station, the Sevastopol. Earlier, Amanda had been on board a much friendlier looking (albeit sterile) survey ship and had donned a space suit in order to investigate the space station. But things took a turn for the worse, and Ripley literally crash landed into one of the station’s airlocks.
While I was being freaked out by the station’s tense atmosphere, I couldn’t help but admire the attention to detail that the developers had mustered, in this (gratefully) faithful interpretation of Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror/science fiction extravaganza, Alien. Everything, from the gratuitous puffs of steam spewing forth from doors, to the submarine-esque deep toned creaking sounds—they even nailed the classic retro-futurism of the late 70s with some old boom boxes, complete with tapes, scattered around. Finally, someone had paid accurate attention homage to the original, classic film.
One of the things that loomed in the back of my mind was that I was going to die. Yes, playing Alien: Isolation, is comparable to embracing your inner sadist. It’s only a matter of time before the titular monster, replete with barbed tail, pupil-less gleaming eyes, razor sharp claws, and drippy-drool-y fangs will find you. And when it does, things probably won’t go so well for you.
That’s because Alien: Isolation is one bad mammer jammer of a merciless game. I had thought that Dark Souls II was unforgiving, but at least in that game when you got offed, you could study the movements and actions of your foes and come back better prepared to face them. In this latest Alien game, the actual alien itself is so unpredictable that you can never truly be in a safe place, nor plan an appropriate strategy around escaping it—or at least fending it off.
Alien: Isolation is indeed a throwback, or a comeback depending on how you look at it, to the golden age of big-budgeted horror games such as Silent Hill and Resident Evil. And you will see that in both the visual and aural presentation. I can’t tell you how many times I shifted uncomfortably in my chair as I peeked around corners, trying to see if the coast was clear to move down a foreboding hallway. The ships creaks and groans, and makes sudden unexplainable noises that startle you. They are more than enough to have you taking breaks and turning the lights back on in your room, murmuring yourself that it’s only a game.
After much apprehension, I had finally made it to the first storage room, where you can engage the game’s nifty crafting system. It seemed like a safe enough spot, but I still found myself nervously glancing at the door while I assembled a first aid device. I won’t name any names here, but the aforementioned friend of mine had relished the relative safety of this chamber and had found it a convenient place to quit his game here. He’d explained that he was a true role-player, and that he’d reconciled Amanda to sitting and waiting in the storage room until a rescue crew would eventually show up. From there he never touched the game again.
I wasn’t quite as lily-livered (sorry pal), so I pressed on further into the game, which is almost more of an unpleasant exercise in anxiety more than a survival horror game. However, it has enough of an interesting story, gritty atmosphere, and intriguing mystery, to keep all but the wimpiest engaged enough to keep plodding forward—or rather quietly creeping through.
The story follows the aforementioned Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, who is an engineer working in a very remote and unpopular quadrant of the galaxy in order to find out what happened to her big, bad, momma. Amanda learns that a rival corporation has recovered the black box flight recorder that was on board her ship, the Nostomo, and she, along with two others, are dispatched to retrieve it from the dilapidated Sevastopol space station.
The actual alien itself is faithfully (and horrifically) brought to life, and is perhaps the best portrayal of H. R. Giger’s original creature design that has ever been depicted in any form of media; certainly any video game. The overall graphical quality is quite stunning, and really sets the bar high for PC gaming standards, as well as next gem consoles. It’s also evident that it was a wise choice indeed for Creative Assembly to hire ex-Crytek employees, as the lighting throughout the game is simply surreal. Owner of 4k gaming rigs in particular will almost feel as though they are in the game.
If you have the intestinal fortitude (and patience) to withstand Alien: Isolation’s nerve-fraying visual and sonic onslaught, and don’t mind whimpering intermittently like a frightened schoolgirl, then give the game a chance; you might just enjoy the ride.
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