Very much lin keeping with the movie franchise that spawned it, the Alien videogame IP has made some bad turns. Sega and The Creative Assembly have looked to bring the franchise back to a high level with Alien: Isolation. By telling the tale of Amanda Ripley (daughter of Ellen) and her search for her mother 15 years after the events of the iconic movie Alien.
Learning to love the alien, the manual save and crafting on the fly
Survival horror has in recent times lost the pacing and that edgy tension that defined the genre. The team at The Creative Assembly wanted to address that in a game that redefined those elements but also to take us back to what made the original Alien movie such a classic. By returning to the scenario of survival against a lone alien as an underprepared and often isolated survivor is fundamental to Alien: Isolation’s setting. Helping to maintain the suspension of disbelief and the pulse of tension are a couple of well chosen game mechanics.
It may not sit well with everyone but by not having an autosave feature Alien: Isolation pushes the player to think carefully about the length of time since the last manual save made. This could feel like a painful inconvenience but instead it focuses the players approach in regard to risk and the management of finite materials found on the Sevastopol Station. Materials that are needed to craft defensive and offensive weaponry and health packs(all of which is done on the fly). The process of the save itself is excellently developed into the framework of systems within the Sevastopol. Never have I appreciated but also enjoyed the mechanic of a save point in a game than I have in Alien: Isolation.
While there are other obstacles to overcome the majority of the early part of the game is largely a ‘cat and mouse’ game between Ripley and the alien. There were moments during the early stages of Alien: Isolation where a worry that overfamiliarity would creep in as the paths the alien and Ripley took seemed too interconnected. Thankfully this worry didn’t produce an outcome that I was predicting. The journey through the stations vast map was made infinitely more unforgettable with an alien tracing the crouched frame of Ripley. An alien that would react with a fury to the merest noise but also could just as well miss a carefully placed step. The experience of confronting the alien had nothing to do with random outcomes but more about working the alien away from the path that needed to be taken.
The rudimentary story, harking back again to the original Alien movie, helps with how the player sets the pace of the game. Creeping, stooping, waiting and hiding are needed to gain progression through the decks of the Sevastopol. And to aid this, again from the arsenal of Alien, is the motion tracker with all it’s glorious limitations and drawbacks. The inclusion of this item for Alien: Isolation was a no-brainer but its representation in the game is a thing of wonder and without it…well it doesn’t bear thinking about.
The Creative Assembly have produced a wonderful entry into the Alien universe. All sides of production are nothing but excellent. The preparation and attention to detail, taken from the original Alien movie archives, shows how hard the team must have worked to get the design of the Sevastopol Station spot on. The development of the alien’s AI also shows just what can be achieved while the workmanlike androids can truly be unnerving.
The two areas that do suffer are the AI of the human survivors on the station and the poor animations and voice syncing of the entire cast. That said these can be forgiven as oversights although these seemingly unpolished moments may be due to the limits of the game engine.
Alien: Isolation is a classy reminder on just how survival horror doesn’t need to revert to blazing guns action to make the genre exciting. Recommended.
Alien: Isolation is available now on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4 and Xbox One. The reviewer retrieved his copy of the game from the Nostromo flight recorder.