Like Mafia and L.A. Noire, Alien: Isolation feels like it exists solely to make me happy. The game gives the Alien franchise its due by pitting the player against a single, unstoppable monster, not the cannon fodder seen in Alien 3, Alien Versus Predator, and Colonial Marines. Creative Assembly has replicate the terrifying experience that made Ridley Scott’s film so iconic. I’m only a few hours into the game, so don’t consider this a full review. This is just an opportunity to take down some notes as I sneak my way through this white knuckled, space based roller coaster ride of survival.
Alien Isolation removes the gun toting machismo previous Alien video games became synonymous for. Rather than play the role of a space marine, Isolation is true to the “haunted house in space” motif of Ridley Scott’s film. The game also builds its foundations with shades of Dead Space and Outlast, as the player guides the hero through a decommissioned space station while being pursued by terrifying menace. The Xenomorph cannot be killed, only fend off with the game’s collection of makeshift gadgets and weapons, so stealth is the preferred way to advance. Through distraction and clever hiding places, it is possible to avoid the monster’s razor sharp teeth, claws, and scorpion tail. This results in an almost painfully exhausting game experience. Creative Assembly blends fantastic sound design with a truly scary and intelligent foe so well that it has left me breathless and my hands aching from gripping the controller so tightly.
The game’s story, so far, feels a bit inconsequential. Casting the player as Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda feels a bit trite and a flimsy excuse to address the player as “Ripley” (as the name carries so much weight in film franchise). 14 years after the elder Ripley entered cryo-sleep after fending off the first Alien, Amanda is approached by a representative from Wayland-Yutani with news that the Nostromo‘s flight recorder is being held at Sevastopol, a soon to be decommissioned space station. The game offers the same pacing as a film by teasing the alien’s appearance for as long as possible. Ripley will have to contend with the scared (and armed) survivors of an unknown conflict as well as the programming faults of the low grade androids called Working Joes.
The game really kicks into gear when the Alien reveals itself. Hunting humans and disabling androids is one thing, but it is a whole new ball game when faced with a creature that cannot be killed. Isolation becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse and the alien is not stupid. Creative Assembly has said that the creature will adapt to the player’s actions and so far, the Alien has been favoring unpredictable patrol routes. It will stalk corridors, sniff out lockers, and crawl into vents in its pursuit. Lockers, cabinets, and desks offer some semblance of safety as long as the creature doesn’t see you move into them.
Animation and physics is what makes the experience of Alien Isolation so terrifying. When in stalking mode, the Xenomorph lumbers around the environment looking for Ripley. After exhausting its search through rooms and hallways, it will locate and slither into vents. The transition from stalking to moving into small spaces looks natural and there’s very little jerkiness as the AI creature moves from one animation to the next. The creature moves with a realistic sense of predatory grace that it’s worth taking a moment to watch it in action. The physics engine managing the Xenomorph is great, too. While hiding underneath a desk in the Sevastopol’s medical wing, I loved watching its scorpion tail slither along, knocking over chairs and casting objects to the side as it moves past.
I’m really enjoying Alien Isolation so far. Not even the laborious save system (manual only; save often!) hasn’t brought me down. Well, not yet. I did have to bring the difficulty level down to Easy (from Medium) after getting roughed up several times during the first human encounter. I may switch it back because I’m interested in seeing how a higher difficult affects the Alien’s behavior.