We all have a genetic and primal disposition to fear predators we don’t understand. When growing up any dark corner could have a monster lurking. Every closet creaks as if a disgusting horror lurks within. Under the bed a growling terror makes you quiver under a blanket. Then of course you grow up and most of these fears (usually) fade away into distant memory. Alien: Isolation tries to reawaken that fear using one of the most iconic movie monsters ever to grace the silver screen.
For better or worse, this horror title from Creative Assembly succeeds in that.
Alien: Isolation puts you in the boots of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of franchise heroine Ellen, who also finds her way into the space faring trade as an engineer for Weyland Yutani. After months of searching for her lost mother she is offered a breakthrough and leaps at the chance with open arms. Just in time for the nightmare to begin.
The first few tentative steps you take on Sevastopol station paint a picture of terror. Its population is trapped in a quarantine while one by one while they’re picked off by something. Alien: Isolation doesn’t blow its big star right away though. Instead you are immersed in the broken space station. Graffiti covers so many walls you would be forgiven for believing this game was directed by Neill Blomkamp. People scuttle into the shadows through desperation and fear of the “monster”, as well as from one another.
Instead of just putting you at odds with the titular Xenomorph – an experience we’ll get to in a moment – there are plenty of threats of a more human nature. Going back to those primitive ways, many of the people who aren’t tied to you in the story have banded together into small groups for survival. Like any time when nameless humans take to a tribal lifestyle, they aren’t exactly the friendly or welcoming types and delight in trying to fill you with hot lead rather than a sense of togetherness.
Even the station itself is fighting back through the Working Joes. Franchise fans will remember the Weyland Yutani android Bishop. Well this is the Sevastapol version, built by Seegson, of the memorable android that goes a little off-the-rails. They look more like mannequins covered in disembodied skin than actual humans but they still present a significant challenge to your survival. A nightmarish addition to the franchise’s lore which Alien: Isolation delivers into the terrible, dark places in the back of players brains.
However they are nothing compared to the big bad. The main feature who tops the billing of this death-concert. The Xenomorph.
This beast turns the corridors and vents surrounding you into something reminiscent of Daedalus’ Labyrinth. After a short introductory run – which does a fine job setting up Alien: Isolation‘s world but lacks anything truly memorable in itself – this omnipotent menace rears its ugly head. That ugly head then becomes your worst enemy most of the time and oddly enough your best friend at rare occasions. The creature, as station inhabitants refer to it, skitters through ventilation shafts in its endless quest for slaughter.
It really is an endless one too.
You see, the best thing Alien: Isolation does is take what was best about its source material and capitalizes perfectly upon it. Where previous attempts at Alien video-games have failed is their desire to have you see and shoot the menace. This might give players a power trip but it takes away what’s best about the first entry in this iconic movie franchise. Think back to how often the late H.R. Giger’s beast appears on screen in the original silver screen outing. A constant threat that only appears on screen for moments until the climax. A threat that can’t always be seen but could always be there, waiting in the dark; a threat Alien: Isolation beautifully replicates.