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Alien: Isolation Chest-Bursts Into Greatness (Review)

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Alien: Isolation Chest-Bursts Into Greatness (Review)

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.

Alien Isolation

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.

Alien Isolation

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.

Alien Isolation

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.

What may in most games be nothing more than a simple jaunt from objective A to objective B – you’ll be doing that a lot by the way – instead becomes a tension-filled journey when the Xenomorph is involved and when it isn’t. Alien: Isolation takes the idea of fear being at its most powerful when it isn’t tangible and spreads it across a lengthy story. While the idea of hiding from a Xenomorph for 15 or so hours might sound like something that would get old, the primitive fear is built throughout every second.

Alien Isolation

Any time the walls creak it could be the Alien. Every hiss of gas could be the stalker creeping up behind you. Shaft openings could be the hiding place of your imminent doom all of the time. Usually you’d just whip out a shotgun and blow the face of this beast. In Alien: Isolation you cannot do that. Not just because the creature doesn’t have a face. It simply cannot be killed. The flamethrower can be used to buy a few seconds but that’s the only conventional weapon that would have any effect. After all let’s be honest. Would you rather hide from the creature, or piss it off with a jet of flame and then deal with the consequences of it learning.

Sevastopol station itself builds this feeling of horror with every fiber of its being. Dim lighting and dark corners present themselves at every turn. Where Creative Assembly really deserves all of the credit they earn is in the building of this station. No one element feels out of place at any point. It stays so true to its source that if a director were to pick up the entirety of the original Alien, change the story to fit this new station, then lovingly drop it into the setting of Alien: Isolation, it would feel like a true sequel worthy of the franchise. Much more so than the prequel territory trodden through Prometheus or the questionable Alien: Resurrection.

The majority of gameplay plays out in typical survival-horror form. Through a combination of stealthing, creating items with a brilliantly-innovative if initially-jarring crafting system, and objectives like “press this switch to open this door”, you lead Amanda Ripley through this living hell and out of the other side. Admittedly the similar objectives do become something of a drag at times but the Xenomorph and changing locales do a fine job of diluting this somewhat unimaginative selection of activities.

Alien Isolation

Sound design and visual attention to detail play a huge part in the success of bringing the world of Alien to Alien: Isolation. Nothing sounds out of place. These sounds meld together with every other factor to create an experience which keeps you on your toes at all times. Of course there are frustrations. When trapped in an area with no obvious escape, frequently dying and having to fumble through a rather dated saving system becomes a controller-launching experience. As you learn the ins and outs of each environment though you feel an overwhelming sense of achievement, even if you’ve only moved several feet.

It should be noted that if you suffer from any visual impairment or hearing difficulties, Alien: Isolation makes almost no effort to bring the experience to you in a suitable way. There are no visualizations of ominous sounds and one incredibly frustrating section is outwardly unfriendly to anyone who suffers from color-blindness.

This isn’t a horror game. Oh no, this is an Alien game. A place where fastidious art direction, intriguing level design and an ever-present nightmare roll into one. A truly wondrous title that, with a few minor hiccups, deserves to have the Alien name emblazoned upon its art. If you’ve ever enjoyed an Alien movie, then Alien: Isolation is a natural and recommended play for your immediate future.

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