Alien Isolation – Review

Title   Alien Isolation
Developer  The Creative Assembly
Publisher  SEGA
Platform  Windows PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Genre  Survival horror, stealth
Release Date  October 7th, 2014
Official Site

Like any right-minded person, I’m a huge fan of the Alien series. However, my love for the series starts with Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic, Alien, and ends roughly fifteen minutes before the end of Alien Resurrection (when the newborn turns up). The AvP films were offensively terrible and the games really aren’t all that at all. People do tend to get excited when a new Alien-flavoured game turns up but, to paraphrase Danny Glover, I’m too old for this shit. So, my expectations of Alien Isolation and, indeed, any other Alien game, are always going to be blaverage to meh, although this title did promise something a little different from the usual Alien fare, and on that part of the deal they deliver.

You see, this game, unlike all the others, isn’t inspired by Aliens. This one is pure Alien. That means you won’t be in room with strobing emergency lights, firing off pulse rifles to the sound of baby elephants being butchered. Instead, this is all future-70s tech, beige padding, claustrophobic air vents and synthetics that are still a little bit twitchy. You won’t be in the middle of the room spraying bullets like Hudson during his last stand. Nope, you’ll be crouching in the shadows armed with nothing more effective than a flask full of gummy bears as an alien stalks you. But that won’t be right away. Alien Isolation‘s pacing is a little bit like the movie that inspired it. For the first hour not much happens. You’ll wake up out of hypersleep as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the more famous Ellen, in Torrens – a ship not dissimilar to the Nostromo. Before long, a party of three, including Amanda, attempt to get onto the Sevastopol space station which is floating in space, damaged and ominously quiet.

Ripley is soon separated from her crewmates and left to fend for herself in the station. She is an engineer, though, and is able to craft rudimentary tools to help but, for the most part, she’s helpless and before the alien is even mentioned, she has to deal with the station’s unfriendly human population and their synthetic support staff. It’s all very bleak and worrying, and all you can do is creep to your next objective. Eventually, people in the station will explain the situation to you and it’s not a good one, as the titular alien is there and once you catch its attention, it won’t be going anywhere. The gameplay really comes down to a lot of walking and occasionally pressing a switch or button in order to then go for another long walk. Once the alien gets involved, this process gets even slower, as every corridor and room potentially becomes a hiding place, and if the alien sees you before you see it, you’re getting chomped, and there is very little you can do about that.

The game’s atmosphere is steeped in the Alien tradition. Everything looks and sounds authentic, with the visuals looking splendid on the PS4, especially when you get a nice windowed view of space in the background. Cutscenes are a little juddery but everything else is fine. The problem isn’t there. The problem is with the gameplay, which is considerably lacking. For the first hour all I did was walk and press things. I ran into a few humans that wanted to kill me, but was undone by the piss-poor stealth mechanics on offer. Eventually I decided to stove their heads in with a melee weapon; they obligingly stood in a row and let that happen after at least five stealthier attempts. Poor.

Then I encountered an overly long stealth section where I had to avoid androids while my apparent goals stretched further and further away. Then it was the time for the alien, and it is that fella who brings the best and worst aspects to the game. When you first see the alien it is terrifying as it drops down in front of you and wanders off. Eventually you realise that if it sees you before you see it, you’re dead. If you see it first, you have a puncher’s chance of maybe getting away from it and hiding. Don’t run, though… it’ll eat your tarty little legs in a second.

After that it loses its power. Sure, it’ll still kill you, which is terrifying based on how stingy the game is with save points but, ultimately, most of your encounters will involve you being hidden behind a chair or under a table while it walks past. The alien doesn’t crawl (or indeed wall crawl) but, rather, just walks past, kind of like a guard in Splinter Cell. It’s a little disappointing but does at least add a great deal of tension to proceedings.

At this point, every mission becomes a tiring slog as you inch your way towards the next thing you have to press while an alien twats you every chance it gets. Hours and hours of dull objectives that move the goalposts as you get to them. This game somehow has an even more boring mission structure than Dead Space (which at least, to its credit, had a decent game engine and some good action). To make it worse, the alien seems to have been watching Scooby Doo, as it is quite good at running into doors and then emerging somewhere completely separate almost instantly. It doesn’t seem that fair but worse, it doesn’t seem very realistic and, ultimately, destroys the tension.

Add to that the dismal level design which is so ’90s that it actually has a room that has three doors, each of which needs different tools to open them – so far, so Duke Nukem – and you’ve got the problem that affects the whole game: Alien Isolation is painfully dated. It feels slow and tedious to play. It lacks variation. For the majority of the time you’ll be doing nothing but walking. I hoped for better, but this is everything I expected and less.

  • Authentic Alien style visuals and sound
  • Can get a bit scary
  • Ripley Jr seems like a decent character
  • Oh my God. It is so boring you might die playing it
  • Awful level design
  • Repetitive
  • Bullshit mission objectives that seem to extend every time you think you've managed something
  • Shockingly, it's worse than Dead Space in nearly every aspect of the gameplay
  • Alien feels authentic in that it just seems like a guy wearing an alien suit

Alien Isolation isn't 'the one'. It's clearly a labour of love and it really takes a chance, hoping to provide something different to the usual Aliens-inspired FPS, but it doesn't work. With one alien and a just a bunch of human and robotic wankers, what you get is basically the most empty survival FPS since Bioshock, but with no attempt to distract you from the boredom.

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One Comment

  1. Ste Ste says:

    Shit, I was sorta half looking forward to this. Meh, maybe I’ll wait until it’s inevitably cheaper

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