“In space, noone can hear you scream” – but they can in your gaming chair (unless it’s in space), so be careful you don’t wake the whole street!
Alien: Isolation, is hyped as the best horror game of a generation – possibly of all time – and boasts a massive 53 industry award nominations – which is a hugely impressive feat in and of itself. There was a huge amount of excitement surrounding the launch of this game. However, fans of the genre and of the Alien franchise, like myself, found our enthusiasm tinged with a fair amount of skepticism and trepidation. Not because of this particular game, of course, but because of the disappointment we’ve felt every time an Alien game has been released. For those of us who are old enough to remember, the disappointment started with the first game of the franchise: Alien, for the Atari 2600, released in 1982., and continued with new releases on all kinds of platforms, from consoles to arcade machines, right through to 2013 with Aliens: Colonial Marines. The disaster that is Colonial Marines received a huge amount of hype, being touted as a sci-fi/horror genre gaming breakthrough, much like Alien: Isolation. However, it failed spectacularly with fans of the genre, the movie franchise, and gamers in general across the world hating the game. So, understandably, many of us were wary of getting too excited about the latest game release, even though it promised to deliver in a way that none of the previous games had managed.
“Perfect Organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility… A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”
But – we were not disappointed! The game is awesome. Like every game that has ever been released, it isn’t flawless, but it really does deliver. Alien: Isolation is a real breakthrough in the horror game genre. It employs an array of brilliantly deployed techniques to create a solid story that appeals to Alien and horror fans, as well as those gamers who enjoy a damn good bug hunt. The game is filled with tension and suspense and follows an intelligent plot line. At a time when many gamers felt that horror gaming was dead in the water, with predictable and not remotely scary games being the norm, Alien: Isolation came bursting onto the scene and breathed new life into a stagnant genre.
“They’re coming outta the walls. They’re coming outta the goddamn walls.”
Now, I’ve heard and seen a few random comments about the “old styling” and the “80’s feel” of the game, and questions and comments about having paper and cassette tapes on a futuristic space craft. Well, these comments come from people who don’t grasp the roots of the game and the Alien franchise. The mission of this game was to stay true to its origins – and it does so perfectly. You have to remember that yes, Alien, the original movie, was produced in the 70s and released in 1979 – so it was futuristic from a 70’s perspective – retro-futuristic. So, yes, the design team thought we’d still be using cassette tapes in the future – and that paper would still be widely available, and the on-board computers and monitors would still look like the good old Amstrad screens, with, with a giant cursor block, dark green back ground and green text – I mean, come on, the flat screens with dynamic text and imagery we are familiar with today simply wasn’t available then. Let’s face it, in 50 years, our descendents will be saying the same thing about the games, films, and media that we create today. For its time, Alien was amazing – and for many of us, still is.
But I digress slightly with my Alien fandom. The point is, if you listen to the opening cut scenes, and know the story of the first film, Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after the Nostromo disappears – so 15 years after the first film. For this reason, the developers maintained the “old school look and feel” to maintain the storyline and to make it more authentic. So yes, you do see cassette tapes laying around – and magazines – and really old computer monitors – just as you did in the original movie. So don’t complain or look bemused – just go with it – it plays a massive part in the overall atmosphere of the game. The graphics are outstanding, and the dark and strobing light really adds to the tense atmosphere as you hide from the ever-present threat of the terrifying, intelligent alien.
“My mommy always said there were no monsters – no real ones – but there are.”
The story line of the game is much better if you already get the background – although the game alludes to this as you progress, to an extent. Now, 15 years before the game starts, there was Alien. Ellen Ripley, Ash, Dallas, Kane, Brett, Lambert, and Jones (the ship’s cat) are returning from a standard run in a commercial space tug – the Nostromo, when they are awakened from hypersleep early to check out a distress beacon on an unknown planet. They explore and find an alien ship and, to their horror, they bring back an alien being to the Nostromo, which quickly begins killing off members of the crew, until only Ripley and Jones survive. They use the escape pod and destroy the Nostromo. But the alien – exhibiting horrible intelligence, joins them in the escape pod. Ripley manages to harpoon it and jettison it out of the airlock before placing her and Jones into hypersleep. Unfortunately, they are in an uncharted area of space, and, despite Ripley’s hope that they’ll quickly be picked up by another vessel, her and the cat are essentially lost in space. Of course, we all know that the sequel, Aliens, occurs 57 years after the first movie, with Ripley and Jones surviving against all the odds, to do battle with the aliens all over again.
However, her daughter doesn’t know what happened to her mother, and this is where our particular story begins – some 15 years after the Nostromo vanished – and Ripley junior, now an adult, is desperately trying to discover what happened to her mother and the ship she was travelling on. With a crew, Ripley the younger travels to a space station where there is supposedly news relating to the flight recorder from the Nostromo, which could reveal clues about her mother’s disappearance. However, on approach, disaster strikes, and Ripley boards the space station alone, only to discover terror and horror, from human enemies, murderous androids, and the ever-present fear of the alien. She must discover what happened to her much-loved mother, work her way through the station, and escape. It’s not that simple, of course, with the Alien franchise, it never is.
You are under-powered and under-prepared. You have limiteed ammo and resources, and you must use them wisely. Stealth and distraction are key tactics – as is learning to use whatever you find in your surroundings – and knowing when to use them. Keep careful track of your inventory, and use your ingenuity to progress through this dark, scary, challenging game. Remember what Ellen Ripley famously said – “short, controlled bursts.” If you want to survive, repeat this mantra to yourself regularly, and try to channel the spirit of Ellen Ripley – her ingenuity, her bravery, her skill, and her fearlessness – you will need it all if you want to survive.
“We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.”
This game is tense – and you’ll find yourself tensing up, sitting right on the edge of your seat, and jumping uncontrollably on a regular basis. The sights and sounds are thrilling and unnerving as you make your way through the game. Whatever you do, don’t play on mute – let yourself get right into the game – let your mind transport you to Sevastapool station and become one with Ripley junior. Dark and sinister, Alien: Isolation will keep you on tenterhooks all the way!
“How could they cut the power, man? They’re animals!”
One of the most fabulous aspects of Alien: Isolation is that the alien is dynamic. It reacts to your decisions, your movements, and your actions. This makes the game unpredictable and different at every turn. With the alien reacting to your tactics, you have to use all the skill you can muster to outwit it.
“Last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”
Survivor mode is a somewhat controversial addition to the game. In and of itself, Survivor Mode is a great addition. In this mode, not only do you have to beat the ‘droids, humans, and aliens to escape – you have to do it against the clock. The problem for many gamers, which has occurred with countless other games, is that the game is only supplied with one map for Survivor Mode. The other map expansions are already developed, and are being offered as additional downloadable expansions at staggered intervals. Many gamers feel like they are being short-changed or milked for their cash because, if they enjoy Survivor Mode, unless they want to wait for the Game of the Year edition with the dlc maps bundled in, they have to pay to download extra content as each of the 5 extra maps are released. Having said that, there are a huge number of gameplay hours in Story Mode, which is tense, challenging, and thoroughly enjoyable – a real scare-fest – with enough content to please the most hardcore gamer.
“Come on, cat”
All in all, Alien: Isolation is a roaring success – it’s great to play and to watch. This first person horror game provides plenty of action, plenty of scares, and an authentic feel. The far-spaced save stations and tough scenarios provide challenges worthy of the awesomest pro-gamer! Alien fans are enthralled by the clever true-to-origin design of the landscape and the Geiger alien. But it doesn’t just end there – the clever designers have even ensured Ripley junior bears a resemblance to her beloved mother.
As if that’s not enough – you can purchase the Nostromo edition or the Ripley edition and play an extra storyline as Ripley or another member of the Nostromo crew, trying to escape the alien and the Nostromo.