Alien: Isolation is a crowning achievement for horror games and a fine movie-adapted game in its own right. The survival-horror is perfectly implemented with enough variety in the gameplay to avoid stagnation creeping in.
Alien: Isolation is not only one of the best movie-adapted video games ever released, it’s also a pretty terrifying experience in its own right. Staying faithful to the original film released back in 1979, Alien: Isolation’s aesthetic mirrors the decor on-board the original ship in that movie and expands on the art style and lore in a believable way. Although the game does suffer from a fair amount of backtracking and an overlong runtime, the unique cat-and-mouse mechanic with the Xenomorph and a few surprising set-pieces manage to keep the game from becoming monotonous right through to its horrific ending.
Set 15 years after the original film, Alien: Isolation sees you take control of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley (the main protagonist in Alien), as you investigate the disappearance of your mother and the lost Nostromo vessel. With reports stating the ship was last seen at the space station Sevastopol, the game begins with you setting foot on board the seemingly abandoned and damaged station in search of clues to what happened, and just where the Nostromo vessel could be. As the game progresses it becomes increasingly obvious you aren’t alone and as this dread-inducing realisation sets in, the horror ramps up to unprecedented heights.
Although you encounter androids and other humans whilst playing the game, the bulk of the horror comes from the Xenomorph. Most of the levels revolve around trying to outsmart and flank the deadly alien whilst navigating corridors rife with small, claustrophobic rooms and plenty of obstacles to hide behind and under. At times, this does slow the game down, as you’ll regularly find yourself hiding out in the same place until the alien disappears.
Most of the core gameplay revolves around a mixture of stealth, light bursts of action, exploring and a tiny amount of puzzle solving. On top of that, the game also offers a hand-held scanner which acts as a sensor to indicate whereabouts the alien is in relation to the area. Isolation’s level design does allow for a fair amount of backtracking late on to unlock previously inaccessible areas, but due to the familiar layout of these levels, Isolation loses some if its initial effectiveness with horror late on. The game also suffers from an overlong runtime too, with needless padding late on that inflates the game time more than it should. One particular area sees you holding down a directional button while you walk painfully slowly to the other side of a bridge, and it’s moments like this that take away the great work done for vast stretches in the title.
With most horror games there’s a fine balance that’s rarely achieved between being able to defend effectively and not feeling overpowered. Amazingly, Alien: Isolation manages to achieve this balance to perfection, even giving you a flamethrower and Molotov cocktails late on to fight the Xenomorph, but in a way that you never quite feel at an advantage. Most of it’s a small touch, but one that’s done in such a way to allow Isolation to shine as a definitive horror game in this genre.
From the opening few hours with the game through to its final set piece, Alien: Isolation nails its aesthetic and tone perfectly. Bathed in darkness with minimal lighting and a sombre colour palette, Isolation manages to invoke a keen sense of dread throughout its 15-hour runtime. The audio design is equally as impressive too, mixing audio effects with a minimalist soundtrack to accentuate the tone of the game. All of this combines to stay faithful to the original IP whilst delivering enough originality and polish to make it a decent standalone title in its own right.
What really sets Alien: Isolation apart from other horror games though is the way it utilises the Xenomorph and various gameplay mechanics to perfection. Although some may criticise the creature for being too smart, the way Sega have managed to program the AI to constantly learn and evolve based on your play style is nothing short of remarkable. If you constantly hide in lockers to escape, it’ll eventually search there first. If you decide to try to outsmart it with flash bangs, the Xenomorph will eventually figure out the trajectory of the throw and come running in your direction. All of these intricate little details add up to a unique experience for each person playing, and also forces you to constantly change up your tactics as the game progresses. On the harder difficulties the radius in which the alien appears is considerably smaller and makes escaping the Xenomorph more of a chore than it should be. With this in mind, the optimum setting is going to be playing on Medium, which strikes the balance perfectly here – making Isolation a real challenge whilst also a dread-inducing horror.
Alien: Isolation is a crowning achievement for horror games and a fine movie-adapted game in its own right. The survival-horror is perfectly implemented with enough variety in the gameplay to avoid stagnation creeping in. Isolation is a little overlong, though, and at 15 hours, the game suffers from a bloated ending and a little too much backtracking to make it the perfect horror experience. But despite its flaws, Alien: Isolation is an incredible achievement and one of the finest horror games on the market.