Alien: Isolation – a review

2014 has been called by some “the most disappointing year for games since the crash” and while there were a number of high-profile flops, disappointments and broken games there were also some absolute cracking games in there as well.

Alien

I spent a lot of time aboard the Sevastopol space station during the end of 2014; question is though – was this another high-profile disappointment or was it a cracker?

This was a game that I was extremely excited by and was ever since that first gameplay trailer well over a year ago now! Being a bit of a ‘Resident Evil’ and’Silent Hill’ connoisseur as well as a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror movie ‘Alien’ – I realise I was a “mark” for this game. It ticked all my boxes and as the release grew closer I found myself unable to resist its charms.

This game was bound to disappoint me…

…upon putting that disc in the PS4 drive and being welcomed by a grainy, mono-version of the 20th Century fox logo (replete with music) I knew was in for a wild ride! This level of detail, care and love for the franchise is obvious everywhere you look in this game!

AND LOOK YOU WILL! Creative Assembly have crafted a game that is stunningly beautiful – the particle effects are subtle, realistic and organic. The lighting is terrific it bounces off reflective surfaces, it dances off particles in the air, the light streams through windows and all the electrical lights look amazing. It even looks great when it’s dark and you’re using your torch – I would go as far as saying it is the most beautiful lighting I have seen on a home console.

Lighting

It’s so beautiful I can feel the heat! AAAAARRRRGHGGHGHGHH

 

The graphical engine throws its’ muscle into the environment too, the Sevastopol looks exactly like the Nostromo. From the CFT-Computer montiors (the future of1979) to the worn and organic interiors with exposed piping complete with the infamous motion detecting lights and the dipping ducks – this is the definition of authenticity.

it's almost like the 70s!

it’s almost like the 70s!

Speaking of authenticity; you are not alone on this space station there are people everywhere. When you arrive on the Sevastopol you will be greeted by nothing, soon you’ll meet the other inhabitants and they all have their own thoughts and feelings. Some will shoot on sight while others will not be so aggressive, you must gauge every scenario and make an on-the-spot decision, knowing that a mistake will cost you progress and time.

Even in the areas that are uninhabited areas there are the remnants of them having been there – be it toys, tools of clothing – it’s everywhere and it creates a sense of dread and to a lesser extent a sense of sadness. What happened these people? Unfortunately you know the answer to that.

One of the greatest successes is with the systems of the game – while you are the protagonist – you are not the hero! This world will kill you – as the player you must make Amanda Ripley fit into the already existing eco-systems on-board and survive. The first few hours are entirely centered on you learning those systems – while there is no tutorial – you will learn by doing and you best remember everything because when the Xenomorph comes…

…the game kicks everything up a notch. The tension that Creative Assembly have been building for two hours comes to a head and the atmosphere changes from and unknown dread – to a much more intense, knowledgeable dread. Playing this game is a stressful ordeal…

…and it is brilliant.

I refuse to call this game a survival horror, it is not. There is no item management and there are no puzzles to solve. There are however manual save points (I know a guy who played for 3 hours and died – he hadn’t saved) and at first these seem antiquated and an unnecessary hassle. What is in reality is an incredible macguffin  that pushes the player onwards. You will take risks in order to get to that next point, and every time you successfully save (you can die waiting for it to initialise – a heart wrenching 3 seconds) you will physically exhale.

This is a game of survival. The alien is absolutely, 100% impossible to predict. It hunts you using its senses, you will  see it look around for clues, you will see it sniff you out and it will always find you (if you stay in the same place too long) as it whittles down the hiding options you have. Over the course of the game you will form a bond with the xenomorph, you will hate it and you will curse it – you won’t, however, forget it. The fact a game is making you hate its antagonist is recommendation enough – here we have an creature with no voice, personality or motivation (other than hunger) that I have formed an emotional bond with more than any other character in a game (except TWD)! Exceptional!

Eventually the game will throw synthetics, humans and the alien at you at once – you will have to use everything the game gives you in order to survive. remember I said you better not forget what you learned? You better not!

It’s not all good news however; there are flaws in this game. The biggest issue is missions that have you run from point A to B, then to C before asking you to go back to A, then C. It’s labourous when you get three missions in a row that follow this pattern – but it is never unenjoyable!

There are difficulty spikes too; mission 6 is the hardest in the game. when I was playing the game I thought it was unfair however after utilising my inventory I succeeded! Later in the game I got stuck again, and again it was solved by inventive use of what I had. This is because the game was testing my ability to implement everything I had been taught. Simply put; if you cannot adapt to the rules you will not see the rest of the game.

Adapt and survive must be your mantra.

I played this game on hard and it is certainly the difficulty I would recommend playing it on, sure it’s brutal and you’ll die – but you’ll learn and you’ll sense achievements like you’ve never had before!

If you like horror, challenging or tense games – you cannot miss this.

I was my game of the year after all

10/10

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