Real Talk By: The AX
We have had a pretty rough relationship over the past decade. I have yet to play a good Sonic game that has been released within the past 8 years, though I sincerely appreciate your effort in trying to keep your brainchild alive. Your biggest offense (and you know exactly where I’m going with this) is that one game that almost makes Duke Nukem Forever look good. To be fair, I legitimately enjoyed DNF and found your garbage pile of a game to be uniquely entertaining, but not for the reasons you hoped it would be. Either way, you are now and forever forgiven for Aliens: Colonial Marines. You have blessed us with the masochistic gem that is Alien: Isolation.
Now, when I say masochism, that very well may be a reflection on me, as I played Alien Isolation on the “recommended” Hard difficulty setting. I did this mainly because the media told me not to. Because, that’s how we work at Play Legit! So what did I think of Alien Isolation? Spoiler alert: It’s awesome.
Set 15 years after the events of the original Ridley Scott film, Alien Isolation stars Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda on a seemingly never-ending search for the fate of her mother. The story begins as Amanda is approached by a representative of the (nefarious) Weyland-Yutani corporation, with intel on the location of the black box from her mother’s lost ship (The Nostromo). With answers and potential closure in tow, how can she resist? Well, maybe she should have.
The Weyland-Yutani rep shuttles Amanda to the space station Sevastopol: an enormous colony in orbit around a gas-giant in deep space. Upon arrival, they receive a static-y message that they can’t make out. Looking out the windows, Amanda can see that Sevastopol is severely damaged and that communications are malfunctioning. As Amanda and the crew can’t find a good place to dock their ship, the Torrens, it appears as if it’s time for a spacewalk into Sevastopol. And, the fun begins. Before I go any further, I would like to address that fat elephant in the room. If you have scoured the web looking for reviews from other sites, you will see that the decision is pretty polarized as to whether the game is good or great. That right there is a good indicator of the quality of Alien Isolation. I’m going to ignore the “great” reviews (because I agree with this camp), and focus on the common criticisms for a second.
1. The game is too long. Okay, so you are telling me that you just paid $60 for a new release, single player only game, and you were unhappy about its long story? I’ll admit, some points of the game got pretty frustrating and didn’t seem to matter at the time, but overall the story comes together quite nicely. I would take a 20-hour Alien game over a 6 hour Battlefield 4 any day (coming from an admittedly single-player gamer). That’s $3 an hour, which is a hell of a lot cheaper than going to the movies! Plus you can BYOB and pause the game when you have to pee.
2. The story is bad. For starters, Alien Isolation is not penned by Dan O’Bannon or Christopher Nolan. Sure, the story may not be what you want it to be, but not every game can be Red Dead Redemption. For those familiar with the Alien films, the story can be bland at times, but at others (more commonly) it will have you not wanting to put the controller down. This is why I played for 12 hours straight on Saturday! But let’s be honest. Did you buy this game because of the story, or did you buy the game and a fresh pair of undies from Wal-Mart because you fully expect to wreck the ones you’re wearing? Plus, Ellen Ripley’s daughter is only mentioned in passing at the beginning of Aliens, so including Amanda into the cannon is a very welcome and unexpected addition indeed.
3. The combat is horrible. Right. Just humor me for a minute, and put yourself in the character’s shoes. You are minding your own business, reading Reddit posts on the Sevastopol servers when this giant acid-for-blood freak starts stalking you and trying to eviscerate you. As a person, would you try to kill it, or would you hide? To those who say “I’d kill it,” I would like to shake the hand that comes out of your manly beard that smells of bacon and gasoline, because I would hide. In all seriousness, Alien Isolation is not intended to be Call of Duty: Xenomorph Edition. It’s supposed to make you run, scream, and it does both of these things often.
Now that you have a taste of what the internet thinks is bad about Alien, I’m going to tell you why I am never going to trade this game in. Ever. The first thing I noticed when playing Alien Isolation was the atmosphere. This project was clearly a labor of love by developer The Creative Assembly. The environments were inspired by a 1970’s view of what the future might look like, and this theme extended even to the loading screens while booting up the game for the first time. All computers have black screens with green print and camera footage looks like a VHS tape that has been overplayed. Note: if you are reading this and have never watched a VHS tape, do yourself a favor and buy a VCR and the original Alien on VHS. It’s scarier when the picture is bad and grainy. Either way, if you have seen the 1979 Alien, the game looks and feels like a spiritual successor, and that is a very good thing. The derelict space colony is riddled with graffiti and blood, adding a very eerie and “Dead Space” vibe when traversing through it. I thought to myself while playing the game, “this is what Dead Space might be like if it were actually scary.”
I have heard how good the game looks, but how does it play? That is a difficult question to answer. In this department, the game sometime struggles in deciding whether it should be an FPS or a first person survival game. However, the first person point of view adds to the suspense. When the Alien is in the room, you don’t have the god-like third person ability to see the entire environment, like you would in a Silent Hill game. Instead, you see only what Ripley sees, making the decision to stay hidden or to make a break for it all the more difficult. The majority of my play-through was spent crouched so as to not attract attention, because the Alien hears everything. From a technical standpoint, the randomness of the Alien AI makes for a truly tense and stressful experience. The disconnect comes from having a shotgun and revolver in your arsenal, along with pipe bombs and molotovs. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but it makes a huge difference when hitting an enemy with your hammer attracts the Alien. Why the funk would I want to fire a gun then? That’s a very good question, reader. You don’t, unless you absolutely have to, or you want to purposely attract the Alien to dispose of the enemy humans for you. Firearms are mainly designed for the disposal of hostile people, but any Metal Gear expert will be able to finagle their way around without attracting too much attention. My absolute favorite gameplay element would have to be the save system. There are save spots scattered around Sevastopol much like the typewriters in the Resident Evil series. In a horror game, this is far superior to the auto-save system because you are responsible for your own survival. Having a computer automatically save for you would take away from thinking that death is around every corner. Not to mention that the sense of relief upon seeing a save station made me happier than a hippo in a marble factory.
Alien Isolation also takes a page out of the Book of Metroid: some areas are inaccessible until you find the proper tool to open the doors. The only downside to this is that the finding of these tools are a part of the overall story: you might be able to find the tools early but they are designed purely to aid in the story. This is different from Metroid in that one would need to find the tools to proceed; Alien leads you to the checkpoints, holds your hand to help you find them, and then lets you use them. Exploration is only rewarded to a certain extent. You have a set number of elements that you can use to craft things like molotovs or pipe bombs or flashbangs (which I’m fairly sure I didn’t use even one time). You may be able to find some of these tools to reach other corridors early, but the Alien following you measured against the potential gain makes this highly inadvisable.
Speaking of difficulty, playing on the hardest difficulty wasn’t particularly impossible. The hardest part of playing on “Hard” was the learning curve. It can take a while to figure out exactly what will and what won’t attract the attention of the Alien. For example, walking instead of crouching has a higher chance of attracting unwanted attention. On the other hand, when the Alien across the table from you, it can’t see you even though you are clearly in its line of sight. These encounters can be hilarious and mortifying at the same time.
I would write a whole paragraph about the graphics, but it isn’t necessary. Alien Isolation is absolutely gorgeous. The only hiccups I met (on Xbox One) were some of the lighting effects produced by fire in particular, and significant frame-rate drops during cut-scenes. All in all, the frame-rate appeared pretty steady in the gameplay experience. To touch again on the story, it does many things right and has a few missteps. There are few supporting characters, but none of them are fleshed out enough so that you would care about them. When someone gets kidnapped, injured, or killed, I genuinely didn’t care. Perhaps that is the impending sense of doom taking the cake again; I didn’t care who died or who lived, so long as I made it out of that damned space station. The overall narrative is very interesting, albeit predictable (if you know a thing or two about the Alien saga). Some chapters feel like they could have been skipped, but at the same time, I relished every second I was playing. Unless it was one of the two or three times I got stuck and wanted to hurl my controller into the fireplace.
Now what you are finally waiting for: Is the game scary? I don’t know. There were parts that made me check my pants, but these parts were almost always scripted jump scares. The sad part is, I knew the scares were coming and they still got me! The thing about these moments in particular (which you will know what I’m talking about when you buy this game, which you should do yesterday) is that while they repeat themselves, they don’t get any less terrifying. The game provides you enough time to think that you are safe, and as you convince yourself that this clearly scripted jump scare is a fake to change things up a little, you find yourself spilling your popcorn and scaring your cat (sorry Ellie) as the dead thing on the ground turns out to be not-so-dead. The upside (much like Dead Space) is you can shoot the body in question to decide whether it is going to scare you. The bad thing, is that the gunshot will attract the Alien. What are you more afraid of? Having to wash your drawers immediately, or having to start again from your previous save? To truly answer the question of whether the game is scary or not, I will say this: Alien Isolation did not scare me enough so that I was too afraid to keep going. What it did do, was provide me with an overwhelming sense of dread that made me save at every given opportunity because I was less afraid of dying compared to having to start over from my last save point.
I could write about Alien Isolation for hours. The main reason this game is going to stick with me is because it is a much-needed boost of confidence for my favorite genre of games: survival horror. The rush Alien Isolation provides is very welcome, especially among the likes of Resident Evil 6 and recent Silent Hill titles. Alien is very comparable to Outlast in that it delivers the scares you need to teach you how to survive effectively. Would I recommend Alien Isolation (who is counting how many times I have name dropped? I should get paid for this)? Absolutely. I will leave you with this: this game has made me more physically stressed than any other game I have played. If you are up for a test of wits, Amanda Ripley is always in dire need of help.
TTFN guys, I will let you know what Evil Within is like. Let’s hope Shinji Mikami hasn’t lost his touch!
Alien Isolation gets
4.5 out of 5
+Old School Save System
-Weak Supporting Cast
-Too Many Unbeatable Enemies