- Developer: Creative Assembly
- Publisher: Sega
- Platform: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Release date: 7 October
- RRP: £45.00
Alien Isolation Review
In the 35 years since Ridley Scott's Alien first terrified audiences around the world, the creature created in the twisted mind of artist HR Giger has slowly been diminished. Video games in particular have regularly depicted these creatures as little more than cannon fodder, fish in a barrel servicing the power fantasy so many games offer.
Alien Isolation is anything but a power fantasy.
Creative Assembly's (CA) love letter to that original film is more than just a homage, it's a worthy successor to a horror classic that gives a cinematic icon new life.
The game's success boils down to the alien itself, which CA have granted some impressive AI. Rarely prescribed set paths or actions, this is a beast that believably acts like one. It hunts for you, it's unpredictable, and that makes Isolation one of the scariest games in years.
A Different Kind Of Challenge
A basic premise puts players on the Sevastopol, a space station already falling apart before its murdrous new arrival plunged it into chaos. The environments draw heavily on the look of Scott's original film, with elements of scenery created by CA themselves made as though they were props from the 1979 film.
This is a 70s-version of the future, all clunky buttons, flip-switches, and big key cards. This wonderful world they have created is the perfect backdrop for gameplay that's mechanically light but which survives on the incredible tension it builds and releases expertly.
Unease creeps in from the start thanks to the exquisitely lit environments. When the alien finally arrives over an hour in the tension is palpable. The creature kills instantly, instinctively, and will do so throughout. You might grow more confident in your movements later on, but only comparatively so, the odds are always in its favour.
It's not just the alien that poses a threat aboard Sevastopol though, renegade androids and human survivors every bit as scared as you are scattered throughout. They present a different kind of challenge, particularly when mixed in with the alien, who will take the humans out if drawn to their location by gunfire or your various gadgets.
Your arsenal of weaponry and gadgets never guarantee safety. Your revolver will kill humans and after a few headshots androids too, but firing it rouses the alien's curiosity. Gadgets meanwhile, crafted from collected bits and bobs in a clunky and convoluted menu, can only distract or delay.
Noisemakers will draw enemies out of your path, EMP mines will momentarily stun androids, Molotov's will scare off the alien and the rest of your gadgetry – flashbangs, flares, flamethrowers, and pipe bombs are pretty self-explanatory.
A Wonderful Job
Over the course of the game's lengthy campaign there are various alien-free segments that grant a certain level of respite. You can fire weapons more freely and generally move through the game at a snappier pace, which after hours of mainly hiding in lockers and cabinets comes as a welcome change.
Unfortunately, the early promise of this change soon shifts to disappointment and frustration. The Working Joe androids, which take five or six shots to the head, or three shotgun blasts to bring down, are utilised more often than they should be and are prevelent in the game's worst segment.
The alien returns eventually of course, and it was in those moments that I appreciated just how wonderful a job Creative Assembly has done. Isolation thrives when it's just the player in an open but still claustrophobic environment with the alien. There are few thrills in gaming right now like sprinting for an elevator and hitting the button to safety as the alien screams in pursuit on the other side of a closing door.
Alien Isolation is not a perfect game by any means. It leans too heavily on encounters with human and android foes which fail to live up to the main event, and it stretches itself just a little too thin when a shorter, more concise story may have had a greater effect.
What the game does do however, is perfectly encapsulate the feel of the original Alien, making it relevant today by putting us in the shoes of the hunted, not the onlooker. Simply put, Alien Isolation is the most important entry into the Alien franchise since James Cameron's Aliens 28 years ago.
- Gameplay: 8/10 – Wrought with tension, Isolation is one of the most engaging single player games in some time.
- Graphics: 10/10 – Incredible lighting and level design create environments every bit as scary as what lurks within.
- Writing: 5/10 – Perfunctory and by the numbers. Weak characterisation doesn't help a story which is rightfully thin on the ground.
- Sound: 9/10 – Every bit as important as the design and alien AI. Was that the creak of an aging ship, or was it your impending death?
- Replay value: 8/10 – Most players won't sit through the entire campaign again in a hurry, but plenty will pick and choose from the best levels. A scoreboard-led survival mode also helps.
- Overall: 8/10 – As important as it is terrifying. A worthy successor to Scott's original vision and definitive proof that survival horror is back with a force.