Critical Hit: Alien Isolation
Quick Breakdown: A survival horror game with a heavy emphasis on stealth, as you must evade the Xenomorph, utterly helpless in a direct confrontation. Terror lurks around each corner, with a thrilling, scary atmosphere.
Length: 18-22 hours (Main game), 25 hours (Main + extras)
Genre: Survival Horror / Stealth
Available On: PC, PS3, PS4, X-Box 360, X-Box One
System Used: PC
Review Date: 2016-07-05
Full Review: I’m a big fan of horror, and having digested so much of it, it’s very difficult to find something truly terrifying. (That and it being only a movie/game makes it nigh impossible to find any media genuinely frightening). Alien Isolation (AI) is about the closest I’ve had a game come to that, having the game set in the Alien universe certainly helps. Set 15 years after the first movie, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, comes along on a trip to the space station Torrens to find the lost flight recorder from the Nostromo, the ship carrying her mother that disappeared years ago.
The Torrens looks fantastic too.
The story for the game isn’t fantastic; neither are any of the characters, but it’s more than enough to move the game along. Thankfully, what is there helps to set the atmosphere without issue. After arriving on the Torrens, you find it deserted and in shambles. You don’t know why, and you don’t know what’s going on. You're stranded on the ship and separated from the rest of your crew from the get go, and you set out to find out what’s going on and find your crew.
The game is set in a first person perspective, and it’s put to good use immersing you in the game. The environments look beautiful, even though they're often dimly lit metallic corridors and rooms, cramped aid ducts, and whatever locker you can manage to hide in for a meantime. I can’t impress enough just how wonderful the game looks, even down to the simple environs.
This game may have caused me to develop a fetish for dimly lit corridors.
What makes AI so effective as a horror game though is how utterly helpless you are. The Xenomorph is an unkillable predator, you’re reduced to creeping around, being careful not to breathe too loudly, lest you alert the Alien to your presence. Loud noises, sudden movements, any action you perform can serve as a neon sign to the Alien where you are. If it spots you, you’re as good as dead, unless you can manage to stuff yourself in a locker, or successfully hide in an air duct long enough for it to think you got away. About halfway through the game you manage to find a flamethrower, but even this doesn't stop the alien, though it is effective at temporarily scaring the Alien away long enough for you to get to safety.
You'll see this right before dying. A lot.
The Alien isn’t the only threat aboard the Torrens, but it’s certainly the most lethal. Occasionally you run into other survivors aboard the station, not all of which are friendly. There are also androids roaming the station, known as Working Joes. They’re intended to help humans, but some of them have gone rogue. The Alien will sometimes attack the other humans, but will completely ignore the robots. Hostile robots can be dispatched, but it’s a challenge to do so, and they pose a major threat to the player; though they are unable to instantly kill you like the Alien does.
You can acquire various items to assist your adventure on the station, weapons, such as a pistol and a flamethrower can be used offensively, while noisemakers and flares can be used as a distraction to divert the Alien’s attention away from you, allowing safe passage through an area. (Distraction tools were something I didn’t utilize much until late in the game, and they’re incredibly useful, so I recommend figuring out how to effectively use them early game). Items (including med-kits) can sometimes be picked up around the station, but most of them time you must craft them using various materials you scavenge from the Torrens. Crafting is performed in a simple menu system, but fittingly in real time, meaning you can be attacked and killed while you are crafting so it’s best to find a safe place to do so first.
Lest you end up like this guy.
This goes for any other action performed in the game, such as reading logs, hacking computer systems, cutting open emergency panels, and anything else that isn’t a cutscene. You are always vulnerable in this game, and no place is truly safe, not for long. Threats are always present, and you must be ever vigilant if you aim to survive.
Navigating about the station you must crawl through air ducts to find a way around a locked door, or complete various mini-games to hack open electronic based locks. Being in constant danger even when performing these tasks just helps add to the horror of the game.
One of the hacking mini-games, where you must time button presses to stop the moving dot in the solid white block.
Saving is done only at select points, represented by a certain type of terminal. While it can sometimes be annoying to be unable to save at any point in the game, dying and being forced to redo certain parts of levels can get frustrating, it manages to work with the theme. Dying has greater consequences as a result, which meshes well with the horror element.
The game is very slow going, what with creeping about the Torrens to avoid detection. This can make the game feel much longer than it is, and while it does drag at some points, it’s largely a tense adrenaline-filled ride. The Alien doesn’t show up right away, making its first appearance gripping and unexpected. The game takes its time getting there, holding the threat of the Xenomorph over your head for hours, until it’s good and ready to finally hunt you down.
I spent around 22 hours completing the game, though I did my initial playthrough on hard mode, since it’s how the developers said it was intended to be played. Playing on normal difficulty likely would’ve shaved off about 4 hours from that. I can’t speak to normal mode, but hard mode certainly had parts that befitted that difficulty.
As for DLC, there are two mini-campaigns (Crew Expendable and Last Survivor), which are fun short romps for anyone who's a fan of the original Alien movie. They're not must have DLC's, so much as a fun treat for fans of the movie, though I enjoyed them nonetheless.
The rest of the DLC adds bonus Survivor Mode levels, which I didn’t much bother with. Survivor Mode pits you against a time limit to complete various challenges as you evade the Alien. I briefly tested this mode out before deciding that I needed a break from the game, but it’s there if you desire more.
As for which DLC to get, I’d recommend the mini-campaign ones if you’re a fan of the original Alien movie, while the Survivor Mode maps should only be purchased if you dig that mode. Unfortunately, the Season Pass doesn't include the mini-campaign DLC's, merely just the Survivor Mode levels. That's pretty shitty and scummy, but I digress. I’d recommend getting the base game by itself first, playing through it, and then buying either the Pass or the select DLC’s that you want the next time they go on sale.
Flamethrowers will become your best friend.
Alien Isolation is a fantastic survival horror game, with heavy emphasis on each of those words, forcing you to sneak around just to stay alive. It’s a worthwhile go for anyone who loves either horror games or Alien, and it’s a game that’s best be played at night in the dark.
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