Developer Creative Assembly is known for creating masterclass strategy games, with series like “Total War” and “Rome” under their belt. They are what you can call the best in the business when it comes to making strategy titles, so it was a great departure from their end and a huge shocker for the players when they announced back in 2013 that they’d be working on a first-person survival horror game that was set in the Alien universe.
People still had a sour taste in their mouths after the disastrous Alien game that came before, “Alien Colonel Marines,” which was not only a bad game but one of the worst video games ever made. False advertising, heavily downgraded visuals and gameplay, a game that was borderline unplayable and was full of bugs and issues—you name it—”Alien Colonial Marines’ ‘ had it all. So, to see such a beloved franchise as Alien being treated so badly before and now handed to a studio that had no prior experience in making a game of this kind was a red flag to almost everybody. Creative Assembly promised that this game would be one worth remembering and that they have poured their hearts and souls into turning this project into reality alongside their pedigree and expertise and the name they built for themselves with their previous titles, so there was some hope.
Upon its reveal, the game was titled “Alien: Isolation,” and everything they showed about it looked phenomenal, to say the least. The visuals, the environments, the atmosphere—everything looked and felt like it was plucked straight out of the movies. If that wasn’t enough for you, then the developers also confirmed that this story will take place a few years after the original film and will let us play Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda Ripley. Initially, they promised no guns, no fighting back, and only one Xenomorph hunting you down throughout the game. All of that changed a bit, but not to the extent of hampering the experience or taking anything away from it in any way conceivable. It looked like it was about time for this franchise to get its time in the sun and make a comeback. So, was it a good game? Yes. Ask anyone who has played it, and they’ll tell you it’s an experience worth having. The players adored it, while the critics mostly enjoyed the game as well, and the game received critical and commercial acclaim. The demand for a sequel runs strong to this day, but alas, there is no news on that front, so let’s take a look at this gem of a game and see what makes “Alien: Isolation” worth playing.
The game opens roughly 15 years after the events of the first movie, with Ellen Ripley still missing and her daughter Amanda, an engineer working for the company, still looking for her. She is approached by Samuels, an android working for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (my favorite character in the game), and is informed by him that they have found the flight recorder of her mother’s ship. Its location is currently aboard Sevastopol Station, which is orbiting the gas giant KG-348. Samuels offers Ripley a seat aboard the Torrens, along with the extraction team that is being sent there to retrieve the flight recorder, and Amanda, eager to learn what happened to her mom, joins in on the mission.
Amanda, along with Samuels, Taylor, and Verlaine, flies to Sevastopol aboard the Torrens and, upon arrival, notices that the station is damaged. They try to establish contact with the Marshal to no avail and decide to space walk up to the station. Verlaine holds the ship at bay while Ripley, Samuels, and Taylor make their way to the station, walking in space (so cool). Things go awry real quick from there as a piece of debris comes flying across and knocks them away as Ripley is separated from Samuels and Taylor, how they survived that is still beyond me. Ripley struggles and crawls up the station’s exterior and makes her way inside an airlock, where, after the room gets pressurized, she makes her way in.
The station is not just worse for wear on the outside; Ripley sees it devastated from the inside as well, with a ton of dead bodies and hostile humans. Ripley tries to make contact with Samuels and Taylor and with The Torrens but no dice. She makes her way across the station, alone and horrified, and encounters a hostile and scared man named Axel. Axel and Ripley start an uneasy alliance as he takes her around the station and cryptically mentions that there’s a “killer” inside the station. Before they can make any further progress, they make some noise, Axel is unceremoniously killed, and Ripley is left alone once again. This is where the game starts properly, and the rest of the story is left for you to play through.
I just have this to say: for the opening part of the game, the atmosphere and visuals are stunning, and I love how creepy and menacing they made everything look and feel without showing the Alien even once.
When it comes to the gameplay department of “Alien: Isolation,” you’ll be doing one thing for the most part, and that is hiding. The environments are mostly dark, with tons of vents connecting hallways and lockers and cabinets to hide inside, and you’ll be using those a lot. Why? Because, if it wasn’t clear already, there’s a Xenomorph on your tail at all times, and this guy is scary. The moment he catches you, you’ll die. There’s no way to fight him until much later in the game (more on that later), and he constantly knows your exact location; you can say he has your scent and is hellbent on hunting you down. In that “running and hiding from the monster” feeling, this game does a fantastic job of replicating that and putting it into gameplay. The Xenomorph is terrifying, from its design to the sounds it makes and how aggressively hostile it is.
Your footsteps make a lot of noise, so running shouldn’t be something you should consider because it will outrun you no matter what. Crouching, peeking around corners, hiding, and sneaking are your best bets to make it out of this situation alive. Don’t worry; you’ll have some tools to aid you, like a motion tracker, which will let you know about the distance between you and the Alien, alongside some other tools that you can pick up or pick up the materials for and craft on the fly, like the noise maker, which can be thrown in the other direction and will distract the Alien for a little while.
Speaking of that, there’s crafting in the game. You’ll come across tons of resources that you can pick up and then find blueprints for items that can be crafted on the fly if you have sufficient materials, that is. Noisemakers, EMPs, Molotov cocktails, health injectors, and a few other things are all that can be crafted. The game also somewhat plays like Metroidvania in the sense that you’ll be finding tools like a wrench which will open new doors for you, and later find different types of torches that’ll allow you to cut holes and make a path through blocked routes. If the alien hunting you down wasn’t enough, don’t worry; you’ll also be contending with other hostile humans on the station and androids that have gone rogue on you.
The game progressively will hand you weapons like a revolver, a shotgun, a bolt-gun, a stun-baton, and more with very limited ammo so you can deal with the non-alien problems, but I’d not recommend that if you shoot a bullet, the sound will attract the Alien right to you. However, if you are smart, you can fire a bullet in the middle of a room and run and hide so the Alien will take care of the human problem for you. Androids, on the other hand, you’ll have to deal with on your own. Throw an EMP mine at them or hit them with a stun baton charge and beat them to death to keep it quiet and not attract the Alien. The aliens will not attack the androids, and they are relentless in their pursuit to strangle and “silence” you. In a weird way, these guys are scarier than the Xenomorph himself due to their lifeless eyes, calm voice, and relentless pace of chasing you down.
There’s one more tool here that I didn’t mention that you’ll get much later in the game, and it’s the flamethrower. This is perhaps the most important item in your kit as this (alongside the molotovs) is the only thing that can push the Alien away, be it for a few seconds. “It’s an animal, and animals are afraid of fire,” is what you’ll hear when this item is handed to you, and yes! The Xenomorph is indeed afraid of this. The inclusion of this item changes the gameplay a bit as the hunter becomes the hunted (sort of), so once you have this, you know you have the magic button that will push the Alien away and give you breathing room for a few seconds. That takes away from the tension that the game had going for it, but at the same time, when compared to the length of the game and the situations it puts you in, the addition of the flamethrower is a fair trade-off.
That about sums up the gameplay department for “Alien: Isolation.” There’s tense cat-and-mouse gameplay here, with the Alien having some of the best AI I have ever seen in any video game. You will also come across some collectibles in the form of ID tags and computer logs or audio files, which add to the world-building and are fun to read or listen through. You’ll be solving puzzles to get through doors and during general gameplay while fighting a little as you desperately try to escape Sevastopol Station. One recommendation: the difficulty you play affects the behavior of the Alien, so please play this game on Hard to get the best and most terrifying experience.
The Technical Stuff
The game is eight years old, and it blows my mind with just how good it still looks. The aesthetics are picked straight from the movies, as I said in the beginning, and maintain that retro-future vibe through and through, where everything is advanced and yet looks old and outdated. They have a film grain added as a layer on top of this game which makes the visuals pop even more. The lighting is fantastic, with dark areas being really dark, and the way the smoke and particles react with the lights are just phenomenal. The visual language and the graphics themselves are solid for this game, and the sounds also deserve special mention. Everything sounds just as it should, and the screeching sounds the Alien makes, along with its thumping footsteps, are menacing and heart-pounding. The voice acting could have been a little better, but it ain’t bad, so it’s fine. If you play this game on the Xbox Series X, then you can take advantage of FPS Boost/Auto HDR, which makes this game run at 60fps while making the colors pop even more.
One thing to take note of quickly is how incredible the AI for the Alien is. Basically, the Alien has two AIs operating him, one which knows exactly where you are and the other that turns him into a vicious hunter who is on your tail. Real good stuff. Technically, this game is just plain awesome, and it’s surprising that it still holds up even after such a long time.
As mentioned, this game is quite old, but there are still a lot of people out there who haven’t experienced it, so I’d say what better time to play this game than now? It has a decent story, some of the best first-person survival-horror gameplay I have ever seen, an atmosphere that is as eerie as it is unsettling, and visuals and sounds that are stunning and incredible even to this date. Go and play “Alien: Isolation” in a dark room with a headset and play it on hard to get one of the most nerve-racking/tense, and enjoyable experiences you’ll ever have. A solid game that definitely deserves a sequel or continuation of some sort.
See more: ‘Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life’ Review & Gameplay, Explained: What Makes The Game Worth Playing?