“Alien: Isolation” is one of the most frightening games I’ve played in a long time. Developed by Creative Assembly, most well known for their “Total War” series of strategy games, the game is a survival-horror adventure that serves as a sequel to the original “Alien” film from 1979.
Picking up 15 years after the events of the film, Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda learns that the flight recorder of the Nostromo, the ship her mother was assigned to, has been recovered and is being held aboard Sevastapol Station on the edge of deep-space. Desperate for answers on her mother’s disappearance, Amanda agrees to travel to Sevastapol with the Weyland-Yutani corporation to collect the flight recorder. Upon their arrival, however, they learn that the station is rapidly deteriorating after a cataclysmic event and get caught in a battle for their lives against paranoid human survivors, rogue androids, and a single ferocious alien creature hellbent on killing everything aboard the station.
“Alien: Isolation” absolutely nails the look, feel and atmosphere of its source material. The grungy aesthetic of the ‘70s future portrayed in the film has been effortlessly recreated with all of the devices portrayed as being decidedly low-tech. Levels are garnished with tape-reel computers, CRT monitors, large, flashing buttons without labels and terminals with punch card slots, all punctuated by posters that cynically advertise antidepressants and “NeverSleep” pills.
The most important aspect of any game using the “Alien” license, however, is how the titular aliens are portrayed, and this game understands exactly how to do this creature justice. The Xenomorph monster in “Alien: Isolation” is a terrifying force to be reckoned with, with excellent speed and strength that put all other foes in the game to shame. It cannot be killed with conventional weaponry, and there is no fighting back once it has you in its grasp. The only thing you can do when brought face-to-face with the alien is to hide and hope it forgets about you.
The game creates a palpable atmosphere of tension and terror. The alien can appear almost anywhere at anytime can rapidly traverse the station through its ventilation system. It can be heard shambling through the ceiling vents or beneath the floorboards at just about all times, constantly reminding you that you aren’t safe. A motion tracker is provided to help keep track of where the creature is, though the sound it emits can very quickly lead it right to you.
Stealth is paramount in “Alien: Isolation,” as the alien is ultra-sensitive to sound. As such, your weapons are only intended as a last resort, should you find no other way around a group of human survivors or the occasional crazed android. There is a slew of handy devices that can be crafted using components scavenged from throughout the station, some of which can be used to steer enemies away from you, though they double as a lure for the alien and can lead to a quick death if used improperly.
This is a genuinely challenging game, bordering on punishing at times, although it is never outright unfair. If you aren’t careful and end up getting killed, you are immediately taken back to the last point at which you saved your game and save stations can often be very far from your current objective. That being said, the game regularly gives you all of the tools that you need to survive. So long as you keep your nerves together and carefully think through all of your moves, you may just get off of Sevastapol Station in one piece.
“Alien: Isolation” is a rare case of a film licensed game feeling like a natural extension of its source material rather than a cheap cash grab intended to make a quick buck off of brand recognition. Especially after the wholly embarrassing “Aliens: Colonial Marines” in 2012, I was convinced that we would never see a game that took full advantage of the license to make something great, and I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
“Alien: Isolation” is a smartly-crafted love letter to fans of the original film, but more than that, it is a thrilling, scary-as-hell title that will give survival-horror fans great value for their dollars. The game is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and was even released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, making it available to just about everybody. If you’re looking for something spooky to play this Halloween, I’d say you should look no further.