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Alien: Isolation review - Back to the future

Seth Barton
24 Oct 2014
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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
22
inc VAT

A brilliant recreation of the setting and tension of the original film in videogame form

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Specifications

Available formats: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360

In what is often a macho-dominated medium, it's nice to see a game that has two strong, skilled and resourceful female characters at its core, with neither having a jot of misplaced sexual allure or any sense of gender-related vulnerability.

You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Sigourney Weaver's original character Ellen, who is searching for her long-lost mother. That's all the motivation needed to fly out and investigate a remote space station; where things have, predictably, gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The station is now stalked by our second (ostensibly) female character, a fully-grown Alien that is hunting and killing at will. Ripley has to escape the stricken station, while avoiding the Alien, which is wreaking havoc on everything in its path. At its core, Alien: Isolation is a tense, stealth-based exercise in terror where must out-think and out-sneak her opponents in order to stay alive.

There is a third character here though: a goliath of metal, wrapped in endless tubes and ducts, bedecked with flashing control panels, and venting thick smoke. Sevastopol station is every bit the equal of other great video game locations, such as Bioshock's Rapture, or more aptly System Shock 2's Von Braun spaceship. It's a post-apocalyptic microcosm, with the remaining crew fighting to stay alive as the ship's own contingent of android Synthetics create a different kind of menace.

From the off, Alien: Isolation feels every bit a labour of love, opening with the 20th Century Fox logo and music as played on a worn out VHS tape, crackling and sputtering. The game itself follows suit, well aware that it’s recreating a rather dated version of the future, but all the better for it.

Sevastopol station apes the padded lounge-like areas, and labyrinthine ducts and industrial design of its predecessor, the Nostromo, perfectly. It’s a cramped space, with low ceilings, and was once a well inhabited one, with the detritus of human life everywhere. It's eerily quiet now, except for the groaning of the damaged hull.

Developer Creative Assembly is to be applauded for all this. The main character, baddie and setting are all drawn straight from the 1979 film, but it still takes guts to directly adapt a much-cherished, 117-minute movie into a lengthy 15 - 20 hour campaign.

The chunky, beige computers with appropriately low-res, green-screen displays dotted around the interior are functional as well as true to the film. They let you access voice and email remnants from the crew, or reprogram various systems – flooding areas with smoke or disabling security cameras can give you the advantage.

You have your own portable bag of tricks and gizmos crafted from items found around the ship. Medkits, flashbangs, flares and smoke grenades prove essential to get past trickier sections. You can lure your enemies away from you, or towards each other, to achieve the desired result.

Your most important tool is the classic motion tracker, which builds the idea of a radar directly into the setting. You can ready this at any time and it will accurately track motion in a 90 degree in front of you, with only rough indicators for other directions. It only tracks motion too, so stationary enemies don't show up, and it can't differentiate between baddies. Be careful too, as its classic, panic-inducing bleeps can themselves alert enemies who are very close.

There are actually three main types of enemies. The most deadly, and most unpredictable, is the Alien itself, which has razor-sharp senses as well as claws, and moves in unpredictable patterns. The station's rogue Synthetics may be more primitive than either Ash or Bishop in the movies, but their predictable routines make perfect sense in the context of a game. Finally there's the odd human as well, who sit somewhere in between the two.

As well as the usual crouch and hide, Ripley is capable of slipping beneath control desks and tables, as well as hiding in boxes and lockers (as in Metal Gear Solid). Between her tools, agility and the tracker you can slip through remarkably dense enemy presences with a little forethought. There are a few weapons, but they are rarely needed or used. It can be punishingly difficult at times too, with few save points, no autosaves except at the beginning of chapters, and regular horrible deaths.

The game isn't perfect; the frame rate in cutscenes stutters for reasons unclear, and the controls take quite a lot of getting used to, even sometimes failing to react to your presses at all. It's also arguably a little too long, more a director's cut than a lean cinematic release.

Alien: Isolation certainly doesn’t sit alone, despite its name; instead it’s been crafted out of a sci-fi property that dates back decades. Countless films, games and comics have been created off the back of H.R. Giger's creature and Ridley Scott’s film, but this is arguably the closest experience yet to the tension and claustrophobia of the original masterpiece. Play it alone, in the dark, wearing headphones, and you'll 'enjoy' every minute.

SPECIFICATIONS
Available formatsPC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
OS SupportWindows 7 or 8
Minimum CPU3.16GHz Intel Core Duo E8500
Minimum GPU1GB DirectX 11 (AMD Radeon HD 5550 or Nvidia GeForce GT 430)
Minimum RAM4GB
Hard disk space35GB
Detailshttp://alienisolation.com
Product codeB00KL4PNUW