Halloween is coming up, folks! It’s time to play some scary games. My suggestions include the PlayStation 4’s PT, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and of course Destiny, where you can experience life’s most raw fear: crushing disappointment. If you’re hurting for more horror gaming, however, Sega’s Alien: Isolation is here to fill that gaping void. It’ll probably fill it with a horrific monster embryo after facehugging you, sure, but it’ll get filled. What more could you ask for?
Set 15 years after the first movie, Alien: Isolation’s lead is Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda. When she’s offered the chance to join a mission to the station Sevastopol where she’ll be able to retrieve the flight recorder from Ellen’s ship, the Nostromo. Naturally, this doesn’t work out as planned; does anything in this series? Amanda ends up stranded in the Sevastopol with the remnants of the ship’s crew, both human and android. Nobody’s especially happy to see her. What’s more, it doesn’t take long before she meets the real acid-blooded blade-tailed multi-jawed star of the show…
Make no mistake: this isn’t Dead Space. Unlike pretty much every previous game based on this franchise, you’re not really intended to run and gun in Alien: Isolation. Weapons are available, but they’re not especially effective against anything you’d really want to use them on…and even then, trying to take on more than one opponent at a time isn’t going to end well for Amanda. Humans provide a reasonable challenge, androids can be killed but it’s typically more work than it’s worth, and the Alien doesn’t care about your stupid crap and, much like the movie, simply can’t be defeated. Instead, you’re going to spend your time sneaking around a la Amnesia: The Dark Descent or the Clock Tower series, completing objectives and gathering components to craft useful items while staying out of sight.
As a result, this game has a feel and aesthetic that are closer to the original movie than anything that’s come before. Even the UI and level design call to mind the 80s-futuristic style seen on the Nostromo. The sound design is equally effective at building an enormous amount of tension; you’ll rapidly learn the sound cues that mean the Alien is suspicious and searching for you or about to attack. The tension built by game’s atmosphere is honestly a little overwhelming and I found it difficult to play more than a couple hours at a time. Given that Alien: Isolation runs for around 12-15 hours, this meant it lasted for quite a while, unlike the majority of horror games.
This can actually be a good or a bad thing depending on your view. As Grayson mentioned during our recent podcast, Alien: Isolation might be long enough to overstay its welcome a bit. While this concept worked well for an hour and a half in theaters, twelve hours of controlling it might lead you to reach the breaking point. The Alien is a pretty unpredictable creature at first, but it’s rarely unfair and we both found that if you’re hiding properly it won’t typically get you…so as you learn how the Alien works it becomes more and more easy to avoid it. After awhile it can feel like Alien appearances are just lengthening your already-lengthy missions to fetch items and repair devices.
What’s more, the game runs off a save point system and the points are often spread far apart. Dying – be that to a few bullets, an android’s choking grip or the jaws of the Alien – often means replaying the last fifteen to twenty minutes or so. Eventually that becomes the game’s scariest proposition. Don’t play on Hard mode, despite what the title screen suggests.
Still, the first half or so of Alien: Isolation is horror excellence on a level we don’t often see in AAA titles these days. It’s tense, it’s true to the films and it’s absolutely worth a look. At the same time, the gameplay sticks around for awhile and doesn’t change up its tactics all that much; it’s going to take some major patience to see this one through, especially on higher difficulties. Still, it’s a huge upgrade from Sega’s last effort with the franchise, and if you’re a fan of the movies, horror games, or both then you’ll definitely want to get facehugged by Alien: Isolation.