It’s pretty ridiculous that the majority of Alien games have chosen to emulate James Cameron’s gun-heavy action flick Aliens. Especially considering most iterations of the franchise to make it onto consoles are pretty poor, with Colonial Marines as an example that is still fresh in our minds. Ridley Scott’s original, the influential Sci-Fi/Horror Alien, has always been waiting to be picked for the perfect game, and now the team at The Creative Assembly (the game developers best known for the Total War series) have realised this with first-person survival horror Alien Isolation.
The story follows Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, 15 years after the events of Alien. The storyline seems concerned with wrapping up some loose ends from the film, while also drawing many parallels to it, including human treachery, killer androids and its final confrontation. While the story is mainly driven by Ripley’s attempts to power up communications in an effort to escape, the large scale of the space station, Savastopol, allows the game to explore the psychological effect of a collapsed small society in the Alien crises. It’s ending also leaves open the possibility for a sequel, something to be welcomed following this near-masterpiece.
The game starts out slowly, as the beginning sees you explore a perfectly calm ship, but this allows you to take in the stunning recreation of Alien’s beautifully ugly world. Every level of detail is an homage to the film, from its dark, androgynous colour schemes, retro-futuristic technology and even its ladders.
However, the thing that The Creative Assembly deserves most credit for is nailing the tension of the original film. The game is so effective in creating an atmosphere of dread and uncertainty that something as simple as a light suddenly turning on in the game’s beginning becomes one of the biggest jump scares you’ll experience all year. Once the Alien is introduced, not knowing when it will appear and pierce your skull with its infamous mini-mouth is as horrifying as the event actually happening. It’s soundtrack, which references the original film, furthers this tension by both exploiting haunting inaudibility during the peaceful moments and panicked, dissonant violins as danger is approaching.
As a gameplay experience, expect it to be stealth heavy as you try to avoid line-of-sight with the AI. Much of the games (extensive) runtime will be spent hiding under desks, in lockers and crawling into vents, which somehow never gets boring through that outstanding display of tension. Given very little to defend yourself in a confrontation, fighting anything should rarely be attempted. Instead the game focuses on tools like flares, noisemakers and pipebombs being used to distract foes, forcing you to always think tactically about your next move. Alien Isolation offers a huge but enjoyable challenge, as even the easy setting is unforgiving.
While the Alien has been reduced to cannon fodder over the last few decades, the Alien AI is exactly as you’d want it to be – the perfect predator. It mercilessly hunts you throughout and any confrontation with it rarely ends in survival. It’s a momentous challenge to survive the Alien and my PS4 happily alerted me that I’d died 100 times to the creature claws before reaching the conclusion of the game. And if that isn’t a terrifying enough prospect, the Xenomorph impressively learns, figuring out the techniques you use to stay out of sight and avoiding falling for the tricks used to distract it.
When the Alien is disposed of for a few missions, there’s a risk of the tension running thin, which is where the Working Joes are at their most effective, the cold emotionless Androids are the silent, sneaky killers to the Alien’s snarling huntsman. They also act as a bizarre form of comic relief, offering to help you while choking your life away.
Alien Isolation ends up being a game that does both the Alien and its film a service. The Creative Assembly team have flawlessly created a game that is simultaneously a loving tribute, a true thematic sequel and a breathtaking gameplay experience.