Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.
A longing for the days gone by, allowing us to revisit things we’ve seen a hundred times before.
To this day, I can watch Batman: The Animated Series and still enjoy it. It’s timeless.
Similarly, the new Alien game, Alien: Isolation, manages to tap into the tense, gritty atmosphere that places the movie series it’s based on in the top 3 horror movies ever on IMDB.
The game stars Amanda Ripley, an engineer and daughter of the heroine of the Alien movies, Ellen Ripley.
She boards a space station called the Sevastopol in order to retrieve the flight recorder of the Nostromo, the ship her mother was on when it was destroyed 15 years prior, immediately drawing you in (provided you’re a fan of the original movie.)
Don’t expect to stay as engrossed though… You will die. A lot.
The second and third time you die, you start to think “Huh, maybe I’m just bad at the game; maybe I’m doing something wrong.” The more it happened, the more trial and error employed, the more you get killed.
“One mistake and no hiding place is a safe haven from the Xenomorph’s intelligent AI”
This is not to say I am bad at the game, I was trying everything to get a feel for it.
I knew if I hid behind something and waited, I could eventually make a break for it but sometimes, even hiding doesn’t work as the Xenomorph isn’t tied to particular AI like in most games. It uses random patrol patterns and even learns a couple of new ways of finding you as the game progresses.
One example was when I had hidden in a locker in a hallway and escaped later on. I ran to the room across the hall and looked out the window (by leaning of course, not in plain sight) and realized that I had left the door open on the locker.
The alien noticed the door and proceeded to check every locker in the area to try and find me. One mistake and not even a locker or under a table is a safe haven from the Xenomorph’s intelligent AI.
One area that the game really excels in is its presentation.
From the grainy VHS screen presenting the opening 20th Century Fox logo, to the numerous video and loading sequences that adopt the same format, it all feels authentic to the time period in which the first Alien movie was released which really adds to the feel of the game.
Now it’s time to spend my Saturday morning peeing my pants and geeking out about the set design in Alien: Isolation. Couldn’t ask for more.
— Jon Glover (@juan0tron) October 18, 2014
The environment of the Sevastopol feels like it’s taken directly from Ridley Scott’s movie, with the technology as retro as it was then, and even Sigourney Weaver’s unmistakable voice welcoming us to the game.
This is a very well put together and cared for package and they want you to know that this is an Alien game that ties directly to the films canon.
Unfortunately, the excellence in presentation ends there.
The graphics are not exactly what you would expect. They’re not bad, not at all, but they’re certainly not “next-gen” either. It feels like a weird middle ground between the trail end of the last generation and up-scaled PC graphics.
The game also suffers from some fairly noticeable frame rate issues in certain spots. I was playing the game on a PS4, but I have spoken to a friend of mine who confirmed that the same issues are present on the Xbox One.
The PC version seems largely unaffected by these issues, and has been said to look better on max settings, but this is the norm for most games.
Character models also looks very plastic. They seem fake, and that took me out of the action at times. It says a lot, that the most realistic looking character in the game was the Alien itself. Everyone else looked like an Android.
This is not the only reason that engaging with the characters was difficult though. The voice acting is pretty terrible and the dialogue isn’t much better which only serves to make the acting all the more terrible.
For a game that supposedly took a lot of care to protect the integrity of the Alien franchise, they really didn’t seem to consider with the quality of voice acting. That being said, there isn’t as much dialogue in the game as there would be in the likes of The Last of Us or Bioshock, but some effort would have been appreciated.
One major tool at your disposal in Alien: Isolation is the motion tracker. Without the tracker, there would be literally zero chance of survival. It shows the direction and closeness of the enemies but just in case you think the game is throwing you a bone, it also emits a noise that attracts enemies close by when you use it.
Often times, you will struggle with using the motion tracker to see what awaits you around the next corner, and trying your luck. Again, it becomes about trial and error. This can be quite frustrating during the sections with the androids as there are quite a few of them in each area and without the brightness settings turned up to 11, you really have to squint to see them in certain areas.
This can get a bit frustrating, but there is a bigger underlying reason for this frustration, MANUAL SAVES!
See, Alien: Isolation does not operate a checkpoint system. In order to save your progress, you must save manually at a save station, in this case, one of many phones littered throughout the station.
My first reaction to this was that it’s 2014, not 1994. The manual save system, while technically something original in this day and age, only serves to undermine the game considering how much people will inevitably die during the 20+ hour play through.
Another thing that Alien: Isolation employs from previous generations of games is length. Length can be a good thing if the game keeps you interested for the length of time it takes to complete it. But with Alien: Isolation, after you reach a certain point (about 7 – 8 hours in) you are kind of wishing it would be over.
I wish that this wasn’t the case because it’s a sad thing to have to say in this generation of short and sweet AAA blockbusters that a game is too long, unfortunately, Alien: Isolation overstays its welcome and leaves a bad taste in my mouth afterwards.
It’s not terrible by any means, but some questionable decisions, bad acting and a campaign that could have been cut in the second act, this isn’t the Alien game people were hoping for, but it is definitely the best one we’ve gotten to date.