Alien: Isolation Review

Fourteen jolly hours.

The good:
– Tense, suspenseful, atmospheric
– Unpredictable alien

The bad:
– Repetitive alien sounds – you know what it’s doing
– 30fps, not 60
– Too much story padding

I enter a room, searching for a coolant cell or something necessary to progress further in the mission. I briefly glance up out of nervous habit, and see it in the adjacent room, glaring at me through the window. I know I’m in trouble, and sure enough, the creature hisses, scurries out the door and emerges seconds later before grabbing and proceeding to devour me.

You are Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, who went missing in space previously. Being offered a place aboard the Nostromo, you accept, hoping to find closure about your mother. You then get yourself stranded aboard another ship which has descended into anarchy, and must contact your ship before it leaves you.

Campaign

It’s a weak way to get the player stuck in space with an alien, but you’ll be glad you are. For the most part, the story shines and you frolic up and down the ship from locker to box to locker. The biggest annoyances are the backtracking and sheer tediousness of the level design, but if you’re not in a hurry then you won’t mind too much. Another criticism is this: the game builds a simple colour code – green means open, red means closed. But one mission it completely abandons that code and the doors are no longer labelled, causing you to wander around lost until you revert to finding a walkthrough. That is a major issue, but one of the only slip ups.

I’m so close to my objective, returning through the fiery room while they stalk me. Panicking toward the door out of here, an alien appears, five feet away, looking to my left. I freeze in stunned fear, a sitting duck. Fortunately it moves along, and I scurry out of sight.

It’s at times like these when Alien: Isolation is at its best, the occasional understated set pieces and the frequent, tense sections where the well-programmed alien is let loose. I wish they had made it move more scarily, crawling along or jumping across units and throwing objects in frustration. I also wonder why they didn’t apply the same unpredictability to the stupid robots, to everything that isn’t strapped down! Unfortunately, the parts in between let it down, giving the player a string of menial tasks which send you back and forth, up and down the ship, bringing up the map every other second to make sure you don’t need to turn left yet to find that other guy’s flask. This filler feels much like a carrot on a stick being held out in front, constantly being pulled further away the more you rush to catch it.

Gameplay

As you imagine, the gameplay is very tense and fun. The only real problem is the way it handles – when you flick either stick, there seems to be a slight delay before Amanda responds. And turning also seems to drag a little; it’s hard to explain but it simply doesn’t control smoothly enough (the way Call of Duty is so responsive and smooth).

The tools are fun to use, and it’s a pleasant change to almost have to ration your ammunition. But, you don’t end up using half the craftable items, like the molotov or the flare. Speaking of flare, Isolation really makes me want a tense, scary dinosaur game.

Other modes and DLC

When you finish the campaign, there is one more mode – ‘survivor mode’, which is a 1v1 with the alien as you are given three objectives to complete with a time limit. In my experience, it’s not as exhilarating as it sounds, but that last sprint to the elevator is pretty memorable. There is but one map available unless you buy more in the DLC packs. The first two are missions, and the remaining five expand the game’s Survivor Mode with new characters, challenges, maps, and other features. I don’t have the DLC, but here’s a quick rundown:

Crew Expendable – Features the original crew of the Nostromo and involves the player controlling Ripley, Dallas or Parker attempting to flush the alien creature from the air vents and into the ship’s airlock.

Last Survivor –  Set during the film’s finale and involves the player controlling Ripley as she tries to activate the Nostromo‘s self-destruct sequence and reach the escape shuttle. Unlike the first mission, the second mission is apparently only available for players who pre-ordered the game at certain retailers, although it appears to be for sale on Steam.

Corporate Lockdown – Three maps for survivor mode.

Trauma – Three maps for survivor mode.

Safe Haven – Adds salvage mode, where you’ll have to venture out, complete objectives, and return to the safe room in one piece.

Lost Contact – A new map for salvage mode.

The Trigger – Three new maps for survivor mode.

The nitty gritty

Isolation runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second on both the Xbox One and PS4. It really should be performing at 60fps though – if Forza 6 can do it on the Xbone, Isolation has no excuse. After all, it boasts about its small corridors, meaning not much to render. The smoke can tend to jitter a little, perhaps clashing with the light, and breaking the immersion. Sound wise, Isolation is very atmospheric, although after a few missions, the few alien sounds repeating becomes obvious, and lose their fear-factor.

Verdict

To sum up, Alien: Isolation has no issues that can’t be ironed out in a sequel, and I personally can’t wait to see what they do next. If you can bear with these annoyances, you’ll have a blast. Atmosphere is a real selling point for Isolation, as it captures the same tight, claustrophobic corridors as are featured in the film. If you’re looking for a single-player, story-driven game with a strong atmosphere, Alien: Isolation is for you. If you’re a fan of the films, you’ll appreciate its accuracy in confining you to tight, claustrophobic rooms and its skill at spinning that as a good thing. This isn’t a game to rush through, and I can recommend the Primagames walkthrough for when you’re stuck. Any self-respecting horror fan should own this class act. And if you do buy it, watch out when you pick up the bolt gun!

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