My review of the game "Alien Isolation"
Video Game Review: Alien Isolation
Developer: Creative Assembly
Genre: First Person Survival Horror
Rating: M (Mature) for Violence, Strong Language, and Blood
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (this version's review), PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC.
WOW Factor: 5/5
Frustration factor: 4.5/5
Folks, I love the film "Alien", as I am sure many of us here do. It is the seminal science-fiction/horror film of the ages.
For the longest time, I've wanted to feel like a part of that universe, even if it is a dystopian techno-corporate society. (That probably stemmed more from my love of ALIENS as opposed to its sire, but recently, I've really fallen in love with the original all over again, largely thanks to Prometheus, another in the series I've enjoyed.)
If you've felt the way that I have, and have long waited for a game that captures the look and feel of ALIEN, your prayers have been answered.
There have been many games that have come out representative of the ALIENS part of the universe....most of them have been Alien Vs Predator types. Shortly after the first film came out, there was a PC game for ALIEN, and I cannot remember if it was graphics based, text based, or a combination of the two. Recently, the game ALIENS: Colonial Marines made its foray into the ALIENS universe, and was met with mostly poor reviews by critics, but it still sold considerably well. Still, it was quite wanting in many areas.
Hopefully, Sega has since severed their ties with Gearbox (the developers who were supposed to make A:CM, and outsourced production to a lesser company, taking Sega's production money and putting it toward Borderlands 2). Sega has turned to another developer, and this time, with the intent of creating something closer in tone and feel to the first film.
Creative Assembly has magnificently stepped up to the task, and developed a title that truly deserves the genre moniker of "Survival Horror". And not only that, but they have really captured the feel of ALIEN with this "missing sequel" story that I could easily accept as canon in the Alien universe.
This game takes place in the first person perspective, although there are plenty of cutscenes that allow you to view the game's protagonist, Amanda Ripley....and they designed a cutie...she could easily be Sigourney Weaver's daughter.
As far as I can tell, I'm reaching the conclusion of the game, but it is so tense that I actually have to take breaks from it....so I chose to take some tension out by writing up this review.
The story idea of the game is this:
15 years have passed since the fateful events portrayed in 1979's "ALIEN". Amanda Ripley (Ellen Ripley's daughter, mentioned in James Cameron's Director's Cut of ALIENS) is in her 20's, and working as an engineer for Weyland-Yutani coporation. She has pursued this career with one goal in mind: Finding out what happened to her mother, who was supposed to have returned from her cargo haul on the Nostromo in time for her 11th birthday. Well, guess who never showed up?
Keep in mind that, in this review, Ripley is now Amanda, so when I say Ripley, I mean Amanda. (She gets referred to as Ripley in the game, so why not here? )
Ripley is encountered during one of her work shifts by an individual named Samuels. Samuels knows, and is deeply concerned about Ripley's plight, and desire to know what happened to her mother. He tells her that the black box from the Nostromo has been recovered, and that it could, if anything, provide Ripley with some closure about her mom. At first, Ripley is hesitant, but the offer is too good to pass up.
Ripley and Samuels book passage on the Torrens; an M-class starship, the same classification as the Nostromo, but converted more to be a passenger transport rather than a freighter. Also joining them on the journey is a Weyland-Yutani representative named Taylor. During this time, before reaching the bridge of, you can choose to explore the ship, and you will find that her layout is largely the same as the Nostromo's from the movie, except that this ship is only two decks low, as opposed to the Nostromo's three. You will find a lot of the same set pieces as on the movie set of the Nostromo. You'll be able to mention to yourself about where certain events in the film took place... like "This is where Ripley confronted Ash about allowing the facehugger on board.", and such.
When you finally decide to join Captain Verlaine on the bridge, they are in approach to Sevastapol, a gigantic deep space commerce station and space port in orbit of a gas giant, much like the one seen in the film. (In fact, if I'm not mistaken, it is the same gas giant, as there is a small planetoid in its orbit, much like what would become LV-426 in ALIENS...the only discrepancy that makes me think it is not the same gas giant is that there are no rings around this planet. Sevastapol appears to be in a bit of a bad way though. Power is fluctuating, and a broken transmission from station Marshall Waits. There is no way for the Torrens to dock, but they are wanting to send Ripley, Samuels, and Taylor over, even if it has to be done by EVA, which they opt to do.
Disaster strikes during the EVA crossing, and Ripley is separated from her two companions. Now, she is alone aboard Sevastapol, and eventually she comes to find that almost everything and everyone is a threat. The station is in disarray in places, as we learn that Sevastapol was in the process of being decommissioned, when somehow, someway, something made its way aboard the station, and started hunting down its occupants. The station's mindbank, known as APOLLO, has ordered its android contingent, known as Working Joes, to secure the station in "Hazard Lockdown: Omega". With that, the Working Joes have glitched, and will eliminate anyone they discover. The stations human survivors have been living in fear of the pragmatic automata, as well as the malevolent presence that has invaded the spaceport.
As Ripley, you end up getting caught up in the middle of events that Ripley's mom endured years earlier, unbeknownst to young Amanda.
This game is NOT a first person shooter, although you do eventually get a hold of some weapons. Ripley is not a killer, but she will defend herself. She is a survivor, but not necessarily a fighter, much like Ellen Ripley was. She grows into that over the course of the game. There is no running and gunning like in Aliens vs Predator or Aliens: Colonial Marines. In fact, combat is often ill-advised, and only be a last resort. Most weapons have a heft to them that makes it difficult to just "run and gun" with. In fact, doing anything that can make noise to compromise your location is ill-advised. As you move about the station, you can craft items that are helpful in either distracting your opponents/enemies, or in combating them.
And the Alien itself? Well....ya' can't kill it. You don't have that kind of firepower. (Everything about the Alien is based on the status of the 1979 film, not Cameron's ALIENS film from '86.) Believe me, I've tried shooting it with a revolver. It might bleed, but it doesn't even flinch. You can drive it away if you have the right tools/weapons, but that is a temporary and stopgap measure. The Alien will come back after you. You can hide from it, either by climbing into lockers, vents (floor or wall), or hiding under beds, gurneys, desks with open bottoms, or counter spaces.
Working Joes can be killed, but are nearly as tough as the Alien. You just need the right tools/weapons for the job. (In fact, the game states in one of its transitions "Weapons are like tools. Make sure you have the right one for the right job." ) There are plenty of helpful hints that appear randomly in the transitions or reload screens. But I don't want to spoil any part of the game by quoting them. I think the one quote above is more than enough to tell you the nature of the game.
Humans are obviously far more fragile, but the game discourages attacking them, messing with them, and especially killing them.
You can walk, you can sprint (which makes a lot of noise), and you can crouch walk (which greatly reduces your movement noise, but also your speed). When you get closer to some beds/gurneys, desks, and counter surfaces, you will automatically stoop lower to get under them....most effective in hiding from humans/automata/interstellar life forms. It's not 100 percent effective, but it seems far more effective than hiding in lockers, crates, etc. Crawling through vents is appropriately unnerving. (To date, I have not run into any enemies in vents, but I am always cautious when crossing through them...and my butt always puckers up just a little bit more during such traversals.) There is even a risk in using things like your motion tracker (which you eventually acquire) and your headset flashlight. In the wrong situation, those devices can be as much a bane to yourself as they are a boon for finding your way.
Occasionally, if you are able to make your way clear to them, you might happen upon fragments from the Nostromo's flight recorder, in which there are voice logs recorded by the members of that doomed ship's crew. (And Creative Assembly was able to secure the talents of six of the seven original cast members from ALIEN to do the voices. Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Staton, Yaphet Kotto, and Veronica Cartright have all stepped up to repirse their roles, not only for the voice recordings of the black box, but also to appear in an add-on campaign called "Crew Expendable" which allows you to play either as Ripley, Dallas, or Parker. I have yet to try that campaign, but I look forward to it.)
I gave this game a graphics rating of 4.5, docking it a half a point only because the characters look not quite up to snuff with what I've seen from other games like "The Last of Us" or "Beyond: Two Souls". The Alien looks and moves appropriately menacing. (Part of the sell of the original film was that you never really saw the Alien in its entirety. Sadly that was a motif that they could not quite recreate in the game, as the Alien is often out in plain view, but usually obscured a little by particle effects from steam pipes, or lighting effects that only serve to strongly accentuate its terrifying silhouette. ) The corridors and set pieces, however, are so well done that when certain lighting and particle aspects come into play, it looks as if you're walking on an actual set as opposed to a CG set piece. The views of the Sevastapol station from any window you can peer through, as well as the gas giant beyond, and the blazing sun (you actually see solar flares on the local sun) are also quite gorgeous to behold. You also get the sense that Amanda, like Ellen before her, grew up to be about 6 feet tall. (Trivia note: Actress Sigourney Weaver was 6 feet tall at 12 years of age.) The ceilings and door overheads sometimes seem very low when viewed in the first person perspective. Creative Assembly also went to a lot of trouble to make the tech of this world look like something that would appear in a 1979 film. The recent movie of Prometheus had technology that looked far more advanced than in a movie that was made in '79, yet took place 30 years after. CA really got the "dirty, used" look of Alien down to a tee....even down to the cassette drive based computers and terminals on the ship and station. (Remember Atari 64 and Commodore 64?)
The sounds of the game are almost perfect. I docked it half a point from full marks only because on occasion, some of the ambient sounds of the station or ship you are on will completely drop out. That big droning generator you might hear will suddenly become inaudible. But usually its only the ambient effects like generators, engines, and machinery that will drop out. All the other important sounds, like people talking, footfalls, doors opening/closing, and the hisses and wails of the Alien, all stay active. Most sound effects are straight from the original film, and sound incredible...not like some low-bitrate import. Weapons sound good, especially the flame thrower and the EMP mines. The Alien's sounds are spooky to downright frightening...especially when the star of the show jumps out at you from an unexpected nook or cranny. And then there is the music in the game. Not only were they able to use some of the late, great Jerry Goldsmith's original themes, but the new music recorded for the game captures the essence of Goldsmith's original work, and in fact, several musicians who were in the National Symphony Orchestra for the film score in 1979 were on hand to record the new material for the game. (Creative Assembly really pulled out almost all the stops when it came to developing this outstanding title.)
Control is rather good. Sometimes, handling some of the deployable gadgets and weapons (like EMP mines or Noisemakers or flares) can be mildly cumbersome, but you get used to handling them after a short while. Movement is somewhat fluid...about the only hiccup I run into is when I have to save, but it is a minor concern. I rather like the mechanic of how the game has you work levers and tools to gain access to areas or to reroute power. For example (in the PS4 version) if you come up to a two handed lever, you hit the X button to initiate the action, then pull on both the L2 and R2 triggers to grip the lever, and then pull back on both sticks to pull the lever down. Accessing the map and other documents is accomplished by pressing the touch pad on the controller. Otherwise, the game handles like a typical first person game, except for the running and gunning element...it is definitely not there, and that is a good thing, because Alien was never about run and gun. It was about keeping your butt alive from place to place.
The Frustration factor is minimal. There are plenty of save points scattered throughout the game, which you walk up to and insert a keycard. The save point will notify you if there are hostiles nearby, at which saving could be risky, as it takes several seconds for the save function to kick in. This was a deliberate move by CA to maintain the tension, even in seemingly "safe" areas. And then, after you save at such a point, you will have to wait a few minutes if you lurk around the area before you can save there again. (I did not time how long it took for the wait...not when you have an Alien on your tail or Working Joes lying in wait.) The Frustration factor is also mitigated by the fact that when the Alien does get you, it is usually by pants peeing surprise. You get so nervous and jumpy that frustration doesn't really seem to dawn on you, because your adrenaline is so high. Frustration may kick in when dealing with humans and Working Joes, but it is minimal even then.
The game is of a very generous running length. I think I have so far logged 22 hours on the game, and it was estimated to be a 20 hour playthrough (at least, the first time, if you don't make many mistakes).
The WOW factor of the game will speak for itself. A combination of the excellent graphics, sound, playability, and minimal frustration factor, not to mention just feeling like you are actually in the Alien universe will likely have you squeeing like a 'shipper if you have any love for the first film.
I highly recommend this game for all fans and admirers of Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece. And from what I've seen, the game looks and plays great no matter what system you own. (My roomie has the Xbox 360 version, and even it looks beautiful.)
CORRECTION: Ian Holm did not do the voice of Ash for this game. iMDB seems to have gotten it wrong again.
However, I did notice that among the voice cast for the main campaign, William Hope, who played Lt. Gorman in ALIENS, was brought in to voice Station Marshall Waits. So, cool.
Last edited by Lord Martok; 10-13-2014 at 04:07 AM.
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