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Alien: Isolation (PlayStation 4) artwork

Alien: Isolation (PlayStation 4) review

"A faithful tribute to Ridley Scott's Alien."

We’re inundated with space age design these days. Science fiction spoils us with space ships, space stations, space modules, space cruisers. My ‘glacier white’ PS4 even looks like it could be a prop in someone’s idea of the future.

A month ago I watched the 2003 remaster of Ridley Scott’s Alien. For a film that is now around thirty five years old, it’s surprising just how powerful the Nostromo remains, both as a vision of space travel and a place of terror once things start to go wrong. It’s the corridors that are most impressive. Every decent space ship needs good corridors and the Nostromo’s are terrific. A written description of the octagonal tunnels, plastic tubes and strip lighting exposes the 1970s production but on screen the effect is haunting as the narrow corridors lead off into the darkness, their walls lined with metal and machinery, broken occasionally by the eerie bluish glow from a rectangle of light. Not a place you want to be trapped with an alien on the loose. As Ripley moves to the living quarters the purity and elegance of the white panelled walls and circular dining table provide almost a safe, homely contrast. The computers and displays are archaic but it doesn’t matter because this is a timeless vision of what mankind thinks space travel will be like; simple but so effective.

The best compliment I can give to Alien: Isolation is that it looks exactly the same as the Blu-Ray remaster of the original film. Not ‘similar to’ or ‘as good as’ but exactly the same. You play as a different Ripley aboard a different ship, but the corridors and living spaces are identical to the designs in Ridley Scott’s film, while the larger areas and rooms that are necessary for a survival horror video game are entirely in keeping with the whole aesthetic. Care and attention has been fully invested into getting the correct look and feel. When I stumbled across an incapacitated android behind a dimly lit console, head pulled back with magazine shoved down its throat, I knew that whoever designed this game was passionate about honouring the legacy and recreating the impact of the original film.

Alien: Isolation is set fifteen years after the events of Alien. Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, has travelled to the massive space station Sevastopol after hearing that it has obtained the lost flight recorder from the Nostromo. Upon arriving she finds that the station is in disarray and the crew terrified. It quickly becomes apparent that this is because an alien is on the Sevastopol.

The alien is a magnificent creature. There’s only one on the Sevastopol, but it cannot be killed by human hands and will respond swiftly and brutally to the slightest misplaced step or noise. If you attract its attention it’s very difficult to survive. I remember once managing to sprint away from the alien down a corridor into a small office where I hid in a locker and peered out through the slits in the door. I thought I was safe but the discordant music rose to a terrible crescendo as the grotesque head of the alien passed slowly by. Running generally isn’t advisable. I tried this tactic another time and thought I had reached the safety of a locker door, only for Ripley to look down in agony as the alien’s tale slowly impaled her stomach before pulling out to leave a bloody mess. Giger would be proud.

The alien is not bound by restrictive behaviour patterns in the way that enemies in other survival horror games are and this is why it’s such a terrifying adversary. For most of the game, it can appear at any point and act and move freely. To evade it once is not enough; you must constantly be aware and alert because it could come from any angle or room or vent. You can’t kill the alien. You can only hope to survive. Isolation provides you with various tools to achieve this goal, from noisemakers to flares, and the space station features enough lockers, tunnels, vents and other obstacles to help you break the line of sight. You can even hide under beds down in the Sevestopol’s medical facility. You can’t, however, rely on the same trick too many times because the alien will gradually adapt to your behaviour if you’re too predictable. Later on in the game you come across the flamethrower which allows you to mindlessly torch the alien and watch as it scampers off into a vent. It’s very satisfying to stand and watch the alien burn after hours spent creeping around it through tunnels and vents, but how many times do you think you can get away with such a predictable tactic?

Alien: Isolation is a long game and there are times when the alien is removed from the action while you creep through the space station on various missions. During these sections Ripley’s antagonists are the ‘Working Joes’ that populate the Sevastapol. These androids have gone crazy and attack on sight, walking purposefully towards Ripley with the intention of squeezing the life out of her. They are very durable and require lots of bullets to disable, or a bit of invention and creativity on your part. The Working Joes obviously aren’t as quick, intelligent or horrifying as the alien can be, but they do pose a real threat and you can’t take them lightly. For a while I was quite content to carelessly bash their synthetic heads with a wrench, until one of them caught my arm mid hit. Time for a Plan B!

Although they’re worthy adversaries, the Working Joes fail to provide the same level of tension as your encounters with the alien. When the threat of the alien is removed for certain missions for various reasons, the limitations of the game become more and more apparent. Alien: Isolation is a beautiful game but it engages you in some very mundane activities. Later on in the game you’re given objectives that ask you to power up generators. This is tiresome and tedious game design made even worse by the fact that you usually need to power up one generator, which then leads to a second generator, which then leads to a third generator, which then leads to the door that requires you to complete a little mini-game on your security access tuner.

Alien: Isolation is a faithful tribute to Ridley Scott’s Alien, from the design of the Sevastapol (which closely mimics that of the Nostromo) to the fearsome, terrifying alien. It has some of the best set pieces in any film adaptation; moments that will make fans sit back in awe and wonder. Unfortunately, at times it does seem as if the developers felt the need to pad the adventure out a bit more so that it reaches our modern expectations of a 20+ hour game. It’s disappointing because Alien: Isolation is pretty dull in places, but then you detect a dot on your motion tracker, or you can’t quite see what’s at the end of a dark corridor, or the music starts to become louder and you swear you can hear something dripping from a vent... Alien: Isolation is worth playing for these moments.

Rating: 7/10

JANUS2's avatar
Community review by JANUS2 (October 31, 2014)

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