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Alien: Isolation (PlayStation 4) artwork

Alien: Isolation (PlayStation 4) review


"Literally Isolated"


It's no secret that a huge chunk of Alien games, especially the recent batch, are usually focused on Colonial Marines slaughtering waves of Xenomorphs with loud, powerful weaponry. The concept just easily translates into a video game. That's why 2014's Alien: Isolation, a first-person sci-fi adventure, sticks out so effortlessly from the others, for its willingness to go in a different direction by copying the tone and atmosphere of the original 1979 movie; the protagonist is up against a single, ghastly, formidable foe that can end her life instantly, and the only form of defense she has are makeshift items and weapons that, at best, force the slimy, phallic creature into a vent.

As Amanda Ripley, daughter of the first film's protagonist, you're on board a space station in what was originally meant as a form of closure for her mother's disappearance. However, what awaits her is a ruined residency fallen to disarray, with barely-lit rooms, graffiti-covered walls, body bags aplenty, and dark silhouettes scampering off in the distance. All this while clear references to the films are spotted everywhere, from the steely, cold look of corridors, to the bulky designs of spaceships and the station. Moreover, Isolation passionately mimics the original film's depiction of the future with late-1970s technology: thick computer monitors, tape cassettes, and a ridiculous amount of flashing buttons on everything. Loading screens showcasing the space station exteriors even have film grain overlay, which actually makes it as if you're staring at real objects.



But the Alien, right? The developers of Creative Assembly seem fully aware that you, the player, long for such a confrontation with the Xenomorph, and, instead of literally throwing the beast into your face from the start, gleefully makes you wait for the monster's first legitimate appearance. Occasionally, you'll hear mutterings of a "killer" or a "thing" from audio diaries and the rare instance of friendly contact. Yes, friendly. There are moments where hostiles, either armed humans or creepy androids with manners, conveniently roam areas you must pass. Isolation even uses the initial, forced human encounter as a way to gauge your stealth prowess for when you finally face the real deal. The practice is needed, because the game is unapologetic about not teaching you how to hide and elude properly, and you'll die several times experimenting with distractions, such as a flare stick toss or a strategically-placed flashbang device.

Then it finally happens: you have to sneak around the Alien in a cramped location, as it stomps around loudly, surveying its surroundings, snarling in frustration, and then violently growling when it actually spots you. Running away in hopes of escaping is nothing but a delusion, as it quickly catches up with incredible speeds and tortures you with its many death scene animations. Tail through your chest? Second, smaller mouth through your face? Enjoy experiencing those in first-person. Your best course of survival is to either hide in a locker and hope the Alien doesn't notice your breathing, or use your many devices, constructed from random parts scattered around, to make it go away. Better yet, use a device to lure it towards armed people! But you do all this at the risk of being heard; simply igniting a flare stick can alert the creature, so hope there isn't a vent beside you...

If you wanted an experience that imitates the original film with a constant, unsettling feeling of dread in a dire, nightmarish scenario, you're going to get that. Creative Assembly got that much right, living up to the game's title of feeling isolated and helpless, even with so many items stacked in your inventory. Though, they unintentionally took the isolated feeling a bit too far when it came to the overall design and structure. Isolation is a very linear adventure, tasking players to go from point A to point B to point A in the most mundane paths imaginable, just so you can press a button or snatch a keycard. While this isn't a new thing for first-person action-adventure games, there's usually just enough reasonable variety to sustain these games to the end.

Isolation has 19 missions. It completely runs out of gas at the tenth mission.



Interestingly, the devs' choice to hold out on the Xenomorph and gradually introduce all other elements building up to its reveal worked in the game's favor early on. During these starting missions, you're completely alone, then meet human adversaries, learn how to stealth, bump into androids, and then finally encounter the Alien. Everything during this period still feels so fresh, that the linear travel structure seems like a faint nuisance. And even after all the main elements are done being introduced, you're willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt for an extra mission or two, unaware that this is all Isolation has to offer. You know the sad thing about this game running out of creativity at the tenth mission? You're given the flamethrower here... and it only feels slightly more useful than your other items. It's the flamethrower!

It's not like Creative Assembly were restricted in any way because of the films, either; Isolation takes place in its own location separated from the movies, so they could have done all sorts of things with the structure of the station or altered certain situations. The devs take away your weapons at one point, but that barely lasts an hour. They also introduce stronger androids that are resistant to specific devices... but they give you a bolt gun shortly after, canceling out the difficulty spike. During all this, you continue to drown in a sea of linear paths where you just press a button or grab a passcode, which gets more tedious later when you're now backtracking to early locations en masse. The point A to B to A backtracking gets so bad, that, at one point, it resorts to making you backtrack multiple times in one room. Metal Gear Solid 1 ain't got nothing on this.

Since the game offers nothing new during its second half, it inadvertently shines a bright light on the enemy AI's flaws you spend so much time with. Sometimes you'll be hiding behind an object several feet away from someone, and they still spot you; sometimes you'll be crouching right beside someone looking in your general direction, in plain sight, and they'll walk away. It can be confusing at times what constitutes as "hiding," and it appears the game doesn't know itself. I've been in areas where armed people are loudly walking around, and the Alien refuses to pop out, or vice versa. However, if I make a simple sound, the creature suddenly emerges. There have also been instances where the Xenomorph's AI apparently bugged out so drastically when searching me, that it's either warping from one side of an area to another, or running in vents so fast that it's breaking the sound barrier.



I just can't help but think the game wasn't originally supposed to be this long. Isolation felt much tighter during its first ten missions, with new things constantly being introduced, the plot moving at a steady pace with some genuine surprises, and even an ample supply of in-game cutscenes; nearly nonexistent during the remaining nine missions. It's as if someone walked into Creative Assembly's studio one day and said, "Make it longer. And do it before the deadline!" It's still a functional game beyond the tenth mission, but the quality drop in terms of creativity, in anything outside the visuals, is absurdly obvious. Alien: Isolation is still a fine homage to the original film's style, but prepare for constant repetition during its latter hours if you decide to play it.

3/5

pickhut's avatar
Featured community review by pickhut (November 06, 2017)

But seriously, play Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. It's a good game.

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You're doomed! You're all doomed!

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Zydrate posted November 06, 2017:

I have this game wishlisted but I'm a little worried about the difficulty curve or just... difficulty in general? Is this game punishing or is it like most stealth games? I can handle most stealth games.
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pickhut posted November 06, 2017:

It's pretty much as I said in the review, where the Alien can kill you instantly if it spots and charges for you. Early on, you outright have to avoid the Alien or toss something loud, in a completely different direction, to guide the Alien away. It's only a little later on where you start getting items that will "shoo" the creature while in a face-to-face confrontation. There also have been instances late in the game where the Alien actually crawled in wall vents after me. HOWEVER, I have seen other playthroughs where the same happened very early. Dunno if it was because they were making too much noise or a different difficulty setting?

Getting spotted is as iffy as I mentioned. Even after writing the review, I don't completely understand what constitutes as being "found." I think it's trying a little too hard to be realistic in that regard. For example: you can hide underneath a desk or stretcher and anyone that walks beside it won't notice you. However, if someone has a clear view of you from a distance, there's a 50/50 chance you'll be found.

Getting spotted by armed humans is the most annoying thing about this game. They can pretty much kill you in two to three shots, and their aim is AMAZING.

Though, this is based on the default difficulty setting. So, it's up to that, I guess.
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pickhut posted November 06, 2017:

I should also mention I originally started my playthrough on the difficulty above normal, but switched it back to normal when the armed humans were being too annoying.
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Zydrate posted November 06, 2017:

I'll wait for another sale and play on the easiest mode possible.

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