THE ALIEN films have long been poorly represented by game adaptions, but British developers Creative Assembly have bucked the trend.
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4 / Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 / PC
Score: 9.0 / 10
Alien Isolation is the first title to understand the appeal of creating a game affiliated with one of film’s most enduring franchises; the horror comes not from the confrontation with the xenomorph, but the sheer, endless dread of it. After an endless procession of titles which treated the eponymous creature as standard FPS fodder - a charge that can also be levelled at the various film sequels - British developers Creative Assembly have struck upon the definitive representation of the singular, nightmarish vision of H.R. Giger, who sadly died earlier this year.
Alongside Batman: Arkham Asylum, Isolation represents arguably the most imaginative use of a movie license in gaming history, given the way it not only echoes key aspects of its source material, but complements and emphasises them without being in thrall to it. With the narrative and setting going off on a tangent from the 1979 film - the player controls Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, aboard the Sevastopol, a decommissioned space station - the campaign story is a more than passable homage to Ridley Scott’s original.
Approach it as you would a normal FPS and you will die gruesomely and repeatedly
Where is excels is in tone and mood. From the flickering CRT screens to the claustrophobic corridors, the level, sound design and lighting combine to create a compelling approximation of Alien’s retro-futuristic aesthetic. Sevastopol is a quivering mechanical mass that feels alive. The notion of immersion may be awkward and overused in gaming, but Isolation is an outstanding example of how to suck a player into an inimitable world and trap them there for the best part of 20 hours.
The mechanics of the title bear more in common with Resident Evil than they do Call of Duty. Approach Isolation as if it is a FPS and you will die gruesomely and repeatedly, given the way the firearms on offer are scarce and underpowered; the chances are you will perish often, in any case, given the steep challenge the game poses even on the easiest setting, but if you treat it carefully and respectfully - this is a survival horror rather than a shooter - you will make incremental progress as you eke your way through Sevastopol’s shadowy interiors inch by inch.
The campaign might well have benefited from some judicious editing
Creative Assembly’s greatest achievement, is unseen and - for the first few hours at least - intangible. What makes Alien: Isolation a decidedly next gen game is not its visuals, but its AI. As glimpsed at it in the film, the xenomorph is a beast of cunning as well as brute power, able to decipher tactics before undercutting them. The alien’s strategy is unpredictable without being inscrutable, but you are always mindful that its procedural AI can never quite be second guessed for sure, adding tension to the proceedings .
There are flaws in the formula. At times, the hide and seek gameplay can feel a little repetitive, particularly given the epic length of the campaign, which might well have benefited from some judicious editing. Even so, the thrills and sheer fear are sustained thanks to the atmosphere. This is a game that is genuinely unsettling and uncomfortable to play, especially at night with a good pair of surround sound earphones. Yes, it is unrelenting to the point of feeling suffocating; whether you deem that a positive or not will give you an idea of whether this is a game for you.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
1) The iconic motion tracker is a useful aid, but rely on it at your peril - the xenomorph can and will attack from above or behind.
2) Isolation’s rich audio is not just there for entertainment - pay attention to the rattling and squealing of the alien and it can help you trace its whereabouts.
3) The unscripted AI of the alien means you never know for sure what it will do, but patience is a virtue. Sometimes, you will have to hide in a locker for several minutes until the coast is clear.