“Hiding is only ever a temporary solution”
Allow me to begin by saying this : I am a total wuss. Whether it be games, films, TV shows, books or any other media; I have some sort of phobia of getting nightmares or being made to jump. I can’t even think about ‘The Shining’ without having a week of sleepless nights.
Alien Isolation probably wasn’t the best choice of games for me to play then. Despite the raving reviews and recommendations from family and friends, I was understandably hesitant to give it a go. However, now almost a year after release, and having seen it scoop multiple ‘Game of the Year’ awards, I dug deep and with all the courage in the world I finally slid the blu-ray disc into my Xbox One and began a journey I never thought I’d take!
OK, I’m being a little dramatic, but you get the picture. I am not a fan of scary games, not because of their quality but due to my personal fears mainly involving things-that-make-you-jump.
So why play Alien Isolation? Well as I mentioned it’s picked up multiple awards, it’s universally been applauded and is seen (finally) as a genuine successor to the much-loved film series. I was also told two things going into it:
- There are no jump-scares.
- There is only one enemy.
So I thought, ‘How bad can it be?’. Tension I can deal with, so if it means just staying out the way of the Alien and blasting through then it’ll be fine. As long as it doesn’t suddenly scream in my face.
Unfortunately both these statements are false. True, the alien itself doesn’t ever suddenly flash up in your face during normal gameplay to achieve that ‘jump-scare’ effect, so I can’t complain too much. However, there are more enemies in this game than the Xenomorph, and there are some instances where one is forced to possibly change one’s underwear.
Let me give a brief on the story. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley (portayed by Sigourney Weaver in the movies) 15 years after the events of the first Alien film. She is in search of her Mother who disappeared, and receives word that a flight recorder from her Mother’s ship, the Nostromo, is onboard the Sevastapol, a huge space station orbiting the gas giant (LG-426). The player is obviously aware of the reasons for Ellen’s disappearance if they’ve seen the film, but Amanda has no idea about the alien or her Mother’s location. When traversing across space to Sevastapol, she becomes separated from her crew, and is left to defend herself through the station and rejoin her team.
Gameplay is based around stealth, and is technically a first-person shooter, however the shooting is purposely limited. The idea of Alien Isolation is not to blast your way through the narrow corridors, but to slip by unnoticed. The atmosphere created in this game is immense, and reminds me very much of Bioshock, one of my favourite games of all time. The never-ending presence of the Alien is unnerving to say the least, and requires you to practically creep through the whole game. Savepoints come in the form of an emergency telephone box, as checkpoints are practically non-existent, and discovering one allows a long sigh of relief, which speaks volumes for the incredible atmosphere and sense of dread engulfing Ripley.
Possibly the most terrifying part is before you really meet the alien. You obviously know that it’s around but don’t actually see it for a while. However once you do, and experience your first inevitable death, you don’t want it to happen again (spoiler alert – it will). At first you have the bare minimum in terms of weapons and items, and without the experience or knowledge to deal with the constant threat, you are creeping around in hope that the alien won’t detect you. Without the pseudo-security of a gun in front of you, you feel utterly defenceless. Even towards the end of the game when I died, or knew I was about to, I struggled to even look at the face of the beast consume the screen. Even just seeing (or hearing) it slink past a window is horrifying enough at first, and hiding in lockers or under desks is an all-too-common experience. While maneuvering towards your objective, the sound of the beast clambering through the vents is incredibly unnerving, so much so that my decision to resist playing seemed like an excellent one.
However, moving through the game you do become accustomed to the Alien (probably helped by the fact I died an embarrassing 70 times to it alone) and eventually the monster becomes an annoying obstacle more than anything. This is not totally the fault of the developer though, as the atmosphere created is unmatched from any game I’ve experienced recently.
As I said, the alien isn’t the only….’thing’ on board Sevastapol. The station is also inhabited by Androids, humanoid beings that are supposed to assist humans in any way possible. However a flick of the switch means they are re-programmed to kill on sight, which seemed a bit contrived at first but is later explained. Their worst trait is that they and the Alien are friendly towards each other. These synthetics are quite creepy, and despite moving at a walking pace they take a lot of damage before dying and make a beeline for you as soon as you’re spotted. Being a survival horror game where you are constantly on your seat’s edge, the game does tend to fool around with you…
As well as the Androids and the Alien, there are regular human beings. Sevastapol has become a dangerous place, and with a terrifying monster lurking the hallways everyone has turned to panic, trusting no-one. Other than the few people on your team looking to help, everyone else has turned to raiding or protecting their stuff until they can get out. This means dealing with armed enemies, changing your approach yet again to deal with your objective. What is frustrating about this mechanic however, is that when other humans see you, they shoot. Noises attract the Alien, everyone dies. Surely one person is less dangerous that the beast will ever be..? Still, it does mean that you can make a noise yourself, hide, and watch the chaos unfold if you prefer!
Weapons, Gadgets and Crafting
Dealing with the enemies head-on isn’t wise (for the Alien, it’s impossible). However the player is given a variety of weapons and gadgets to call upon in an emergency. Pickups come in the form of crafting materials, such as ethanol, blasting caps, bonding agents; used to create items such as medikits, molotov cocktails and bombs. Mostly used as distraction techniques, however the Alien is adverse to fire and will retreat to the vents when confronted with it. Weapons come in the form of a pistol, shotgun, flamethrower (very useful towards the end) and a bolt gun. The latter being the most effective against the Androids…
‘An experience’ is certainly one way of describing how to play this game. I believe I would have spent longer traipsing through the space-station corridors, and occasionally space itself, more than most due to my somewhat rational fears. A special touch the developers included was creating a world exactly like the films (first made in 1979), therefore the old-fashioned futuristic ‘steampunk-esque’ computers, weapons, spacesuits etc. Despite being set 150 years or so in the future, the world was designed 30 years ago originally. This style has been kept fanatically identical, to create the illusion you are stepping into Ridley Scott’s original film, and works perfectly to ramp up the terror.
I did enjoy playing the game, but wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It is tough, but if it wasn’t then the game wouldn’t be so chilling. In my opinion it did drag on a bit too long, with some unnecessary missions. There are 18 in all, when I think around 14-15 would have sufficed, possibly limiting the amount of human and synthetic enemies. But I’ve never had such a feeling of apprehension when just turning a corner in a game, and people (myself included) sometimes wonder where others gain enjoyment from horror games and films, but this game has changed my opinion slightly, which considering my prior feelings, says a whole lot.
(All videos recorded on Xbox One)