Creative Assembly’s “True” Alien Title Lives Up to its Hype From the Outset.
Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Developer: Creative Assembly
Alien Isolation has been hyped by almost everyone for the better part of this year and its release finally let gamers jump into the world of the cult film. For what it’s worth, Isolation is a great game. It’s tense, dramatic, and poignantly explores the movie’s themes.
Unfortunately, as a horror experience, it falls very far short of the mark.
I really like the way that the game is presented. It’s a treat to see such dedication to the lo-fi atmosphere of the original film and have it rendered so well. Detailing the world in this way helps get the theme of desolation and scarcity across because basically all we see is technology.
Being surrounded by hi-fi technology would upset the player’s experience as it would make the idea of having access to nothing unbelievable. This really is the core element of Alien Isolation as it is the primary fuel for the spiral of helplessness in the face of the Xenomorph.
There is, however, something jittery about the first few cut-scenes that made me feel quite nauseous. This may have been a fault with my game or Playstation but nonetheless it was there. Moving the camera in the early playable sections also had a similar effect. It felt too loose as if Amanda’s neck was held on by elastic. It becomes forgivable quite quickly (read: shortly after you leave the Torrens).
Character design is where much of Alien Isolation shines. The Xenomorph itself is swift and predicting its movements is difficult – in stark contrast to dealing with human (or slightly human) pursuers. Much of the scenery is designed in such a way that a quick glance may mislead you into thinking the Xenomorph is on another balcony. Or you see it leap into a ceiling vent.
My favourite element of the Xenomorph, however, is the subtlety with which it kills you. Many horror games relish the bombastic sound effects while an enemy pummels you. In Alien Isolation, this is only the case if you happen to look the right way. I peered over a small wall to see if the Xenomorph was patrolling the area up ahead only to hear a small noise and have Amanda look at the spiked tail protruding through her chest.
“You Are Becoming Hysterical”
The best thing, by far, about Alien Isolation is the Working Joe. These enemies are the game’s answer to Ash: the synthetic from the original movie. Basically crash test dummies with ominous glowing eyes, the Working Joe is presented without warning and puts you on the back foot immediately.
As administrative assistants, Working Joes are responsible for warning Amanda away from restricted areas. When hostile, they repeat these neutral phrases in a calm voice while throttling you against a wall. The above quote, “you are becoming hysterical,” is what one Working Joe says to Hughes (some guy) in the first reveal of their hostility.
Working Joes are simply perfect and are already beginning to outshine the Xenomorph, which is both worrying and interesting.
Some time ago, I wrote about Alien Isolation and how I worried it would fall into many of the same pitfalls as Outlast. For better or worse, I think I was right. The gameplay feels very similar to Outlast. The movements of the camera, the control scheme, the movement of the character.
These are all elements that make me feel like I am playing Outlast – or at least a spiritual sister of it. The bad part of this is strategic counterplay against enemies is also reminiscent of Outlast. By this, I mean that certain battles (including the first major encounter with the Xenomorph) operate in the same confined space / patrol paradigm that caused the stop-start issues within Outlast and this can create some problems for players.
Isolation offers a few more ways to play around these situations. I get the sense the Creative Assembly want you to lure Working Joes and other survivors out of their areas and circumvent them with…well…vents. Although it doesn’t help in situations with the Xenomorph, it provides a nice workaround to the problems I feared would be present.
On the whole, it feels very much like a more open-world Outlast. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Much of what ruined Outlast for me was the confined, guided tour of the asylum in combination with the few enemies, heavy patrol system.
The world of Isolation is much more open and available to explore – especially as you get access to better technology.
The famous motion tracker (to be picky, this is the motion tracker from Aliens, not Alien) also makes an appearance. I love this. I absolutely love this addition.
It gives players a tool to ensure their security while competing with a force they can’t combat. Much in the same way the Wii U Gamepad was used in ZombiU, the motion tracker gives the game the ability to be a bit more mean in its placement and use of enemies.
Fortunately, Alien Isolation doesn’t treat the motion tracker as an excuse to dump innumerable enemies behind you for no reason. The motion tracker also gives rise to probably the best use of the light bar on the Playstation 4 controller I’ve seen. I didn’t pay too much attention to it at the start but I remember it turning green when I got the tracker.
When the pulses of the tracker catch a target, however, the light blinks white. I’ve had ghost pings like this when not holding the scanner up. It’s a great feature and its implementation is top-notch.
When it comes down to it, Alien Isolation being pegged as a horror game was a mistake. As a horror game, it disappointed me. Sure it’s tense and the sections in which you’re avoiding the Xenomorph can be nerve-wracking.
It’ll scare anyone who’s not that familiar with the genre – I think I’ve played too many horror games and I’ve developed a resistance. As an Alien game, on the other hand, it’s almost unrivalled. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’d be like to be in the Alien film, this is the game you want to play.