There are many fears one can experience and being hunted is among one of the most inducing. But to make that even worse? Being violently stalked. By a nearly unkillable alien. Enter Alien Isolation. I was able to get some hands-on time with the game during this year’s San Diego Comic Con and enjoyed what I played. So how does the full game stack up to a limited preview?
What’s It About?
Alien Isolation somewhat continues the story of the Ripley family. Amanda Ripley, daughter of the series’ famed Ellen Ripley, has been attempting to track down the answers to her mother’s disappearance for years. Nobody, presumably, knows what really happened to the her or her ship, the Nostromo. But suddenly, Amanda and her crew are alerted to the existence of the Nostromo’s black box onboard Sevastopol, a station on the verge of a shutdown.
So then of course, Sevastopol’s shutdown causes the station to turn into hostile enemy territory. Amanda faces resistance to gaining access to the black box and when various attempts to get it fail, her crew and Sevastopol’s friendlies find the situation to be remarkably worse: a detained vessel onboarded the Alien creature.
From there, it turns into a survival story in which Amanda, much like her mother, realizes that even though the Alien does not seem killable, there may be greater forces to ensure that it cannot be killed.
It’s a decent story and actually wasn’t moving toward all of the typical directions I thought it was going to go down. So in that respect, the game accomplishes quite a bit. There are even some fan service elements that try to show how the Alien world fits together, but it’s nothing that’s ever really followed up on (at least not in this game). However, it’s how you accomplish everything that starts to drag down the game.
Why Should I Care?
The original Alien film did a wonderful job making viewers feel a real sense of fear. Alien Isolation does a respectable job of getting most of the way there. Once the Alien arrives on scene, everything becomes far more tense. You have to sneak around more; you have to rely (perhaps too much) on your motion sensor. Bottomline, you can’t ever really feel comfortable, which is exactly how an Alien game should make its protagonist feel. The music plays a fantastic role in this as it’s half the creepiness the game exudes.
The problem is, the dramatic attempts to make the game fearful turn Isolation into a frustrating chore of a game. There are times where the game is a legitimate challenge and those can be quite fun. There are plenty of moments where you’ll come this close to the Alien seeing you, only to make it out alive. Every so often you’ll even be able to use the Alien’s presences to your advantage and have it take out a room full of other hostiles. But it’s the little things that create the frustrations.
The Alien’s hunting skills can’t decide whether they are incredible or horrific. At times, I was walking immediately behind the creature for about a dozen steps and it never noticed me. Yet, if I moved to hide in a locker, without it seeing me do so, it could almost immediately find me upon entering the room. If the Alien ever finds you, it’s almost guaranteed death unless you have the flamethrower and decent timing. You aren’t meant to get into direct combat with it or with any hostile, really, but Isolation tends to force direct combat elements in situations where it clearly prefers you to be sneaking around. It’s an oddity that affects how comfortable the gameplay can be. The gameplay itself has its own mess of problems.
There are plenty of checkpoints throughout each mission, but the game fails to recognize those as a reloadable checkpoint until almost literally the final level of the game. That means unless you’ve directly saved your game at a save station that is rarely in a convenient place, you end up having to do a lot of work over again. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes, but depending on how deep you’ve gotten into a level, it could be a good 20 or so minutes. That creates all the wrong types of play time hours.
Finally, the game is pestered with framerate issues and graphical blandness. As a multiplatform game, I wasn’t necessarily expecting the sharpest look, but even still, everything looked pretty bland and even a little odd. In some cutscenes, characters tend to pop out and look incredibly glossy. But outside of cutscenes, any faster paced action is sprinkled with framerate issues that at least once resulted in the game just straight crashing. Luckily it never really negatively affected my ability to complete a level, but it was a nuisance.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
At best, Alien Isolation can be looked at as “not bad.” And really, it’s not that bad. I clearly feel the game has its issues, but they aren’t so egregious that I feel 100% compelled to dissuade you from playing it. Still, it’s just not really good to the point where I can say you should definitely check this out unless you’re a huge Alien fan. So, is it worth your time and money? Not really. How would I sum up Alien Isolation in one word? Meh.