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Alien: Isolation Review

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Replay Value:



Overall Rating:       7.3



Online Gameplay:

Not Rated




Creative Assembly

Number Of Players:




Release Date:

October 7, 2014

For the record, I am not a sci-fi fan. That being said, I have always appreciated the “Alien” movies for their thrilling, edge-of-your-seat style. The original was especially Hitchcockian, in my estimation, and I respect any entertainment product that uses atmosphere, pacing and character development to generate a reaction. Anybody can use a bunch of gore and gross people out. Unfortunately, the Alien video games haven’t been up to snuff, so everyone was looking to Creative Assembly’s effort to finally, at long last, right the ship.

Well, I wouldn’t say the ship is righted, but at least it isn’t sinking anymore.

I’m sure we’ll see graphical presentations on next-gen consoles that will eclipse Alien: Isolation this fall. I think we’ve already seen a few, in fact. Even so, I like to base my visual judgment on how those visual elements affected me: If they enhance my immersion and enjoyment, despite not blowing me away with photorealistic detail, this category will get a high score. For the game in question, there are times when the slickly designed alien made me recoil in legitimate fear, and other times when the relatively bland sci-fi backdrop took me out of the experience. Like so many other aspects of this game, it’s a hit-or-miss situation.

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re trying to produce a genuinely terrifying game, the audio should be near the top of your priority list. For the most part, the developers understood that when making Isolation, as the appropriately creepy ambient effects, combined with an often chilling soundtrack, make a necessary impact. The music selection could be more diverse and the balancing isn’t perfect, but the point is made. The voice acting is decent, if not amazing, and overall, the technical side of the game is just shy of impressive. Graphics and sound are a huge part of any adventure that has its roots in horror, and this is a valiant attempt.

As we all know, we haven’t seen a really great Alien game in a very long time. One could even argue that the last memorable experience was Alien vs. Predator on the Atari Jaguar. I’d like to say Isolation is the game that breaks the streak, that rightfully cements the franchise’s place in video game history. After all, this premise and concept should translate wonderfully to the world of interactive entertainment. I am encouraged at the result here but it’s just a little too inconsistent; it’s like a roller-coaster with fantastically satisfying highs and hum-drum lows. When it’s tense, it’s super tense; when it’s not, it’s mediocre.

Here’s the thing; It takes skill to build that requisite tension. It requires an excellent sense of pacing and an intimate understanding of the human response. If you spend too long building up, the accumulated tension will plateau and the individual will begin to grow weary of the elongated situation. At the same time, a continual onslaught of nastiness will simply numb the viewer (or in this case, the participator). It’s this balance that takes a lot of practice and if it falls short, the entire experience suffers. Creative Assembly doesn’t quite get it right.

In the midst of all these great peaks of fear and urgency, there’s a whole lot of tedious and flawed stealth, along with relatively boring exploration. I almost wish the game was shorter; it’s exceedingly difficult to maintain the necessary balance for a good 15 hours. In fact, if the game was half the length, eliminated a good portion of the tedious gameplay elements and focused on the highlights, this would’ve been an 8+ title, easy. But anyway, not that I’ve established the proper tone for the review, and now that the reader better understands my overarching sentiment, let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of this chilling quest. It begins with the main character.

You play as Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, and you’re looking for information concerning your mother’s fate. You’re aboard the Sevastopol, a derelict space station where you’ll encounter a few stalwart survivors and a nasty xenomorph drone. In order to survive, you can’t just run around in first-person mode, shooting anything that moves. In the first place, you don’t always have the necessary weaponry and ammunition; in the second, you are woefully overmatched. This is what creates much of the game’s tension and it’s highly effective. You’ll be sneaking about, terrified that something a hundred times faster and stronger than you will sniff you out.

The mechanics are solid but not every gameplay system is perfectly implemented. For instance, while it’s pretty straightforward to use your weapons and items, you’ll soon notice that your motion tracker is the most important tool in your bag. And while it’s simple to use – just hold a button and the tracker’s dot shows you the location of nearby creatures, by they ally or enemy – it doesn’t tell you if those entities are above or below you. Misinterpreting that dot can be deadly. It’s hardly a game-breaking flaw but it can drive you crazy when you’re relying on that technology to save your life. Remember, you’re almost always being hunted…

Then there’s the ridiculous idea that Amanda loses health when she holds her breath longer than a few seconds. And why am I more vulnerable when holding my breath? Can the alien sense my fear, or something? I don’t get it. Even so, I don’t want to discount the effectiveness of those horrifying aliens. The environment is creepy enough; toss a few roving xenomorphs into the mix and you should be scared completely out of your wits. Whether you’re peering around a corner or hiding in a locker, your pulse rate will invariably increase and those palms might start to sweat. This is precisely where the game excels and I love that part of it.

It’s just that there’s a tremendous amount of trial-and-error because the game doesn’t always explain things correctly. I was told to move my ass and yet, moving my ass resulted in death. The second time through that section, I realize speed is entirely unnecessary and the only way I’ll survive is if I take my time. What’s the deal? These confusing elements clash with the inherent fear the game generates, and contributes to that previously mentioned roller-coaster effect. Then there’s the exploration, which basically just involves rewiring doors, pulling levers, getting unlock codes, etc. It’s hardly innovative but it’s mostly functional.

Aliens aren’t the only enemies you have to worry about. There are androids, too, and they’re all over the place. How you deal with them has a drastic impact on your well-being because they can be extremely aggressive if provoked. It’s all about timing, planning and strategy, which is exactly what I wanted to see. On the flip side, as you approach the end of the game, the adventure starts to lean too much in the action direction. While I suppose that’s inevitable, it’s sort of like a sour cherry atop a mildly pleasing sundae. During your time, you will be scared, intrigued, frustrated and bored. It just depends on which reaction dominates.

Alien: Isolation desperately tries to give us something fearsome and memorable. But the inconsistent approach leads to periods of tedium thankfully interrupted by flashes of unmitigated terror. If you can revel in the highs and forge through the lows, you should emerge satisfied. If, on the other hand, you’re more sensitive to design, control and mechanical issues, you’ll be a bit harsher on the game. This is one of those times when it’s difficult to recommend or denounce; you just have to play it to see if it’s something you’ll like. I apologize for not offering a more concrete analysis, but this is the best I can do.

The Good: Freakishly detailed aliens and a great atmosphere. Creepy ambient sound effects. Mostly solid control. Loaded with tension. Offers flashes of brilliantly choreographed suspense.

The Bad: Inconsistent visuals and pacing. Lackluster exploration elements. Some gameplay mechanics don’t make much sense. Trial-and-error can be frustrating.

The Ugly: “Am I bleeding out the eyes when I’m holding my breath? What’s going on?”

10/10/2014 Ben Dutka

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New Comment System

Legacy Comment System (14 posts)

Friday, October 10, 2014 @ 10:06:09 PM

Fair review. I rate your review 10/10.

My mom came around and is enjoying it due to the fact she understands the concept of dying to figure out new things. "Like Dark Souls" she said.

I still don't plan on playing it anytime soon however.

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Friday, October 10, 2014 @ 10:51:54 PM

That concept is outdated.

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Solid Fantasy
Saturday, October 11, 2014 @ 10:11:09 AM

That's still pretty cool that you mother is into though.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014 @ 12:10:40 PM

That's one cool mother. How old are you, if youy don't mind me asking?

Or rather, how old is she, I suppose. :)

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Saturday, October 11, 2014 @ 7:46:14 PM

I like the concept of dying to figure things out, but I like flexing that part of my brain that is required for that type of thinking.

I can see how it is a turn off for people, but I find it makes me a better person in general, it helps me problem solve at work and stuff.

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Friday, October 10, 2014 @ 10:52:12 PM

Sad after so much hype behind this. I'll wait for the PS Plus version.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014 @ 2:41:34 AM

Awesome review Ben!

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Saturday, October 11, 2014 @ 3:43:22 AM

this games the perfect example of whats wrong with games these days.
they have completely lost their priorities, and just do not understand pacing and how to ballance things!
the alien and androids for instance, they clearly thought oh we need something to break up the gameplay so it does not turn into a 20 hour game of hide and seek!
but the androids are so ill suited, and the weapons and shooting mechanics so outdated it feels so poorly shoehorned in!

even the whole point of the game, surivival horror, and the alien is useless!
do you see movies turning on the scary music from second 1 of the movie to the last second of the movie?
so why do games?
f*cking hate it how games do this, especially isolation the second the game starts they start playing scary music and sound effects to try to scare you, then finally when you do first see the alien and am really in danger its the same old thing all over again!
how is that music and effects suppose to scare you when it was played to you for the past 5 hours and nothing happened?
how can people not understand this, i mean come on desensitization its common sense!
the more your exposed to something, and for the longer, the more you get use to it and the more it looses its effect!
its not brain surgery!!!!!!!

another thing i hate about allot of horror or stealth games, and one thing that really worries me about the evil within, is the level design.
level design for horror games is so critical it needs to be really good and very coherent so your not left needlessly wondering around in circles.
firstly your left wondering around shitting yourself saying i hope this is the right way because if its not ive risked my life for nothing!
2 again the desensitisation, your going where you dont need to scared wondering around in circles, all of a sudden you hit the wall and say f*ck it i dont care anymore!
3 its boring wondering around in circles over and over and over and over again.
if your bored, its kinda hard to be scared!
and compounding the bordem even more being crouched walking around slows you down so much making you even more bored and frustrated thus again destroying the anxiety and fear of the alien.
you quickly go from god i hope hes not here, to f*ck it ive had enough just hurry the f*ck up so i can finish this borefest!

if this is what we have to look forward to the revival of survival horror, then all i can say is put it back in its grave and pour 10 tons of impenetrable concrete over it!

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Monday, October 13, 2014 @ 7:27:30 PM

So wait, now you are saying that them letting you figure shit out on your own is a bad thing?

How many years have people been complaining about the linearity of games? Now we are saying the opposite, that it isn't linear enough?

Gamers these days.........

Last edited by Akuma_ on 10/13/2014 7:27:44 PM

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Sunday, October 12, 2014 @ 12:22:07 AM

Oh god, another shitty alien game...

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Monday, October 13, 2014 @ 7:26:09 PM

Try playing it before saying that.

This isn't Alien: Colonial Marines. The 'flaw's people talk about are not as glaringly obvious as that.

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Monday, October 13, 2014 @ 1:48:06 AM

Only a couple of hours into it. Enjoying it, the atmosphere is spot on. Love the Alien franchise and watching the Alien movie again before booting this up is a must.

The best moment for me in the game so far was trying to hurry to a save point, turning a corner and nearly running slap bang into the back of the Alien. Froze on the spot and the Alien kept walking away without seeing me.

Those androids though. Could have done with a few less of those...

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Monday, October 13, 2014 @ 7:24:09 PM

The interesting thing about this, and perhaps again proves my point about reviews, is that there are some things that Ben talks about in a negative way, but the thing is, those things are part of this universe, and I don't believe he could truly appreciate them. No of course you don't need to be a fan to provide an 'accurate' review but at the same time, how many of those who play the game are Alien fans? probably a lot.

One major aspect of development of this game was to stay true to the franchise, and they completely succeeded in that.

The story, the atmosphere, the environment, the design, and that all essential motion tracker. They are all SPOT ON from the Alien universe. They are trying to put you into the movie, and as much as they could, it works.

I could even argue that the Alien's franchise is itself a bit of an action/horror movie in the later sequels, especially the 4th one, so seeing more action-oriented aspects of the gameplay isn't surprising.

I see Alien: Isolation as a success. Both in the product and it's reception. I hope to see many more in the future, it's a great step in the right direction. I'm personally holding out for a more Alien vs Predator style Alien game.

Last edited by Akuma_ on 10/13/2014 7:24:17 PM

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Thursday, October 16, 2014 @ 12:50:26 AM

Played it a bit more last night. Chapters 4 and 5. OMG... Spent a good amount of my time hiding in cupboards scared witless...

There is something magnificent about having an unscripted enemy AI that kills you on sight and just wanders around looking for you. You are constantly on edge, you crouch and use your motion tracker like your life depends on it (it does!).

As you enter a room the first thing you do is look for places to hide: Cupboards, under tables and desks. I once got surprised by the Alien and I had nowhere to hide apart from crouched down in the corner of a doorway, praying that the Alien didn't look my way.
You look at the map and the save points seem oceans away even though they are really just across the hall.

When the alien is stalking you it is the best feeling ever. I can only play it for an hour or two as it is too intense. The sound is amazing. With the lights off and the headphones on it is all I wanted it to be.

I keep thinking about my strategies and mistakes that I made and how to approach things next time. That to me is the mark of a good game that has got under my skin.

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