The last time I had cold sweat running down my spine while gaming was when I ventured through the original Silent Hill. It was a nightmarish and unique adventure that’s been replicated only a few times in the past fifteen years. Dead Space, Outlast and Zombie U were probably some of my favorite modern horror titles, but Sega’s Alien: Isolation takes the genre to a whole new level. It succeeds in flawlessly portraying defenselessness. It elicits paranoia and evokes a sense of dread and panic that lingers long after the credits roll. Its unpredictability is both terrorizing and refreshing. While not without faults, Alien: Isolation is one of the finest, no the best, survival horror titles in years. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Alien: Isolation is one of the most mesmerizing next-gen experiences to date.
Let’s get one thing straight, survival horror games are for a niche audience. They are slow, atmospheric and won’t satisfy gamers with itchy trigger fingers. They should be played alone in a dark room with headphones. Alien: Isolation is fundamentally the polar opposite of Colonial Marines, which couldn’t be more of a compliment. From the opening credits, it’s clear that developer Creative Assembly went through great lengths to capture Ridley Scott’s gloomy and claustrophobic setting. While Alien: Isolation is geared towards fans of the original film, newcomers can still appreciate the immaculate attention to detail in both the environments and gameplay mechanics.
"While not without faults, Alien: Isolation is one of the finest, no the best, survival horror titles in years."
Players take role of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, who’s in pursuit of retrieving Nostromo’s flight recorder that holds clues to her mother’s disappearance. Once aboard the Nostromo, Ripley finds a complete societal collapse. The inhabitants have either turned to looting and killing or they’re sneaking around in dark corners trying to survive. The first hour is about building atmosphere and tension. You’ll hear strange echoing sounds here and there, but the Xenomorph doesn’t show up until later. Early on, walking through the dark corridors can feel almost soothing as you explore Nostromo’s impeccable design and seventies sci-fi aesthetic.
But the tranquillity doesn't last long. Once the creature comes into sight for the first time and its raucous breath fills the air, the sense of dread escalates instantaneously. Every loud move can result in death. The animal’s instincts are sharp and unforgiving and running can easily give away your location. Taking gentle steps and listening to every sound is the only way to survive. Creative Assembly has done a masterful job of creating unpredictable and realistic AI behavior. It’s nearly impossible to exploit the alien. Hiding under a bed or closet for too long is as dangerous as running through the corridors. If the creature is nearby, it searches every nook and cranny. Sometimes it comes right at you, even if you’re dead silent...sometimes it walks by and keeps looking. It’s impossible to predict the alien’s movement and that’s what makes exploring exceptionally chilling. This sense of uncertainty can oftentimes lead to repeated deaths. But since no playthrough is ever the same, re-playing sections multiple times never feels repetitive.
"Then there are the terrifying androids. Their sturdy bodies can kill with just a few attacks and are a pain to take down."
The alien isn’t the only threat either. Certain humans aboard the Nostromo come in packs and are generally armed and dangerous. But not everyone is a madman. Some of the inhabitants are harmless and will only shoot if threatened. Then there are the terrifying androids. Their sturdy bodies can kill with just a few attacks and are a pain to take down. Worst of all, their behavior is as erratic as the alien’s. If their work routines aren’t disrupted or if they don’t feel threatened, they appear harmless. But as soon as their eyes turn red, it’s best to run. Luckily, Amanda has a diverse arsenal of gadgets at her disposal: smoke bombs, flashbangs, noisemakers, EMP mines, stun batons, a gun and even a flamethrower. These tools can be used for both distracting and temporarily disabling enemies, but none of them put Amanda at an advantage. No matter how many new toys she acquires, silence still remain her most powerful defense.
"Anyone who considers themselves a survival horror and/or Alien fan needs to play through Alien: Isolation at least once."
Of course, nothing is perfect and Alien: Isolation has its share of technical problems. The pre-rendered cutscenes are a mess. While they look good stylistically, they stutter and skip every couple of seconds, which completely ruins the immersion. While Creative Assembly is aware of the problem and they are currently working on a solution, this should have been resolved during quality testing as it severely impacts the narrative. Gameplay isn’t entirely flawless either. There’s notable framerate drops when new sections are loading and the game runs at 30 fps, which as expected result in ugly motion judder when panning the camera. Anti-aliasing is also very disappointing with jarring jaggies and shimmering popping up all over the screen while traversing the environments. For those able to choose between platforms, the PC version is above and beyond both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One releases. Despite its technical shortcomings, Alien: Isolation is pretty to look at. The game boasts impressive smoke/mist effects and the lighting is top notch. The space station is aesthetically varied, with each environment brimming with detail and hidden paths. However, the xenomorph is the game’s biggest highlight. Its flawless animations are absolutely terrifying and it’s easy to forget that it’s just an AI.
Anyone who considers themselves a survival horror and/or Alien fan needs to play through Alien: Isolation at least once. It’s a terrifying, lengthy and beautiful adventure with one of the most intelligent AIs in gaming. Creative Assembly has created something very special here, something that only comes along once in a while. They’ve successfully captured Ridley Scott’s tone and vision while setting new heights for the genre. As far as horror games go, Alien: Isolation is a masterpiece and probably the most frightening game ever made.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4