Alien Isolation: Terrifyingly Brilliant

Occasionally I pick up and play a game that’s simply so engrossing, and so perfect that I can’t help but to pop up and use my crusty, neglected blog to shout about it. If the title of this post didn’t tip you off, it’s Alien Isolation that’s got me this time.

Alien Isolation is the Alien game that many, many die-hard fans have been waiting for. It throws aside the run-and-gun absurdity that train-wrecks like Colonial Marines single-mindedly latched onto, and casts the player back to the pure, primal horror that the original Alien film is so fondly remembered for. The AVP games were brilliant, but Isolation is perhaps the first game to really capture both the aesthetic and feel of this film with a truly palpable level of detail.

While it’s not quite an absolutely perfect example of what a survival-horror Alien game should be, and there are things I’d love to see changed and improved, Isolation is more than close enough for me to proclaim it a masterpiece.

Isolation is also the first survival horror game I’ve played which has been so profoundly emotionally and physically draining. It’s quite taxing to play, and thus I’ve been working through it for the last few weeks in one to two hour long intervals and really savouring the experience.

I’ll spare you a long rant about the beautiful graphics, the beautiful sound design and the so-so plot- you can read that nonsense anywhere- but I will say that I, too, am of the opinion that it would have been nice to see the Alien crawl up a wall once in a while. I think time and technology were the constraints this time, and have little doubt that the developers really wanted the same thing.

Bottleneck

I’d completed my objective, and all-important-item in hand I was tasked with the simple mission of returning to an elevator and continuing my journey.Easy, right? Wrong! Between me and the elevator was a room occupied by a small group of frightened and wary survivors, on edge and eager to let bullets fly at anyone or anything they come across.

I had to sneak through at least a small corner of this room to make it to my destination, and try as I might I couldn’t quite muster the ninja-like stealthiness required to not catch their eye.

It took only a few attempts before I hatched a plan. Praising myself for my devious and creative genius I tucked myself away in a quiet corner, fabricated a flash-bang and a noise-maker, and saved the game.

Armed with my new toys, it was time to put my cruel and unusual plot into action. I pranced towards the room, getting close enough for a well placed throw to hit its target, and tossed the noise-maker before ducking into cover. Sure enough, it caught their attention. But it wasn’t their attention I was looking for. Only moments later there was a scuttling above, and a terrifying hiss as a titanic, black creature dropped from above the hapless stragglers and unfurled itself. The Alien had come to my rescue.

The survivors didn’t stand a chance. The 9, or 10 foot tall creature tore through their ranks, ruthlessly chasing them down without pause, without feeling. They were scattered in an instant, and their random conversations were replaced by a deathly silence that, to anyone who has explored this station for more than an hour, is somehow even more terrifying.

I made my way forwards, creeping around the outside of the room, keeping my eyes open, and froze. The unmistakable stomps of the alien giant sounded only meters away, but I couldn’t see it. Instinctively I hid, motionless. Crouching in the center of the room behind a low wall, I watched as the creature materialised out of the darkness and made its way slowly around the room. It almost seemed to be passing me by when, suddenly, it turned and made its way into the central area I had made my pathetic fortress. I was done for, with no shadows to conceal me, nowhere to run, and running being a futile endeavour even if there was a where to run to, I was at the mercy of the beast and my life was swiftly ended.

All this happened before, and all this will happen again. Another three or four times, in fact. It wasn’t, however, until the third or forth time that suddenly, and shockingly, my plan completely stopped working. What on earth? The game had started playing me. I don’t know if it’s true that the Alien learns from your behaviour, but it happened to me. On this third or forth attempt at putting my not-quite-so-brilliant plan into action, instead of dropping down from the vent right above the stragglers, and taking my noise-maker as bait, the creature dropped down right behind me. Suffice to say, it didn’t end well!

Enough is enough! It was clear that trying the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I had to think on my feet, switch up my plan and try something new.

Incidentally, it’s at this point I should mention that this small room has a window above it, accessible from an upstairs corridor that, in retrospect, I was foolish not to have used in the first place. My new plan involved making my way to this window and tossing both a noise-maker and a flash-bang through it. The alien appeared, the survivors were dispatched, and silence ensued. I quietly made my way down the remainder of the corridor, down a ladder, and circumnavigated the room. My pulse was pounding, my body was shaking with fear and anticipation, but this time I made it.

The first half of Alien: Isolation is full of opportunities to create dramatic scenarios like these. You can make noise and take cover while the Xenomorph lays waste to the not-so-friendly fellow survivors, or you can sneak through and avoid anyone and everyone. I played with a variety of these strategies, depending on just how much stress I felt like taking onboard at the time.

The middle ( at least I think it’s the middle, I haven’t finished the game yet ) of Alien: Isolation is punctuated by a serene, slow-paced spectacle of raw, unadulterated fan-service. You’ll find yourself re-living the experience of another character, suited and booted up, and exploring the surface of the world where… well, you should know!

The latter half of the game? Well, I don’t know yet! It’s too much to handle in one sitting, or even ten, and I’ll continue to make my way slowly through the game and make the most of this truly brilliant experience. I’ve heard the latter half trends away from the pulse-pounding horror that appeals to me, and I have already got my hands upon the Flame-Thrower that presents the first opportunity to repel the alien… am I any less afraid? Not really, not yet.