Game Reviews - Reviews

Alien: Isolation (Multiformat)


Two powerful forces collide head-on in this latest iteration of the classic Sci-Fi Horror movie. Firstly, there is the expectation that the chief tenet of modern videogames is bombast, that they should be loud yet morally and intellectually lacking. Outer space is not the only vacuum in recent releases, which favour the shooty, shooty, bang, bang stuff over anything resembling characterisation or an engaging plot. Secondly, there is the unavoidable fact that previous titles bearing the Alien brand have not been very good. The flailing series has moved further and further away from what made the source material so enthralling.

However, just as diamonds are forged under great pressure, so design team The Creative Assembly have achieved something just as valuable: a horror based game that does not sacrifice consistent scares for endless, numbing shootouts. The starkly titled Isolation delivers what it promises: a remote space station and the persistent threat of being eviscerated by the Xenomorph that stalks you for almost the entire game. You play Amanda Ripley, and your search for your missing mother Ellen takes you to the SS Sevastapol, which has been critically damaged and is now essentially a floating hunk of uncooperative technology. Right from the outset, the ingredients are all in place for a thrilling experience. Terminals, doors, lifts and other hardware, designed to resemble a 1970s vision of the future, have to be fixed and hacked in order to make progress, which makes for some subtly integrated puzzle solving but on a grander scale mounts pressure. As in Dead Space (EA), at frequent points your engineering skills are all that keeps the station from imploding and you from being sucked out into the desolate void.

Therefore, by the time that the titular hunter turns up, the tension has already been ratcheted up to an uncomfortable level. The use of the definite article is deliberate because, thanks to a brave choice of storytelling, there is just the one alien. Through some clever integration of AI, it is continually on your trail so if it spots or hears you, it’s time for some deft movements unless you want to have your skull cleaved open. However, the alien can and will follow you into tight spaces such as vents, which lends proceedings the same oppressive tone as used in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (Capcom). To make matters worse, offensive weapons are very, very few, so you are largely reliant upon your wits and, as in The Last Of Us (Sony), and through the crafting of survival items.

In light of this review’s opening statement, the decision to slow down the game’s pace is both admirable and welcome. Isolation places more emphasis on the stealth tactics employed in Splinter Cell (Ubisoft) or Metal Gear Solid (Konami). It means that when a confrontation does happen, it is almost a release from the apprehension that preceded it, and while most of your stand-offs will feature a digitised version of H.R. Giger’s beast, there are also run-ins with other enemies such as creepy malfunctioning androids that are more devoid of sympathy than Piers Morgan.

There are, as there always are, potential flaws. Those gamers weaned on the whack-a-mole mechanics of shooters like Call Of Duty (Activision) will lament the absence of mowing down enemies with a super-powered gun, while others will find that the story stretches on much, much longer than it should do. However, as an attempt to return the survival horror genre to its quaking in your boots origins, this is bold, risk-taking gaming, and for that alone should be highly commended. Ross Thompson