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LONG BLOG

REVIEW: Alien Isolation (PS4)

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Alien Isolation

When I visited the EGX Expo in London this year, there were several games that I saw but for some reason slipped under my radar, and I didn’t give them a second thought until much later; one of these games was Shadow of Mordor. I saw Alien Isolation through a gap in a curtain since the demo floor was sealed off and had a forty five minute queue, which I wasn’t prepared to wait for without seeing it first, and I wasn’t really impressed. The reviews started to roll out about a week or so later and they were a very mixed bag, with scores ranging from 9/10 right through to an abysmal 4/10; now it had started to peak my interest. Divisive games like this usually mean that there’s something interesting going on, as large triple-A titles from major publishers usually play it safe to get their swathes of high scores, which consequently means they’re often forgettable to me. Consequentially, I watched an extended play session from the EGX Expo demo stage in which numerous people attempted to get through a mission, and this was enough to get me to pre-order the game. Could it be true that a videogame based on the ‘Alien’ franchise could once again actually be good, not only that but actually be scary!? I’ll tell you, just keep your voice down, we don’t want to attract the creature… *gets out his motion tracker*

The lighting is great!

Alien Isolation is a science fiction survival horror game based on Ridley Scott’s 1979 B-movie masterpiece, and acts as a sort of pseudo-sequel to the events of that inaugural film; it will help your appreciation for this videogame, in terms of art style and story, if you’re at least  familiar with that film. As a sequel to Alien, this videogame is perfect! Lavish detail has been put into the game’s graphics as they accurately reproduce the look of the movie extremely well, both in terms of the environments, but also the overall presentation of the game itself. There is a crackly, pixelated green font at work most of the time, and the save icon looks like a crap old VHS tape; even the many computer terminals that you interact with during the course of the game pay homage to the black and green monitors of the 70s. As the player you take on the role of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley from the movies, as you are contracted as part of a salvage team to go and pick up the flight box of the ‘Nostromo’ (the space ship from Alien which exploded). The recorder is being held at a deep space station called Sevastapol, which is in orbit around a large Jupiter-like gas giant, and which serves as the setting for the majority of the game. Obviously something goes wrong and you’re trapped on the backwater station to fend for yourself and survive long enough to find the black box and escape with your life.

It's in here somewhere!

Sevastapol station is one of the best videogame environments I’ve ever experienced. It reminded me *very* much of Bioshock’s Rapture, in that it was a noble dream which has subsequently died and fallen into ruin. Sevastapol has undergone some sort of economic collapse and was ostensibly rescued by a small-time corporation called Seegson, who despite pumping funds into the dying metropolis have since pulled out themselves. Scheduled for decommission, this ghost town of a deep space complex is a fantastic setting for a survival horror game. The lighting around the place is fantastic, as halogen bulbs flicker on and off, backlit fans cast haunting shadows across the floor and volumetric smoke wisps and bellows from cracked piping. Sound design is also amazing and the many groans and thuds made it sound like the station is falling apart and on its last legs. Alien Isolation is played from a first person perspective and the majority of the game is spent hacking through electronic door locks, cutting through vents with a welding torch, and generally just puzzling out the environment.  The spookiness and sense of unease is setup initially from the environment, through the fantastic set and sound design, but eventually from the surviving humans you meet in Sevastapol; not to mention the incredibly creepy “Working Joes”, a low-cost and low-tech workforce of faceless androids.

Eek!!

It’s not until several hours in that you finally come face to face with the titular Alien, and when you do it really has a *huge* impact on the feel of the game. The creature is fast, immune to all weapons you might have managed to scavenge from your travels, and its singular mission is to hunt you down and kill you. The game goes from creepy to utterly intense and stressful (in the best possible way) as you have to use every trick in the book in order to navigate the environments and complete whatever objectives you have in order to survive, all while giving this killing machine the slip. Here is where the game becomes very divisive. This game is HARD. REALLY F****N’ HARD!! You’ve got to enjoy a challenge if you’re going to play this game because it is extremely unforgiving if you try and rush through it, as getting through the environment when the Alien is about requires both patience and concentration in spades. Like the best difficult games though, Alien Isolation is never unfair, and crummy game critics who struggled with the game and subsequently gave it a low mark are, in my opinion, obviously crap at videogames and this has coloured their opinion for how the game actually works.

The Alien uses an advanced AI to decide its movements, which are not scripted in any way; so it could be in the room with you, or in the air vents, or waiting like a trap in a locker above you, etc. Thing is, this is not as random as it seems, and through careful use of the motion tracker, visual cues and by listening to the noise it was making as it moved about, I was always confident of whether it was about to make an appearance or not. The creature doesn’t suddenly materialise in a room for instance, if it is going to drop out of an air vent you will be able to track its movement in the vents on the tracker and hear it approaching in such a way you can prepare a hiding place in advance. The meat and bones of the game is built around the creature’s movements and AI, and this is what makes the whole experience so terrifying, ad so exhilarating to play. The feeling you get when you finally make it through a particularly tough and gruelling section is akin to beating one of the hardest bosses in Dark Souls, it’s utterly compelling and *really* rewarding… and you know that you’ve done it with your smarts, not with a levelled up character or a weapon. You won because you’re good at videogames.

He dead...

Playing through Alien Isolation I had such an amazing time, and some of the things that happened and the ways I met numerous untimely deaths, will remain some of the defining moments of this year for me. The game doesn’t have checkpoints, instead you have to manually hit a save station mounted on a wall, which takes several seconds, in which time you could always be horribly killed by the Alien. Just reaching some of those save points would release such a massive rush of endorphins, like finally reaching a bonfire in ‘Souls after clawing your way through a “Blighttown” – like environment.

9.5/10
(Amazing!)

It’s the best kind of videogame torture. As a survival horror game, Alien Isolation is going to be a tough one to beat, it’s such a perfect mix of atmosphere and nail-biting tension, and it’s also a genuinely fantastic sequel to the original movie! If you’re a fan of the ‘Alien’ franchise and enjoy tension and suspense, and are up for a *real* challenge, this is a game I can wholeheartedly recommend.
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About n0signalone of us since 2:01 AM on 10.06.2014

Videogames have come a long way since the 8-bit and 16-bit days of old, and it is now one of the most interesting and constantly-evolving storytelling mediums. I started blogging about videogames a few years ago because I am very passionate about certain experiences I've had, which I don't think could have existed outside of our unique hobby, and I wanted to share this with other like-minded people on the internet.

I'm based in the UK and my favourite videogame of all time is probably still Shadow of the Colossus, but other more recent games such as the impeccable Dark Souls and Journey have given it a run for its money. My other interests, and things I have blogged extensively about, are board games and Japanese anime. I've got a degree in Media Communications and Film, and I'm currently a Teacher of ICT.

I post fairly regularly on my personal blog at https://n0timportant.blogspot.co.uk/, so please visit there for legacy videogame reviews and articles on anime, boardgames, etc.