Alien Isolation by Creative Assembly is an obvious labour of love. Every effort has been made to ensure they stick faithfully to the source material and as a result they have crafted a tense, nerve-racking and atmospheric experience. From the 70s green-screen computer tech used in the original movie, to characters choked to death with rolled up magazines we have continuous references to Ridley Scott's breathtaking film.
We take control of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen, as she heads to Sevastopol, a decrepit and dilapidated space port on the edge of space. On the station is the recently discovered flight recorder from the Nostromo, her mother's ship, which was destroyed at the end of the 1979 movie to stop the xenomorph from being acquired by the shady Weyland-Yutani corporation. Looking for closure, Ripley heads to Sevastopol with Nina Taylor and synthetic Christopher Samuels to collect the device.
The game immediately thrusts the player into a tense set piece. On arriving at the station the crew on board the Torrens notice that the structure seems to have taken massive damage. Unable to dock with Sevastopol, Ripley, Taylor and Samuels resolve to space walk there instead. Once out of the ship, their guidance cord is cut and the trio are lucky to make it to the station alive. Separated from her companions, Ripley must make her way through the ruined station avoiding not just the intimidating alien but also crazed androids and hostile human enemies. Thus begins a journey that bears striking resemblances to the original film and is by far one of the most tense I've ever experienced on a home console.
Alien Isolation starts of as pretty much a stealth game. As you make your way around Sevastopol you will begin to find parts that can be used to craft weapons and discover items that are famous to the franchise - the motion tracker and flamethrower eventually make appearances in game. Collecting these tools will eventually allow you to become a little braver - before acquiring that burst of flame being spotted by the alien means certain death. Additionally, Amanda, industrious as her mother, can forge scrap and gathered junk into items far deadlier than the sum of their parts - whether it is an EMP used to stun an android or a smoke bomb used to cover her tracks from human assailants. As an engineer she is also proficient with another Alien favourite, the blowtorch. She must combine all of her numerous skills to even stand a chance of finding her answers and making it off the crippled station in one piece.
We should make one thing clear from the start here - Alien Isolation is a very difficult game. If you like to have everything explained to you by tutorials you will find Alien's spartan instructions baffling. As far as I can remember I can recall only one semi-detailed tutorial pop up in the entire game when you first open a rewire point. Similarly, if you get frustrated by dying often or repeating the same section of a level over and over then you'll probably grow tired of Isolation rather quickly. Like Limbo this game is essentially a 'trial by death' title which requires you to die a lot in order to figure out how to efficiently progress through a stage to your next objective. However, whereas Limbo has scenarios that pan out exactly the same each time, Isolation's randomised enemy patterns make progressing in this title all that more harder. This can be frustrating, and you will come to areas that will have you pulling your hair out, but when you manage to make it to the next chapter mere seconds ahead of the charging xenomorph the overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment are palpable.
I've seen a number of complaints about the graphics on the XboxOne and PS4 versions but for me, although not on par with the PC version, they were more than passable. The designers have done a sterling job of recreating a similar aesthetic to the Nostromo and any Alien fan will appreciate the low-tech grim corridors, white cushion-padded walls of the sleeping quarters and the over-the-top flashing lights of the huge central processing areas. We revisit some familiar areas and they have been reproduced wonderfully. I did spot a few graphical problems such as infrequent pop in, some low res textures (especially when viewing Sevastopol station from the outside) and some basic steam/dust/electrical effects but overall I though the graphics were fine.
Alien Isolation is, of course, not without its problems. If you play the game before installing a sizeable update you will have issues with jumpy animations and juttery cutscenes. Even with the update applied we have some occasional graphical glitches such as texture pop ins and unnatural character movements. There are a few last gen tropes as well. You'll be having a conversation with a few characters who never move their lips, choosing to throw their voice instead. Early on we will come across huge areas that are blocked off by an insurmountable row of suitcases which really shouldn't be happening in this day and age. When being chased by androids or humans we can often be cut off from safety by nothing more than a foot high rise in the flooring.
As already mentioned the difficulty and repetition might be too great for some - I played on the hardest setting and encountered many troublesome locations that I had to retry over and over but even on the easy setting the challenge level is still steep. Without the flamethrower or a molotov, being spotted by the alien is a guaranteed one hit death on any difficulty. The fact that you are more heavily tooled near the end of the game basically flips the difficulty curve making the game harder at the beginning and less so towards its conclusion. I also found that extreme stealth is just as likely to get you killed as being adventurous. After a great many deaths while crouch-walking through levels I eventually adapted to being more brazen in my approach which I actually found more beneficial. Objectives can be unclear at times and we get the usual stealth game problems such as characters ignoring your obviously noticeable position then later on spotting you inexplicably from a mile off.
You might also find problems with the excessively long load times in game. Often when you enter a new locale you will find a save phone nearby but this is not always the case and the auto-save function is patchy at best. The first thing you should do when moving between areas with load screens is find a save point. If you die before doing so you will have to sit through the load screen again as the previous area is reloaded, make your way to the travel point and sit through the reloading of that next area once again. This happened on more than one occasion with me and I must admit I found it infuriating. I had no problem with the number of save phones like many others (they are actually in great abundance, but if you don't pass close enough to one then it won't pop up on your map) but a guaranteed auto-save would have been beneficial when moving between areas that require long load times.
After all your hard work the ending has to be one of the shortest and weakest of any game ever! It's a good job the journey to get there is fully worth it!
For me, however, the biggest negative is the over reliance on the appearance of the alien. In the first few chapters spotting the horrible thing dropping out of a vent will have your heart in your mouth as you rush to hide in the nearest locker. However, you will find yourself being spotted and killed by the alien so often as you progress that eventually being brutalised by it loses a little of its shock value. Towards the end of the game I felt less fearful when I was in a room with the thing, and if spotted I would just press the option button and load my last save. The alien is still used to good effect overall, but if its appearance was even marginally less frequent I feel the game might have been all the more scary for it.
Overall, any Alien fan should take the plunge and buy this game immediately. This, along with the original Alien vs Predator PC game, is one of the best Alien video games ever made and is as close as you'll ever get to being stalked by the galaxy's ultimate killing machine or the atmosphere of the legendary first film. Any consumers caught in two minds should give it a pop - as long as you aren't weak of heart and scared of a punishing challenge you'll probably find something to enjoy within the game's claustrophobic halls! If you can overlook the highlighted problems and not blow a gasket during the many frustrating moments, Alien Isolation will likely turn out to be a very memorable experience. Never has shaking with anxiety and dripping with cold sweat been so enjoyable!