I didn’t know what to expect when I first booted up Alien: Isolation this past summer. I hadn’t heard much about the game when it was released last year, only that you escaped from the titular alien with a small arsenal, spending most of your time hiding and sneaking. From the start, I enjoyed the moody ambience, the terrific sound design, and the sparse environments, jumping at every sound and shadow. The game provided little hints as it loaded, telling you how to avoid the alien, conserve supplies, and pacify the human survivors.
I’ve played some survival horror and seen some Alien, I can deal with it, I thought.
The hints also alluded to the Working Joes, which I didn’t know much about. I assumed they were androids, but hey, I was going up against the alien and trigger happy survivors. What’s the worst that could happen?
I disliked them immediately, even before they were cut loose and went rogue across the derelict station. There was something uncanny about their static pale faces, glowing eyes, and muffled, robotic voices. Even behind glass, as they watched my every movement, they made my skin crawl. After I saw one murder a man, I was a bit oblivious as to what the rest would do. I snuck by a number of Working Joes, not wanting to risk an encounter, not knowing if they would be friendly.
When I finally risked a close encounter with one, it walked toward me with cold deliberation and tried to choke me to death. Its expression was the same and its voice was flat as I knocked it away and ran. Peering back over my shoulder, I saw it just walking at me, with slow, calculated step, eyes never looking away from me. I hid in a locker and my heart pounded until it lost interest and walked away.
For the rest of the game, I avoided Working Joes like the plague. Whenever I worked up the courage to try to attack them, I could never get it right. If I hit them, they knocked me away and choked me. If I shocked them, they recovered within moments and came at me again. I wasted more bullets than I should have trying to take down any who were chasing me. So, as often as I could, I avoided all conflict, my items maxing out early in the game. By the time I had to face multiple Joes at once, I overused my supplies and took a lot of damage.
More than the alien, the Working Joes freak me out. Still, they’re easy to avoid and you can easily outrun them. You can hide if need be and you get much better weapons toward the end of the game which can take them down with one shot. I don’t like getting close to them, even with the superior fighting power. Why?
To find the answer, let’s journey into Bardley’s brain.
When I was a kid, I had a nightmare one night that robots were chasing me. These weren’t your run-of-the-mill clunky robots from old horror films, but humanoid androids. The scariest part was that they walked slowly at me, as if they were taking their time by intentionally prolonging my fear and had me totally in their power. I knew that the moment one of them reached me, I was done for. Oh yeah, and I was Superman in this dream. If you’re the Man of Steel, nothing should scare you. If the robots were bad enough that they fazed Superman, then I was clearly out of luck. I hid behind a chair in my house as the androids pounded on my door and looked through the windows at me.
In a similar dream, I was being chased by a humanoid robot again, only one this time. However, this one was different. There was something built into its system where it knew exactly where I was at all times. Like a GPS, it could track my whereabouts wherever I was in the world. It was out to get me, too, and it walked directly at me without ever stopping or tiring. Oh yes, it walked, just like a Working Joe. What scared me the most in that dream was the fact that I was never safe, never for long. It didn’t matter if I got out of town or settled down somewhere far away; the android would slowly walk towards me, ready to kill. I didn’t know if it would find me in a day, a week, a year, but it would find me eventually. I would never be safe.
From all this, you might get the impression that I am afraid of robots. If that were so, visiting this site on a frequent basis would be quite distressing. There’s the bot at the top of the page as well as all the robots in the comments sections telling me how their aunt’s uncle’s grandmother’s neighbor is making easy money by following one clever secret. No, there’s more to it than that. It’s the humanoid robot paired with the slow walk that really creeps me out.
In the first nightmare I can ever remember, I was in my childhood home at night. It was a darker night than normal where the darkness seemed almost physical, as if something sinister lurked out there in its midst. Our home’s layout had a couch against a side wall which peered down a small hallway leading to bedrooms, the bathroom, etc. I sat on that couch, completely frozen. The house was dark, but I could vaguely see down the hall. The doors were all opened and my family slowly walked toward me. Except, it wasn’t my family. They were some sort of zombies coming to kill me. They walked at me, shadowy forms of my loved ones, and there was nothing I could do. The dream ended before they reached me.
Basically: Childhood nightmare³ + human-looking robots + slow walking = Working Joes
I’ve gotten used to Working Joes, though, and they aren’t that bad from far away. Their little warm-up animation after booting up is pretty amusing and the flamethrower is helpful. Their little quips can be humorous and it’s fun to mess with them. I’m nearing the end of the game and the bolt gun is my best friend. Still, even though I’ve gotten used to them, I’d rather keep my distance.
Thanks to the capture feature on the PS4, I've been able to record game footage for the first time, which is neat. This video is from one of my encounters with a Working Joe earlier this year showing just how I deal with them.
What can I say? When it comes to horror games and Working Joes, I just like my personal space.