REVIEW / Alien: Isolation (PS4)

 

In the year 2122, Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley and the six other crew of the commercial vessel Nostromo are on a return trip back to Earth when they are brought out of hyper-sleep after they encounter what is initially thought to be a distress signal coming from a derelict alien spacecraft that has crash landed on a nearby planetoid. While investigating the signal down on the surface, one of the crew members is attacked by an Alien that attaches itself to his face and is brought back on board. Unaware of the danger that they are all in, the Alien escapes onto the Nostromo and summarily executes every crew member except for Ripley. In the end, the Nostromo is destroyed and she manages to escape the Alien but spends the next 57 years in an escape shuttle in hyper-sleep. Before she left on that fateful trip, Ellen promised her then 10-year-old daughter, Amanda, that she would be back in time for her eleventh birthday.

 

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Amanda is every bit the warrior that her mother is.

 

Alien: Isolation, developed by The Creative Assembly and published by SEGA, takes place fifteen years after the destruction of the Nostromo and Ellen Ripley’s disappearance into deep space. The Nostromo’s flight recorder has been discovered during a salvage operation and Amanda begins a desperate battle for survival on a mission to uncover what happened to her mother and to the ultimate fate of the Nostromo. As Amanda, you are tasked with navigating an increasingly volatile space-station as you find yourself confronted on all sides by a panicked, desperate population, malfunctioning synthetics and a ruthless, blood-thirsty Alien. Ill-equipped yet determined to find any clue, you must scavenge for resources, improvise solutions and use your wits, not just to succeed in your mission, but to simply stay alive and to ascertain the truth about the events that lead to the disappearance of the Nostromo and its crew.

Alien: Isolation is presented in a first-person perspective and gives the player the ability to see the events that unfold as if they were the protagonist. Like many games that use the first-person view, this game does so to its benefit as it brings the action front and center, up close and personal. While navigating the passageways, corridors, offices, hangar bays and ventilation ducts of the Sevastopol Station, you will have to hack systems as well as search desks, cabinets and lockers for vital resources. The items that you find can then be used to craft defensive objects such as noise makers, flash grenades or pipe bombs in order to distract or destroy any of the hostiles that you may come in contact with. You have to be careful, however, because gunshots, explosions or any other type of noise could attract the Alien and end up bringing about the demise of not only anyone else that is in the vicinity but yourself in addition.

 

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To create an object, you must combine components that you have scavenged from the environment.

 

The crafting system is really straight forward and allows you to create items that you will need to use in order to get past some of the situations that you will be confronted with. Most items take at least three components to craft like the Med-kit but could take up to as many as eight in the case of the EMP Mine. Component pieces are scattered all over the space-station so hunting for them while evading enemies and the Alien can be very nerve wracking at times. The map system does a good job of pinpointing important items like weapons or new areas on the map but everything else you have to find on your own. Doing a lot of scavenging will ensure that you have enough of the necessary components to craft the items that you will need to make it off of Sevastopol Station in one piece.

While you can amass a decent amount of supplies and ammunition, the best way to ensure that you have the items that you need when you absolutely need them is to simply hide. Conserving your resources as much as possible is the smartest way to proceed through the game to ensure that you aren’t needlessly wasting ammo or other supplies. While humans are fairly easy to kill with the gun or with a blunt object, the synthetics are demonstrably stronger and take a bit more to dispatch. In addition, the noise from your gun or the guns of the citizenry that you may encounter can attract the Alien and end up causing you to start your game over from your last game save. The Alien can’t be hurt by bullets or bombs and can only be slightly fended off with fire. Hiding and sneaky around the denizens of the station and the Alien is your best bet to making it to your destination.

 

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The Alien is smart, agile and deadly so keep your distance and stay quiet.

 

The Alien A.I. is one that I have never encountered in a video game and is perfected to a level that really makes the Alien feel alive. The senses of the Alien are of course much more heightened than that of the humans and the synthetics that populate the station. If you stay in one place for too long, she will find you. (The Alien that you encounter in the game is a drone and in the Alien mythos, all drones are female.) While hiding in a locker, if she gets too close, she can hear your breathing or hear the pinging from your Motion Tracker and if she spots you, you have no chance of outrunning her. Crouching and slowly creeping away and not running unless you absolutely have to is the only way to navigate around the station without attracting the Aliens attention.

The original Alien movie was released on May 25th, 1979 and was renowned for its amazing effects, its futuristic view of the near future and its stunning Alien designed by H.R. Giger. The Creative Assembly wanted to keep the style of the environments pretty close to those in the movie in order to maintain the artistic integrity of the time and to ensure that playing a game set in that time period feels like it is a continuation of Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece. Everything in the game has a distinct late 1970’s sci-fi look to it in amazing 1080i HD video detail. Even the tools that Amanda has to use look like something out of the original movie. Computer monitors are all rounded and bulky, furniture is done in a simple, streamlined design while the clothing is reminiscent of space outfits from movies like Star Wars and Blade Runner. Everything comes together for a visual experience that fits nicely between the original movie and it’s sequel, Aliens.

 

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Environments look like they were taken right out of the “Alien” movie.

 

In order for The Creative Assembly to pull this off, not only were the visuals needing to be spot on, the sound design and the fidelity of those sounds had to be spot on as well. I highly recommend playing this game with a set of decent headphones (a decent surround sound system would work nicely too but you may miss out on some of the more subtler audio cues) as this will give you the experience that this game was built to deliver. When you are hiding in a locker or crawling through the ventilation ducts, you have to listen to all of the audio clues that the game is giving you in order to fare well against the Alien. If she is in the ventilation ducts, you can hear the clanging of her feet and claws against the metal duct-work. If she is roaming the hallways and corridors of the station, you can hear the deep thudding of her heavy footfalls onto the floor alerting you to her current location. Being aware of the Alien’s location at all times will ensure that you don’t inadvertently run into her as you round a corner or walk under a vent that she is waiting in overhead to ambush you.

In order to successfully keep a, *ahem*, tail (see what I did there) on the Alien, Amanda finds a Motion Tracker during the early stages of the game. The Motion Tracker is the best tool in your arsenal for outsmarting the Alien and the other obstacles in your path. It gives a visual and audible cue when there are other people, synthetics or the Alien herself, that are moving around in proximity to your current location. By holding the right shoulder button, you will bring up the Motion Tracker and can scan your environment for bogies. If you don’t have the Motion Tracker up, it will cause the controller to rumble and you will get a warning ping to let you know that you are coming up on someone or something. This tool is by far the most important object that you will find during your visit to Sevastopol Station and can save your life if utilized to its fullest potential.

 

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The Motion Tracker is an invaluable tool for navigating Sevastopol Station.

 

The atmosphere in this game is so thick, you need a Ginsu knife just to cut through it. The feeling of being hunted by a deadly organism that was bred specifically for killing is present every second that you are playing Alien: Isolation. The Alien is a dynamic and reactive creature that is using its heightened senses and abilities to hunt you down and eviscerate you. There is not a single moment where you are not agonizingly aware of this fact while playing. The combination of the stellar musical score, which uses much of the music from the original movie (remastered of course) and the sound effects – from the grunts and growls of the Alien to the creaks and groans of an aging space station in the process of being decommissioned and moth-balled – create an experience that many fans have been longing for from the Alien franchise for decades. After the dismal failure that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, I was a bit skeptical that this game would be any good. Boy, was I wrong. Alien: Isolation is everything that it was touted it would be and some.

 

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