I know I’m definitely late to the party on this one. Alien: Isolation was released in 2014, after all – so why am I playing it and doing a review on it six years later?
The answer is simple: I, unfortunately, am a chicken. I tried to play Alien: Isolation shortly after its release, then gave up after a few hours. I’m far from the only one who gave up, either; after my recent success in beating the game, I noticed that, according to Steam, only around 18% of people have the achievement indicating they completed it.
That means less than a fifth of people who play the game make it to the end. I just had to force myself through it, and so I did. More for me than for you, but I’m here to tell you about my experience in my Alien: Isolation Review, anyway.
Intro to Alien: Isolation
Alien: Isolation has you step into the shoes of Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter. If you’ve seen the first two Alien movies, which are widely considered the only good ones, you’ll know who Ellen Ripley is.
Anyway, after the ship Nostromo from the first movie disappeared, Amanda seeks closure by journeying to a space station that supposedly acquired an audio log from the ship her mother was on. Unfortunately, once Amanda gets there, she discovers that the space station in question, Sevastopol, has fallen into a state of utter chaos.
People are forming small, armed groups and sheltering or looting the station. Androids that run the station, called Working Joes, are strangely aggressive towards humans. Worst of all, there’s a killer on the loose. You can hear it banging around in the vents, seemingly following you wherever you go…
Sound intense? That’s because it is. Alien: Isolation was a hugely successful game and remains infamous to this day. At the time of this post, it was recently released free for a day on the Epic Games Store, and so many people clambered to get it that the store was down for about half a day.
Alien: Isolation Review
If you’ve stumbled across any of the other video game reviews I’ve done, you’ll know that I break my reviews down into a few segments:
I also decided to add another section to this one: visuals. The graphics in Alien: Isolation are especially striking, so I think it’s important to mention them.
With that in mind, let me get started.
When it comes to the story, Alien: Isolation is probably the best thing to come from the Alien franchise in years. We all know the recent movies have been terrible, adding complex and nonsensical lore to what was once a relatively simple premise.
Alien: Isolation takes you back to the good old days. The story is understandable, the characters are all sufficiently creeped out but still reasonable, and the droids are usually untrustworthy.
I don’t think it’s the most thrilling or complex story ever, but it definitely pays homage to the original Ridley Scott movies. For that reason, I’d say it’s a fairly solid narrative.
Will it keep you up at night, constantly replaying every scene in your mind? No, but it’s also not a nonsensical blob trying to look sophisticated.
Now, if you want to see a mediocre story, you should read my Call of Cthulhu review.
I kept saying one thing over and over again while I played Alien: the way I feel about the game is how a Taco Bell fan with a sensitive digestive system feels about Taco Bell. It was an intense love-hate relationship that oftentimes left me screaming with frustration.
But for the most part, this wasn’t because the gameplay in Alien was bad. Kind of the opposite, actually.
It feels natural. I didn’t struggle to figure out the controls, and the stealth mechanics made sense. Even if you’ve never played it before, you’ll pick it up quickly and effortlessly.
I will say that the save point system felt sporadic. You can only save at these phones spaced throughout the station, and saving takes a few seconds. Anyone or anything could easily come up behind you and kill you in that time.
There’s also a crafting system that I largely didn’t use for most of the game – although that might have been a failing on my part rather than the game’s. You can craft things like medkits, explosives, and noisemakers. The only things I used were a few explosives and medkits – I don’t think I ever bothered with the smoke bombs.
Then, of course, there’s the xenomorph. How could I discuss gameplay without describing that blasted alien after which the game is named?
The xenomorph’s AI is really complex. In a nutshell, it’s capable of learning from you in each area of the game, so if you hide more, it checks hiding places frequently. As I mentioned earlier, I’m kind of a chicken, so I hid a lot and as a result, died a coward’s death in a locker quite often.
There were some points where the xenomorph would camp outside of my hiding place for upwards of 45 minutes at a time – and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was playing on the easiest setting. I can’t even imagine how brutal it gets on Nightmare difficulty.
You really do feel like you’re being hunted, and it gets frustrating at times. Towards the end of the game, I was honestly feeling a bit sick of the xenomorph.
Music is an important part of the gaming experience. The wrong soundtrack can rip you out of the immersion. If Alien: Isolation had a country soundtrack, for instance, it would be the wrong tone.
The good news is, the music in Alien is not a country soundtrack. In fact, it’s quite fitting and sounds exactly like the old movies.
According to this Reddit post, though, the game doesn’t actually have an official soundtrack. It’s mostly just ambient noises. However, I definitely picked up some intense music when I was around the xenomorph or a Working Joe.
It’s maybe not as noteworthy as Alan Wake’s soundtrack, but you won’t find it ruining your immersion, either.
What would a game be without characters? I’m sure there’s a game like that out there, but it’s not Alien: Isolation. There’s a decent cast of characters in this game, and they deserve to be talked about.
The main character, Amanda, is a breath of fresh air. Like her mother, she’s smart, resourceful, and has a spine of steel. You don’t hear her talk a whole lot, however, because you’re playing as her.
Other than our titular protagonist, though, the characters aren’t all prominent. You don’t spend much time interacting with them, because the majority of the people on Sevastopol would sooner put a bullet in your head than carry out a conversation with you.
But there are moments where you do meet people and witness how they respond to the stress of an alien killer prowling the ship. You experience heroism, betrayal, and selfishness from a number of people. The reactions are varied and realistic.
Whether it’s Axel, the paranoid survivor with what sounds like an Irish accent guiding you through the stations…or Samuels, the polite-mannered one who always seems eerily calm…or Taylor, the legal counsel Weyland-Yutani for some reason decided to send on the mission, the people you meet are generally all interesting.
At the end of the day, it’s not a character-driven game, though. It’s a stealth game with a focus, of course, on isolation and escaping.
While graphics aren’t always the most important part of the game, many people still focus on them, so I thought I should talk about them a bit.
Visually, Alien: Isolation is stunning. I’m sure there’s someone out there who’d be way pickier about the graphics than I am, but I think they’ve held up well. This game doesn’t look like one that’s over halfway to being a decade old.
There were points in the game that almost took my breath away. Walking in outer space, for example, really made me feel as if I was out on Sevastapol, and it made me nervous.
Seeing the gleam of the alien’s teeth before it kills you with that weird mini-mouth it has is ominous. The gross, glistening saliva coming from vents with the xenomorph in them is an amazing little detail.
There were a few minor graphical bugs I experienced. For instance, I found a few guns randomly floating in the air as if someone were holding them. The xenomorph’s tail constantly clips through things, including lockers you’re hiding in when it stalks past. The way its tail drifts behind it looks weird, too, almost as if it’s a stringy ribbon or something.
But those are minor nitpicks. Overall, I feel like the character animations, the setting, and of course the alien all look great.
Is Alien: Isolation Worth Playing?
In every single video game review I do, I try to answer a simple question: is it worth playing? This is easier to answer than assigning a numerical score and gets to the heart of the matter better, I think.
When it comes to Alien: Isolation, this might also be the easiest time I’ve answered this question. Yes, it’s worth playing at least once. If you’re a dedicated horror or Alien fan, don’t pass this one up.
It’s been a long time since something worthwhile came from the Alien franchise. Too often, the recent movies and games are disappointing attempts to capitalize on a classic without making any kind of sense.
That’s what makes Alien: Isolation so good. It brings back all the atmosphere from the original – all that suspense, suspicion, terror, and simultaneously old-new-looking tech – and allows you to experience it firsthand. We’ve all watched a horror movie and wondered if we could survive. With Alien, you can finally answer the question of whether or not you could take on the xenomorph and walk away.