Alien: Isolation – far better in theory than it is in practice

I’m a huge fan of the Alien franchise. In fact, huge doesn’t even cover it. I’ve seen every Alien film, and played pretty much every Alien game. I’ve even seen all of the Alien vs Predator films… which is an accolade in itself… because the second film was awful. So, I’ve been biting at the bit to play Isolation, but not just because it’s an Alien game. I’ve been excited because the game has been dubbed as THE Alien game. It is supposed to be everything that us Alien fans have ever wanted, and more. Yet, whilst it’s kind of an enjoyable experience, it still falls short as the ultimate Alien game. It’s definitely the best Alien game, or even Alien based game, ever made, but it still doesn’t do the franchise justice. I’m going to spend most of this review explaining how that’s so, so bear with me.

Isolation sticks incredibly true to the Alien franchise, which is definitely one of its plus points. When you look at the story for past Alien games, they have all been about action and most (if not all) have been set as an FPS. In Isolation, however, you’ll play as Ripley, well, not THE Ripley, but the daughter of the main protagonist from the Alien series. As Ripley Jr. (Amanda) you have been tasked with recovering the Black Box from your Mother’s ship, which just so happens to be “safely” secured on the battered, old and somewhat forgotten decommissioned Sevastopol Space Station. Sevastopol is in its last few days of service so, whilst there are still a few crew members on board, the station is relatively deserted. Upon arrival at Sevastopol, it becomes evidently clear that the shit has hit the fan and, as Ripley, you’ll have to explore the isolated station, avoiding the Alien, the rogue Androids and fellow survivors who don’t take kindly to strangers. The game has been dubbed as a survival horror, though I’d call it more of an action survival – but more on that later.

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Isolation’s greatest achievement is its look. Visually, it is a stunning game. The graphics are crisp, the animations are fluid and everything from the explosions to the facial expressions of each character are incredibly realistic. On the Xbox One (which is the console that I’ve been playing it on) the power of the game and the resolution do cause one or two frame-rate drops, on odd occasions, but they are rare occurrences. That being said, the game looks so beautiful that I’m more than happy to suffer the occasional drop in frames. Possibly my favourite thing about the whole look of the game is that the developers have stuck with the original style of the 1970s ‘Alien’. What I mean by that is the entire game looks like the set of the 1970s film. I’m really pleased that they stuck with the 70s feel, mainly because it reminds me of the film that I fell in love with when I first watched it as a kid. When you combine the realistic characters, the feel of the 70s retro-space station and the stunning space walks / vistas, you get a recipe for an absolutely gorgeous game.

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Sadly, for me at least, the game has far more style than substance. Don’t get me wrong, Isolation is, hands down, the best Alien themed game I have ever played. Period. It’s just not the perfect Alien game. My biggest qualm is with the Alien itself. In all of the adverts, the press releases and the gameplay footage, the Alien was seen as the ultimate hunter. But, in reality, this wasn’t the case. Rather than hunting, the Alien just seemed to wander around, quite aimlessly. Rather than feeling as the prey of a prolific hunter, I felt more like a bird watcher, observing the Alien from behind desks or inside vents. It seemed pretty dim, considering it’s supposed to be the ultimate killing machine, and all. Provided you keep Ripley completely still, you won’t get much trouble from the Alien… even if it’s standing directly next to you. The Alien is mostly attracted by sound, though it seems to pick and choose what sounds it can hear. I knocked over chairs and boxes, used a blow-torch to cut a hole in a vent or door and dropped a heavy metal door lock on the floor, and didn’t get a peep from the Alien. But I let out a light burst of my flame-thrower, however, and the Alien was on top of me in a flash. Inconsistency at its best.

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Isolation is pretty much just a game of cat and mouse on a gigantic space station, a game which occasionally verges into the realms of hide and seek. Though, the difference being that if the Alien ‘catches’ you, you’re not ‘out’, rather you get the oh so repetitive joy of watching the same death animations, over… and over… and over. In a sense, the Alien was the Elma Fudd to my Bugs Bunny, when it should have been the Alien to my Ripley (in the sense of the 1970s movie). That’s a great shame, because it was billed as so much more. Another word of warning about the overall style of gameplay; Isolation is far from what it says on the tin. It’s being dubbed as a survival horror, but I struggle to see anything horrifying about it. If you want to play a great survival horror game, check out Outlast, or The Evil Within, don’t look to Isolation. It does the ‘survival’ part pretty well, but that’s mostly down to the fact that the Alien, Androids, other people and the ship in general are all trying to kill Ripley. Although, whilst they’re all trying to kill you, there’s nothing scary about it. It’s mostly because the game just keeps spiralling back to the cat / mouse and hide / seek formula, which seems to suck any sort of fear factor from the game.

Isolation could have been so much more than what it is. It had so much potential, but sadly it seems to have fallen short. As a game in itself, without comparing it to the Alien franchise, it isn’t exactly a terrible game. I wouldn’t say go out and pay the full price for it, but if it’s on offer and you’ve got a spare few quid laying around, I don’t think you’d be too disappointed. But, if you’re like me and you were hoping for the ultimate Alien homage, you should probably hold your horses… or at least go in with lowered expectations. In theory, this could have been a great game. Sadly, in practice, it hasn’t lived up to its potential.