REVIEW – Thirty five years has passed since the iconic sci-fi horror movie Alien was first released in movie theatres and there still is no video game adaptation that could do justice to it. Sure, we had tons of games with a similar setting and story. Some of them were excellent, but a decent Alien (and by that I mean Alien only!) game had yet to be released. Since the last title: Alien Colonial Marines was a disaster, we were curious whether the strategy games developer Creative Assembly could do any better?
Let me get it straight at the very beginning of my review that I am an Alien purist who thinks that the very first movie was by far the best one, and none of the others could hold a candle to it – not even the last movie, Prometheus which was directed by “the man”: Ridley Scott himself. Because of the review I just rewatched Alien again and I am still convinced, that it’s not only one of the best movies ever, but also a work of art. The way the story or the tension develops in the movie, the horrific beauty of H. R. Giger’s creation which creeps you out even today, or the terrific acting of every crewmember on the ship of Nostromo all ensured that Alien became a timeless classic. Any Alien based game, which wants to do justice to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece should be able to somehow reproduce those elements. You have already seen the score, so you might wonder what went wrong this time, since this game seemed to be the most ambitious and the most faithful adaptation to the original movie.
Not without my mother
In Alien: Isolation you are Ellen Ripley‘s daughter Amanda, seeking information about your mother’s fate abord the Sevastopol, a derelict space station home to a remaining population of edgy and nervous survivors and a snarling, salivating xenomorph drone. People are joined together in several bands and they are killing each other because… well, there is actually no reason to that. In the first section of the game you actually have to kill other people (and no, not some corrupt marines or people from the company but instead ordinary people like you) because the game (and some guy you encounter first) tells you to do so. It is just plain stupid. We are not in a Fallout-like environment so it does not make sense at all why people are not helping each other to fight the alien or the murderous androids.
The game’s few characters are pretty weak as well and we are far from the acting and personality of the original crew of the first movie. Amanda is sympathetic in the cut scenes, but that’s the only good thing we can tell about the story and its characters. This game is precisely the one, where motion capture should have been used everywhere with actors capable of showing complex expressions. Instead what we have here is a very last generation experience.
I couldn’t help but notice either how the basic story is similar to the one of the first Dead Space, where the main character gets separated from the two others while landing on the space station infested by aliens. One of them gets hurt and we must regroup with them. Here we have the same thing and the story doesn’t get really interesting later either. It’s kind of sad to notice that the campier Dead Space trilogy had a much deeper and more interesting storyline than the one in Alien: Isolation.
Run and hide
A big difference between Dead Space and Alien: Isolation (besides the fact that the latter is played in first person) is that the basic gameplay is very rarely about shooting a gun here and we are basically completely powerless against the alien. All we can do is run away and hide in places like closets. On a sidenote: since when the alien who is supposed to have bad eyesight but perfect scent can be avoided by hiding in closets? Yes, I felt some dread when the being was near but also couldn’t help but finding the situation kind of comical.
We must also sneak a LOT in game and unfortunately the sneaking gameplay element felt technically better in the last Thief game which was not that good to begin with. Since sneaking away from one alien in 14+ hours of the game would be extremely boring you will have to sneak against other humans wanting to kill you and the aggressive androids who all act like Ash from the movie.
Just sneak away
Avoiding the androids is especially annoying. Since the only indication whether they see you or not is some faint change in the music you only notice when they spots you when they are already running towards you. You can kill a lone android by shooting at him with your revolver from a distance, but when they are banded together in the earlier section of the game all you can do is run away and hide – the same as with the alien. Later you can toss Molotov cocktails at them but the gameplay mechanic concerning action is just flawed and not fun.
What is worse is that you have to do a lot of mundane things like door opening, finding codes and other gameplay elements which are not only lacking creativity but they are also boring a hell. Backtracking is also rearing its ugly head which on a big space station which looks mainly the same everywhere is stupid game design decision.
All in all the whole gameplay felt like a dumbed down sci-fi Thief or a Deus Ex game, with lots of repetition and limited tools at your disposal. While you can fabricate and use some objects it is somehow clumsy to use them, and they are also limited in numbers.
Feels like Alien
One thing the developers did nail is the visual representation of the Alien universe. While the graphics of the game are far from feeling like current generation (they are on par with the first Dead Space, in some aspects even uglier) visual style indeed feels like the one from the first movie. Every details and objects are faithfully recreated from the DOS-like operation systems of the old computers to the gigantic, old fashioned space ship design of the eighties.
Perhaps the visual art department went a bit too far with this retro style: while I can understand that ghettoblasters from this era are appropriate to the game, what the heck are old tape recorders from the sixties doing in it?! It’s not some adaptation from a Ray Bradbury novel you know. We can find those tape recorders everywhere and I felt like I was in another Bioshock game instead of Alien which takes place in 2122. Still, those nagging details aside the visual art of Alien Isolation is just fine and very faithful the first Alien – even if the game is far from being a looker.
Besides the visuals the sound department has also done a fantastic job recreating the sounds from the first movie. Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting soundtrack is of course fully used but other audio effects as well (which were later used in Blade Runner). The developers even went so far as recreating the old 20th Century Fox intro with an overused VHS tape effect.
The monster won again
I fully understand what Creative Assembly wanted to achieve here, and I am sure they had good intentions, but what sounded cool on paper just does not works in the game itself. Hiding from the Alien and looking at the motion tracker all the time might be dreadful to some (and actually it is, just not in the good way) and there are several genuinely scary moments in the game, but it gets extremely repetitive and annoying after a while. It’s just not fun.
I also have to admit that the scare factor in Dead Space was much higher for me, even if that other game included lots of shooting and dismembering of aliens. The story in Alien: Isolation is not really interesting nor important either and the ending just adds to the disappointment of the whole game. Alien Isolation is a better game than Aliens: Colonial Marines was, but unfortunately that’s not saying much.
+ Faithful recreation of the first movie’s visual style
+ Some truly scary moments
+ Sneaking and hiding first feels like fun…
– …then it gets repetitive quickly
– Who the hell had the idea to cast Fantomas in the game?! (Androids)
– Some story elements phoned in from Dead Space
Developer: Creative Assembly
Genres: action, adventure, sneaking, first person, horror
Publication: 2014 October 7th