The Alien franchise has a rocky history outside of the movie theater. Game developers usually go to James Cameron’s 1986 Aliens for inspirational sourcing and go full tilt invincible space marine shoot the acid blooding bastards in the face power fantasy. Ridley Scott’s original 1979 film has stood apart from the mayhem. Maybe devs are too reverent of it. Maybe those behind the previous games didn’t know how to approach Scott’s weak human prey vs unstoppable stealth killing machine in a way that would make the experience worthwhile for their audience. There’s no easy hook to swing a power fantasy from, there’s no affirmation that you are the biggest badass in the immediate galactic region. Alien has always been about terror, claustrophobia and waiting for death around the next turn in the ventilation shaft.
Many big gun developers have take runs at the franchise. Fox Video Games took the first swing at an Alien title in 1982 for the Atari 2600, making it a Pac-Man clone. In 1984 UK companies Amsoft and Argus Press Software teamed up to deliver an early and brilliant strategy title for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum that is tragically overlooked. Aliens launched into theaters with a couple tie-in games attached to it. These would forge the basic concept of every game in the franchise from here on out. Shoot Xenomorphs, Win! All the way up to 2012’s massively disappointing, but undeniably ambitious, Gearbox effort Colonial Marines.
So what could we possibly expect from Alien Isolation. First, notice there is no “s” on the Alien there. Developer The Creative Assembly. best known for the Total War strategy series, boldly goes back the the first film for inspiration. They capture the low-fi esthetic of late 70s sci-fi perfectly and give a world that ol Ridley should be proud of.
Taking place in the 57 years between the loss of the Nostromo at the end of Alien and before the Marines are sent to LV-426 to investigate what’s happening. We are placed in the shoes of Alien film heroine Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda Ripley. Amanda has been taking all the jobs available out in the area of space where The Company, Weyland-Yutani, think her mother’s ship went missing. Eventually she is told that the flight recorder from her mother’s fateful last trip has been recovered on Sevastopol Station, a remote space station owned by the Seegson Corporation, orbiting a gas giant. Amanda jumps at the opportunity to be a part of the team going to retrieve the recorder, unfortunately they’re not the only new visitors to this cold and mostly forgotten outpost.
Alien Isolation looks amazing. The look and feel is consistent and lifted perfectly from the 1979 film. Creative Assembly makes Sevastopol Station a wonderful environment to explore. Using it’s age and soon to be decommissioned rotting nature to great effect for player navigation and environmental puzzles. The station tells its own story separate from that of ultimate predator stalking poor orphan girl, it’s an interesting layer places just under the main action. Making Alien Isolation a first person horror game was a fantastic move, it makes everything feel that much more immediate. There’s no way to cheat the camera around a corner and it makes the environment that much more threatening.
Character models are all solid. They move in ways that are naturalistic for the character. Humans move fairly smoothly, WY synthetics slightly more stiffly, Seegson’s synthetics robotically. It’s nice to see this kind of detail given proper attention. The Xenomorph moves unlike anything else. Also the variations in AI for each of the different character types in welcome. It slides to accommodate that specific character in that specific room. Though, just like movement, there is more attention given to the Alien’s. It’s a smart, fast, insistent and determined predator. It’s a foe that you’ve never encountered before.
Not up to the rest of the game though is the poor voice acting for the new characters. Far too many of them are simply bland and lifeless. It’s an even more glaring issue as you progress and find voice records left by the crew of The Nostromo with the majority of the original film’s cast returning, the sole exception being John Hurt and his character, Kane. They all give solid performances to characters they brought to life over 30 years ago without missing a step. The old cast bring their A game and remind us that it was a film stuffed with talent in front of the camera just as much as behind it.
Alien Isolation isn’t just the best horror title this year, it’s not just the best science fiction game. It’s not just the best first person game this year. It’s easily a runner for the best game this year full stop. Get it. No excuses.
Alien Isolation- 9.5/10 Not perfect but close. The best game in the Alien franchise by a wide margin and one of the best experiences in gaming this year.