If I had to say what is the single greatest horror movie of all time was, I'd probably say Alien. If I had to say what my favorite movie of all time would be, it would be Jurassic Park followed by Star Wars, but Alien is certainly up there. However, Alien is a movie which has had only one good follow up. It had some decent comics by Dark Horse but they were altered to accommodate Alien 3 and just about everything else has been mediocre or outright terrible. So, it's with the greatest amount of seriousness I say these next words: Alien: Isolation is part of my Alien canon along with the original film and Aliens.
Alien: Isolation is good enough that I consider it to be more than fanfic and a testament to the fandom of a writer whose first submission to a science-fiction writer's club in 6th grade was Aliens fanfic. It's well-designed, well-written, scary, and delightful all at once. It's also FRIGGING HARD. I believe a large number of players will be unable to finish the game even on Novice mode. Despite this, I've got to say this is going to be one of my most universally positive reviews. It would be even more so if I couldn't help but think this is where the franchise could have gone but they decided to kill poor Newt and Hicks instead (24-year-fandom rage continues to burn hot!).
|I love Amanda's realistic character design which invokes Sigourney Weaver but doesn't copy her.|
A representative of the Weyland-Yutani corporation, Samuels, contacts her and invites her to accompany him to Sevastopol Station where they've apparently recovered the Nostromo's flight recorder. They arrive to find the station in a state of catastrophic disrepair, the populace having degenerated into lawless feuding bands, and the titular alien picking off its population one by one. A spacewalk mishap results in Amanda getting propelled onto the damaged station and presumed dead, stranding her on the decaying superstructure.
|The set-pieces are gorgeous and directly taken from the film.|
Part of what made Alien so great was the crew, for all the fact they were just a bunch of space truckers, reacted to events in an intelligent and well-reasoned manner. This is a quality which is carried over into the game as everyone deals with the Xenomorph (never called that in the game) in an understandable, if not always wise, manner. Much of the backstory to the station deals with mistakes anyone would have made without a knowledge of the creature's backstory. Much of the game which follows has Amanda struggling to survive on a space station full of hostile humans, hostile robots, and an even more hostile perfect life-form. The game is primarily stealth-based with the possibility of never killing any humans a viable one (which gets you an achievement).
|Tracking the Alien with the motion sensor is the primary mechanic.|
The centerpiece of the game is the monster, of course, as it is an incredibly well-made antagonist. The creature actively hunts the protagonist in each level. Its drawn by loud noises, combat, along with fast movement. You know, the things most gamers are dependent on during their missions. The creature has a few scripted appearances but most of its appearances are entirely managed by its freakishly intelligent A.I. Teaching players to unlearn fighting and embrace the terrifying helplessness of someone who doesn't have the ability to fight back is a near unique experience in gaming.
|If you see the monster, it's probably too late.|
The fact you can't outrun the alien or even block its movement is perhaps a missed opportunity as if ever there was a game where locking the door behind you was a good strategy then this would be it. I died many-many-many times in this game with some sections consisting of me hiding in a locker for fifteen minutes as I suffered from paranoid delusions the Xenomorph was right outside. This worked well for me but isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea.
|Sevastopol Station is an amazing setting.|
I love the design for Sevastopol Station, which is deliberately designed to evoke the 1979 movie's original design aesthetic. The monitors sets are round rather than curved, tobacco machines are everywhere, computer displays are in green and black, while everything is bulky switches as well as dials. I also love the sheer pants-wetting terror all of the inhabitants are feeling at the paranoia-inducing presence of the Xenomorph. There could have been more characters you interact with at length but I liked the ones we did meet with.
|The Working Joes are delightfully Uncanny Valley, even if they're just there so you have something to shoot.|
Survivors turn on each other when they should be banding together and even before things went to hell, corporate greed had made the station the equivalent of a ghost town. A scene mid-way through the game where a group of truckers come across, as far as they know, the first evidence of alien life in the universe says everything. What's their reaction? Start stealing bits and pieces of its ship to sell.
|Sometimes hiding isn't enough.|
There is, however, a serious flaw in the game which only occurs roughly 2/3rds of the way since. Basically, the game ends then goes on. The major plot of the game is resolved and you are then sent scurrying to another plotline which is resolved. Then it happens again and again. Then you reach another great ending moment, only for the game to continue.
|They mostly come...whenever they damn well please.|
In conclusion, Alien: Isolation isn't one of all time favorite video games. I'm just not good enough at stealth to be able to enjoy it on the same level as Deus Ex or Dragon Age: Origins. However, I've got to say it's still an amazing artistic accomplishment. If Amanda Ripley had more character development, it would be up there, too. This is definitely a game for an acquired taste but if you have that taste then it is something you must buy.