Death waits, and waits for all of us.
Alien Isolation is a fantastic 6-8 hour game. The tension is unparalleled, the atmosphere is perfect and it simply looks amazing. For 6-8 hours there has never been a better experience, or feeling of being hunted. Now, if only the game was actually 6-8 hours it might be nearly flawless, but Isolation lasts much, much longer than that. I have no problems with lengthy games, but Creative Assembly’s latest pushes the limits and wears out its welcome long before the credits roll. There are also a host of cool ideas that never get fleshed out the way they deserve to.
Let’s start with what works. Alien Isolation may be the most atmospheric game ever created. The minute I stepped into the game it felt like the source material. The ambient lighting and subtle details in every area drew me into the world. The classic green-screen monitors, the claustrophobic hallways, all resonate immense detail. This is the world of Alien, and Creative Assembly has nailed the look and feel of the original movie.
The story follows Amanda Ripley, who is of course the daughter of the iconic Ellen Ripley from the films. Amanda is dead set on finding out what happened to her mother, which leads her to the space station populated by unstable humans, a terrorizing xenomorph and even a few surprises. The story feels familiar; almost too familiar. A lot of the opportunity to branch out the lore is dismissed for a safer narrative. I wish they had taken some chances, especially with Amanda’s character, who never feels fleshed out.
Of course, the real focus of Isolation is the tension of constantly being hunted by the xenomorph. The initial build-up to the introduction of the Alien is fantastic. It took a solid 2-3 hours before I even caught a glimpse of my hunter. Once it happened though, it was terrifying. Alien Isolation is at its best during these moments. The genuine fear and dread that comes from knowing one small mistake and I was dead. When these moments hit, they hit hard and are definitely the most enjoyable portions of the game.
Sadly, the game never builds on these moments. Instead the Alien becomes tethered to the player after a certain point. The randomness of its AI was great, until I realized that it was simply spawning in my location time and time again. It lost its appeal, and instead of fear I experienced copious amounts of frustration. It was never a matter of skill, but more based on luck. Would I make it to the end of the room? Would the Alien suddenly appear out of nowhere and kill me? These became more common as the game progressed, resulting in me spending most of my play time hiding, waiting, hoping I didn’t lose play time.
This quickly surfaces Alien Isolation’s other big problem, save points. While I appreciate the fear of not having a “safe” location in a game based around terror, the fact that manual saves take forever, and are sometimes spread out far enough apart to cause me to quit playing when I die, is a problem. Sure, in an age where save anywhere has become commonplace it is hard to argue the old-school mentality of having to remember to save, but Isolation frustrates with its system. I lost progress; I lost progress constantly. To the point that finishing the game took even longer than my play time. Simple checkpoints or more save stations would have done wonders, but sadly Isolation is a game where I had to prepare to play for hours, only to make minimal progress.
Even with these problems though, the game enthralled me. It has been a long time since a title did something so bold. I just wish it had executed on the ideas it introduces. The human interactions were solid, I just wish they actually meant something. The Alien stalking me was terrifying, I just wish it wasn’t like a homing beacon to my location, even when it was oblivious to my whereabouts.
Alien Isolation is a great game marred with problems that make it frustrating the longer it goes on, and it goes on for a lot longer than it should. I love the ideas, I love the environments and the atmosphere and I wanted to love the entire game, but it kept giving me reasons not to. In the end I recommend it to fans of horror games, and those obsessed with the Alien universe. Those really dedicated can look past the problems, but everyone else will likely call it quits long before the end credits roll.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.