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ARTS_Alien Isolation

‘Alien: Isolation’ game review

By Adam Tatelman, Senior Columnist


Set 15 years after the events of Ridley Scott’s film Alien, the flight recorder detailing the fate of the Nostromo—and Sigourney Weaver’s breakout character Ellen Ripley—has been recovered by techs at Sevastopol Station. Amanda Ripley, searching for her missing mother, is contracted by the shadowy Weyland-Yutani Corporation to recover the sensitive data within. Of course, this opportunity for closure is not all it seems, and Amanda becomes trapped on Sevastopol in the middle of a lockdown where something is hunting everyone onboard to extinction, and it’s every man for himself.

Many modern horror games lose their fear factor because they go too big, resulting in overproduced action. Alien: Isolation feels very minimalistic by comparison, replicating the visual style of the original film and relying on the shock-inducing atmosphere of being relentlessly hunted by a cleverly programmed enemy who is faster than you, can go anywhere you can (and take shortcuts you can’t), and can overpower you effortlessly in combat. Being trapped with this thing in a non-linear environment creates a tension so heavy that every noise sets your hackles on end. The encounters with human scavengers and shambling androids pale in comparison, but since the Alien is an equal-opportunity hunter, these lacklustre encounters can usually be bypassed entirely.

In addition to scavenging components to build IEDs (improvised explosive devices), rewiring junction boxes to create smokescreens or kill cameras, and playing clever hacking games, you’ll find a few firearms and a flamethrower, which is essential as it’s the only weapon capable of repelling the Alien. However, ammo and crafting items may be a bit tooplentiful.

Your motion tracker helps keep tabs on the creature, but only in a certain radius in front of you—plus, its telltale beeping can give you away at close range. Your ears are the only thing that can tell you with certainty if the Alien is close, distant, in a vent, or in the room with you. Involving the player’s senses this way draws them into the situation very naturally.

The biggest problem with the game is its pacing. For the most part, the dynamically generated cat-and-mouse encounters with the Alien are tense and thrilling, but the premise wears thin come the last few hours of the game when it becomes clear that the developers are artificially lengthening the narrative by throwing every possible contrived obstacle between you and your final escape, including an unavoidable and inexplicable capture by the same creature that’s shown interest in nothing but killing you since you first met. This makes the endgame a slog, during which the Alien becomes less threatening and more irritating with each subsequent appearance.

Ultimately, Alien: Isolation isn’t a horror game—it’s an interactive heart attack. Play at your own risk.