Cart: Alien Isolation Cab: PS4 / Xbox One / PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC Coin: Creative Assembly
Salutations, dear Voxelites – it’s been a while. Oh, I don’t mean since our last review; I mean since a decent Alien game came along, silly. And believe me when I say that Alien Isolation absolutely is – at long last – a thoroughly decent Alien game. But only in so far as you can calibrate your expectations. In fact, before you even try and do that, I want you to go and do something for me: go and watch Ridely Scott’s 1979 classic. From beginning to end. Without being distracted by your smartphone to find out what other films M.O.T.H.E.R. has been in.
Back? Good. Now, if you’re like me, you soon realised that as iconic and relevant as the film remains, the mantle upon which is is placed feels just that bit beyond reach. It simply doesn’t hold your attention quite like it used to or scare quite as vigorously as it once did. And so how is a developer to make a game that tops the dizzying heights of our expectations and yet remain faithful to the very same source material? Well the honest truth is: it can’t. Even a developer as ironically experienced at re-enacting history as the Creative Assembly are.
It’s hardly MY fault that you’re constipated!
But let’s deal with the many positives first. This is a stunning looking game that is simply dripping in the classic production-design that set the Alien film apart from its peers. Every nook, cranny, artefact, element of industrial design and computer interface is lifted straight out of the 70’s with a sense of faithfulness and loyalty that would make any series fanatic bow their head in respect. Indeed, given that much of your time is spent creeping slowly through the tight, repetitive environments, it’s a testament to the overall design that you’re still gawping in wonder many hours into the game. The audio is equally impressive, saving those truly iconic chord progressions and sound effects for the most tense and action-packed sequences. Subtle hints such as the computer systems whirring away and doors opening with a reassuring thunk add to the overall, high quality atmosphere. Even the plot is believable and fits in nicely between the first two Alien films. As Ripley’s daughter, you can relate immediately to the character’s motives, desires and – more importantly – fears. Less confident but no less brave than her mother; Ripley engages with characters in a believable way, hanging the story on a solid, if somewhat predictable peg.
So far, so Nostromo – but this is a game not without its faults. Surprisingly, one of the biggest let-downs is arguably the Alien itself. Whilst it’s an undeniably smart and brave move to engineer a game around a single xenomorph, you get the sense that the developers had to dumb it down just to make the game playable. Once you settle into a steady rhythm, you soon realise that it can be fooled or summoned (should you wish to acquaint it with some pesky humans) with relative ease – and it can often overlook your presence like a blood-hound with a serious chest infection. On other occasions, it can seem quite unfair – but never to the point of throwing the towel in, however unhelpful the checkpoint system may be. And given the immense size of the ship the game is set in, why does it always seem to be stalking around the small area that I happen to be in?! It all makes for a tense experience, then, but not one that you would ever call genuinely frightening.
Humans are a relatively easy obstacle to overcome but perhaps the game’s most unnerving characters are the emotionless synthetics that wander around like a cross between a mannequin and a waiter possessed by Jack Nicholson. The fact that they only ever move at a walking pace and only ever speak in ever-so-polite terms makes them all the more menacing indeed. I’m getting the creeps just writing about them.
Isolation is also the perfect game to use with a Vita and the PS4’s superb remote-play feature. Some faster-paced titles feel a little fiddly with the plucky Vita’s tiny controls, but here is a game that was absolutely made for quick chest-bursts on the couch. The controls map beautifully to the Vita, so much so that going back to the Dual Shock feels like a step backwards. The remote-play cap of 30fps doesn’t hamper the experience either as the game proper runs in the same ballpark.
So, does Isolation manage to finally tick all of the boxes as a bona-fide classic Alien game? Not quite, but it comes very close, offering a refreshing take on the franchise and on the stealth genre in general. Here’s hoping they follow it up with an equally faithful take on Aliens, so we can gun dozens of the buggers down in style.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I left the Vita in the escape shuttle.