Alien Isolation Review

Meet Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter.

I’m a huge fan of the Alien series. The music, atmosphere and its 70’s retro-futuristic bulky designs and all the things that are barely holding together with scotch tape. Ridley Scott is a visualist and he managed to create a world that just made sense. The future portrayed in Alien is not focused on fantasy sci-fi (such as in Star Wars), instead the world he paints are familiar and quite easy to relate to.

Please note: This review will contain screenshots that may be considered “spoilers”. I show the alien, the space jockey, the derelict and frames from Alien and Aliens and Prometheus. You really should have seen the movies already. I will not show any major game spoilers other than the demise of one minor character.
All the screenshots are from the game Alien: Isolation (2014), Alien (1979), Aliens (1986) and Prometheus (2012). As I’m commenting about the movies and the game, the images are all under the “fair use” doctrine.

Meet the crew. The very sweaty crew. No, this is not a porn.

Oh, let’s not forget the keyboards and the screens, the green low resolution CRT screens. Everything is rugged and low tech, which is really preferable in the future in outer space. If you expect the machines to last for a long time and you don’t have access to advanced tools that can fix it (which could also break), it would make perfect sense to use low tech machines. For instance, the old type of phones just kept on truckin’. Forever. Just scotch tape that sucker and you are good to go. If I brought a smartphone, it would break immediately. By the way, why I need a phone in space is beyond me, but that is besides the point.

With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.

Introduction

Alien: Isolation (A:I) starts off fifteen years after the events of the first Alien movie takes place. We play as Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda. If you remember from Alien, Ellen was put in stasis to be picked up by the network. By the way, in the “Special Edition” version of Aliens, we can see Ellen being shown a photograph of her daughter. Burke, played by Paul Reiser, tell Ellen that Amanda passed away of natural causes two years ago. The photo used in the movie is actually Sigourney Weaver’s mother, Elizabeth Inglis, also an actress.

In A:I, Amanda is on her way to investigate the destruction of the Nostromo and more importantly the disappearance of her mother. They have already recovered the black box of the Nostromo and Amanda is easily convinced by Samuels, to join a small expedition to retrieve the black box and to find some answers. To get some closure.

The expedition eventually arrives at the trading station called Savastopol, which is also the name of a Ukranian city on the black sea, interestingly enough (see link to wikipedia).

So, the communication on Sevastopol is down and Amanda with her two companions (Taylor and Samuels) are forced to space walk to the ship. Suddenly an explosion occur and the wave of the blast is scattering the team. Amanda is thrown against the ship. She looks for Samuels and Taylor, but they are gone. Amanda eventually enters the ship and soon realises that something is wrong with the ship. Everything is in disarray. People have sprayed on the walls, broken machines are laying on the ground, it’s dirty everywhere and yet there are no one there.

You never said anything about an android being on board. Why not?

Ellen Ripley, Aliens (1986)

Soon enough Amanda finds out that there are still are people alive on the ship. However, they seem to be scared
to death and will shoot if she comes too close. She eventually finds an ally and she is told that there is a ghost or monster killer on the ship. Oh, there are androids on board called “Working Joe”. Don’t get too close to them, David warned us in Prometheus, remember?

Androids are used to working in adverse, environmental conditionsssss…

The game

Right from the start the game sets the mood with a dramatic introduction and then… total silence. Trust me, you will appreciate the silence as you progress through the game, because the music and sound effects will creep you out. My first tip is to tune in to the noises the ship makes. In this game, the difference between life and death depends on if you can hear the danger before it sees you, whether it is the monster, the Seegson androids or other humans just around the corner. It is very important that you can hear and learn the different sound effects that are used when the alien is close by. When it exits a vent, enters a vent and when it is walking. You will have a tracker that can sense density changes in the air. Use this sparingly as it makes noise and will attract the attention of the monster.

Headshot.

The fact that you have to listen while you play the game makes it scary. The sound effects brings just the right mood and style from the original Alien movie. Many sound effects will scare you at first, because everything you do emits a sound. Entering a dark room will automatically turn on the lights, which makes a certain noise that may stun you as a player. As you move around, the shoes will squeal, the ventilation fan and AC will also make sounds. As you listen more closely you can suddenly hear something that is creeping in the ventilation system, ah great. Also, sometimes you will think you see the monster as a shadowy figure in a doorway. But, as you approach it, you will see that it is just the shadow from a dangling cable in front of a lamp. Oh god.

The sounds and music are merged perfectly in the game. The music is a mix from Alien, Aliens and I believe I can hear Alien 3. They have taken the music and expanded it into several hours worth of suspenseful themes. The music also change if you are in trouble.

As an example of a sound effect that is familiar with nerds like me is at a game save spot. To save the game you need to use an ID card and wait until three small lamps turns off. That particular sound effect which is played as they are turned off is used in Alien as Dallas interact with Mother and views the “Overmonitoring Address Matrix” (see “Alien” at 08:58). Funny that the save state is an old telephone like a telephone is used to save people who are in the matrix. Wait… “Address Matrix” and “The Matrix”, is there a connection?!

The old telephone save state thing. Note the ID card used, just like the one Dallas used.

As shown in the above screenshots the design and graphics are stunning. The lighting and the smoke makes it just so much more enjoyable to play. It is as if you are there. Now, if I only had an Oculous rift…
The corridors are just like in the first movie. The walls are all padded as if to reduce the risk of injury during turbulence or something. If you like to read more on corridors, check out DenofGeek.

Corridor with nice lighting.

The question is: just how close is the set design in this game compared with the movie? I took the liberty to match up some of the major scenes I found in the movies and in the game to give you a comparison. Please note: A couple of screens are from the ship where Amanda wakes up on, called the Torrens. According to Samuels, the ship is of the same model as the Nostromo, but not identical, so the differences may be intentional. Also, I didn’t buy the “crew expendable” version of the game.

Back to the ole freezerinos.

First off is the cryo beds on the Torrens compared to the Nostromo beds. The beds on the Torrens are much more comfortable, let me tell you.

Cryostasis comparison.

The coffee machine was used in another movie Ron Cobb was involved in. Which one? It’s Mr Fusion from the ending of “Back to the future”.

I heard that coffee is the only thing good on the ship.

We should have known Ash was a goddamn robot. No human being can sit on a chair like Ash did in Alien. Who designed the bench to be that low?

Ash had the most non-ergonomic work place on earth, or in the universe. I’m glad they seem to have changed the height of the table since then at least.

Ah, the Croissant… eh I mean “Derelict”.

Space Jockey in three movies. Note that A:I didn’t adopt the Prometheus version with cryo beds and the shorter arms of the jockey.

Xenomorph is a dragon as they say in Alien 3. I would go as far as saying he should be called “Xeno the impaler”.

Last comparison is the magazine sex fetisch thing. It was very odd to see in Alien and when I saw this guy deep throating a magazine, I just had to add it here to show you. By the way, this is not a porn, I keep telling you…

Ellen fights with Ash using a magazine. In A:I an unfortunate sap is the victim of a Working Joe’s sex fantasy.

Conclusions

The suspenseful music, great sound effects, extremely detailed set design and the stunning lighting and smoke makes this game a joy to play. However, if you are inclined to favor the Rambo-type of strategy, you will not like the game. If you go “Rambo”, you will be dead in a heartbeat, trust me. The alien will hear you and you cannot kill it.

The thing that adds to the game is that the alien is unpredictable and that makes it more scary. However, it would be even more scary if there were less saves at certain points in the game. Also, the alien should figure out how good I am and use that to scare the living daylights out of me. That would be awesome. You should not have to start playing at hard difficulty then go down to medium and eventually easy, just to survive.

Another thing that is fascinating is that the alien is not the same as in the movie Alien. If you look closely, the alien is tip toeing, looking like a cat instead of having the feet flat on the ground as in Alien and Aliens. Actually, this design was first introduced in Alien 3 as it was born and took the DNA from a dog/ox. See inkjavas Deviantart.

Alien 3 which is a dog/ox has long hind legs. Credit: inkjava at deviantart

The Sevastopol alien, tip toeing around a flare I threw moments before. The sign to the right has Japanese/Chinese characters and means “flee from danger” (thanks KelvinW).

This son of a bitch is huge! I mean, it’s like a man; it’s…it’s big!

Anyway, I think that this design change is for the better. The alien looks far more menacing if it has the movements and appearence of a leopard than a “guy in a suit”.

One source of irritation has been pointed by “Angry Joe” AngryJoeShow the game has a little too much back tracking. This is evident in mission 16 called “Transmission”, where you have to take a space walk to enter the coordinates to the Torrens. It takes a long time to walk there and if you miss the lever on the way back, as I did, you have to walk back again. Is this mission only to stall for time? Another example of irritation is that the textures of the outside of the Sevastopol is of very low resolution. This is seen when we ride the ambulance from the San Cristobal area.

This texture was obviously never intended to be seen up close.

These irritations aside. Here is a short list of some things I find the game missed:

– One problem is that the game feels very linear. It is too straight forward and you don’t feel like you can decide where to go next. Additionally, you are forced to hide which makes the game claustrophobic, in a negative way. As it is now, the few people that are hiding in Sevastapol are out to kill you if you approach them. It would have been interesting if you could interact with the people, maybe trade weapons or try to catch the alien together, like in the movie.

– The game is very hard. I believe the alien is too eager to kill Amanda. How come the alien is always in a vent above your head whenever you start to make noise?

– More opportunities where enemies are taken out by summoning the alien would be nice.

– The surroundings is not really interactive. I can’t kick around stuff. Everything seems to be glued to the floor. It would not effect the performance notably if some objects could be moved around. I should be able to kick a suitcase so stuff flies out of it.

– At one secion in the game where Amanda is trapped in the SCIMED wing, the Alien comes bursting from the ceiling
and you have to make your way through a hall. This section is one of the most frustrating parts of the game for me and should have been put in later on when you learn how the alien moves.

The Verdict

I give this game a 8 out of 10 xenomorphs, on the verge of getting 9 xenos.
I’m being hard on the game because it could have been so much more. For instance:

1. Interactive surroundings, like in Half Life 2
2. A little less linear story
3. Smart NPCs with believable survival instincts
4. Make the crafting system more important
5. It’s so cheezy when Amanda talks to herself. Why can’t we just hear her thoughts instead?
6. Better lip syncing
7. Less “Working Joes”, they were a real pain in the neck
8. The intelligence of the Alien should be adjusted to how good the player is to maximize the playability

A good “working Joe” is a dead “working Joe”.

Apart from some of the flaws as I pointed out, the game is an awesome work of art. If you are still reading this, get it now and then comment what you think of the game below. This is Johansson, signing out.

Not bad, for a human.

Bishop, Aliens (1986)

4 Comments:

  1. Awesome review man! Thanks!

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