Available on: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4 and Xbox One
My first experience with video-games based on the Alien franchise reaches as far back as Alien Trilogy, which was released on Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and PC in 1996. This Doom-esque first-person shooter loosely adapted the first three films of the Alien series, placing the player in the role of Ellen Ripley as she encountered various creatures from the films across thirty levels. The most notable element of the game was the inclusion of the infamous motion-tracker from the movies, which added the same sense of impending dread as the beeping dots came ever closer to your marker.
Subsequent games featured the Aliens vs. Predator match-up and moved the franchise out of its traditional horror atmosphere into a more generic first-person shooter approach with players able to play as both the Alien and Predator characters in-game. It wasn't until 2013 with the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that the deadly xenomorph’s regained their position as the solo enemies. Unfortunately, Colonial Marines was met with largely negative reviews and despite the removal of the Predator and focus on playing as a human; it retained an arcade action feel. To make matters worse, Electronic Arts had struck gold with the Dead Space series, which had managed to completely encapsulate that isolated horror feeling that the original Alien films had achieved. It was clear that a new strategy was needed if Twentieth Century Fox wanted to create the definitive Alien experience for fans of the films.
It was 2014’s Alien: Isolation that finally provided with an authentic journey into the world of the Alien franchise. Billed as a survival horror, rather than a first-person shooter, the game fits seamlessly into the established canon of the Alien universe by featuring Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, who was referenced on-screen during the beginning of Aliens and chronicles her untold search for her mother’s whereabouts. The first thing that struck me as I played through the game was the attention to detail in the design of the ships. As Amanda emerges from cryo-sleep at the start of the game, players are instantly struck with a sense of déjà vu as the opening sequence mirrors the beginning of Ridley Scott’s Alien, expertly setting up the atmosphere of deep space travel, using the same ‘retro’ technology seen in the 1979 movie to achieve consistency and evoke nostalgia.
|It's Game Over, man...It's Game Over|
Picking out the best ingredients from the movies like a fussy eater at a buffet, the game wisely decides to feature just one xenomorph as the primary antagonist, peppering the levels with desperate survivors and malfunctioning androids to add variety to the central battle of survival against the galaxy’s most deadly killing machine. The plot borrows familiar storyline elements from the films with the dastardly Weyland-Yutani corporation referenced in the many audio diaries littered about the Sevastopol space station, and a rather unhelpful central AI that turns the 'Working Joe' robots against anyone trying to destroy the xenomorph. As usual, it is humanity's greed and desire to turn the xenomorphs into profitable and controllable weapons that results in the horrific carnage and bloodshed that follows.
The motion-tracker which Ripley Jr is saddled with is something of a double-edged sword, because while it does allow the player to work out where the enemies are and in what quantity, it also serves to increase the tension as you sneak through the deserted corridors. The game encourages players to be smart and work out the least disruptive way to get past areas, because the Alien is quick and brutally unforgiving once it drops down out of the ventilation system and begins chasing any living thing in its path. Sometimes, when faced with overwhelming odds, the player must balance up the potential danger of 'summoning' the xenomorph out of its hiding place to take down some scavengers against the difficulty of a more stealthy approach.
Players are able to craft various tools out of materials to assist them in avoiding human/android threats, but I found myself using these sparingly, choosing to just hide in cupboards and under tables instead, often with limited success! As the game progresses, Ripley does acquire more powerful weapons into her armoury and the game begins to lose some of its stealthier qualities as players can scare off the Alien with a well-timed flame-thrower burst, but ammo is scarce and there is always danger around every corner.
Graphics - With the game relying on a first-person perspective throughout, it was vitally important that the environment of the Sevastopol spaceship held up to scrutiny – playing it on a PS4 system, I can safely say that the graphics were truly amazing and utilised the extra graphical power that came with the next-generation machine. Most notably, the lighting was superb, helping to cultivate a sense of fear throughout the game, especially when attempting to hide from the xenomorph. With very few enemies on-screen and an emphasis on stealth, there isn't much opportunity to admire the character models, but the game manages to excel at capturing the mood of the original Alien movie through the architectural design of the space station.
Gameplay - Gamers expecting a first-person shooter in the same vein as previous Alien games will be disappointed, as will people expecting an action-heavy survival horror akin to Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space. The game is more tonally similar to Metal Gear Solid, requiring stealth and tactics to overcome adversary. The xenomorph’s advanced AI ensures that it remains a constant presence in the gamer’s mind – whether it is on-screen or rattling about the ventilation shafts.
Achievements / Trophies - The majority of the trophies are linked with progression of the story, with chapter completion achievements. There are some trophies that reward players for completing levels with distinction such as: “Complete the fifth mission without being killed by the Alien”. There are also trophies tied into the game’s collectibles, which take the form of ID tags and Audio Logs, which are relatively easy to find if you’re willing to brave the Sevastopol corridors to do so.
Longevity - The main campaign is fairly lengthy with eighteen chapters of varying lengths making up the story. Upon completion, players can also attempt the Survivor Mode levels, which create short scenarios for players to complete. With the additional of bonus DLC, players can expand this element of the game to include characters and locations from the movie franchise, such as Ellen Ripley and the Nostromo.
With very little competition, it is easy to proclaim this as the best video-game based on the Alien franchise, but digging deeper, this truly is a fantastic example of a licensed game done right. The guys over at Creative Assembly have done an amazing job at creating a truly immersive experience that recreates the same feeling of heart-wrenching terror that Ridley Scott set in place over thirty years ago. Judging by the success of this game, I'd imagine that this survival-horror model will be used in future installments, although it would likely need to move away from the Ripley family and possibly tell a story separate from the canon of the movies. Oddly enough, while Dead Space was a heavy influence on the Alien video-games getting retooled, this game doesn't quite feel the same as Electronic Arts' game, adopting a more measured and cinematic pace compared to Dead Space's frenzied terror. Fans of the survival-horror genre, particularly games where the protagonist has to rely on stealth over weaponry, such as the Clock Tower and Fatal Frame series, will find a lot here to enjoy but more action-orientated gamers may find themselves having to adjust to the different strategies required to survive Sevastopol.
Score - 9.2 out of 10