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Alien Isolation (Xbox One) Review

Alien: Isolation looks not to the second Alien film (you know, the one with the Colonial Marines?), but to the first, in an attempt to create a good old fashioned sense of creeping horror for gamers.

Amanda is looking for her mother, Ellen Ripley.

Alien: Isolation is another chapter in the Alien saga created by Ridley Scott, and this time SEGA may have finally nailed a game based on the classic mythos. The developers at Creative Assembly have done a masterful job of recapturing the look and feel of ‘Alien’. The atmosphere and overall difficulty of the game make for a fun, but stressful, adventure too- this one’s no cake walk.

As for story, Alien: Isolation continues the tale of Ellen Ripley (sort of) and introduces her daughter, Amanda. Things pick up 14 years after the events of Scott’s “Alien” movie, in which Ellen Ripley is aboard the starship Nostromo when the crew decided to investigate what appears to be a distress beacon. Ripley and her crew later have first contact with that will become one of, if not the scariest creatures ever created for film.

The alien Xenomorph is brought abroad the Nostromo and eventually kills everyone except Ripley who manages to make it to an escape pod (are there such things as spoilers on a movie made in 1979? -ed). After one final encounter, Ripley jettisons the alien into space and then lays down for a much deserved sleep in the deep freeze of a cryo pod. Ripley is not seen again until the beginning of “Aliens.” The fact that no one can find Ripley for the decades in between causes even more speculation and mystery as to what really happened on the Nostromo.

In Alien Isolation players will take on the role of Ellen’s daughter, Amanda Ripley. In the beginning of the game, Amanda is working to make a living and trying to uncover the mystery of her missing mother. Then one day news comes that the Nostromo’s flight recorder has been retrieved and it has been taken to the space station Sevastopol. Ripley (Amanda) leaves at once to try and find some answers to what really happened to her mother.

Ripley arrives to the space station to find it in disarray. The docking bay looks to be destroyed, so Ripley has to enter the Sevastopol by space walking to another entrance. As she makes her way into the space station another explosion separates Ripley from her crew. Once she boards the Sevastopol though, she finds a space station filled with little but death and fear.

Without revealing too much story, another ship arrived some time before Ripley with a really nasty passenger. Seems that before arriving and docking with the Sevastopol, this ship decided to try and discover the source of a mysterious distress beacon, sound familiar?

Run the opposite way anytime this guy shows up for the party.

During a break in the story, Amanda will learn how the Xenomorph made it onboard the Seveastopol. The crew of this ship brings one of its passengers onboard because they are complaining of chest pains. At the time the Sevastopol had no prior knowledge of a Xenomorph so naturally they assumed there was no trouble… right? Wrong, after a brief visit to the infirmary the Xenomorph pops out its shiny little head.

Ripley (again, Amanda) arrives after this chain of events to find a space station in complete disarray. Besides the obvious antagonist, Ripley must also contend with other survivors and some malfunctioning androids.

No, don’t get me wrong, Alien: Isolation is fun and an interesting adventure, but it does have a few bumps along the way. CA and SEGA have done a great job recapturing the look and feel of Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” From the sweaty actors to the low-technology, the atmosphere is perfect.The move to keep everything low-tech is brilliant. It takes players right back to those scenes in the original Alien movie. And by that I mean that the computers run on DOS, cellphones are nonexistent, and CRT televisions seem to be displaying video from a VCR that has horrible tracking lines. The atmosphere of the movie adds to the haunting feel as Ripley runs, ducks, and hides her way through the Sevastopol while avoiding certain death.

Keep an eye on the motion tracker at all time.

Anyone familiar with Ripley Scott’s Alien will also remember that everyone, and I mean everyone, was sweating during the movie. Sure enough everyone aboard the Sevastopol is also sweating. It had nothing to do with the artificial atmosphere as much as it has to do with the tension and fear onboard the space station. Something as little as sweat really shows the attention to detail and the hard work CA put in to recapture the feel of Alien.The tight quarters and the constant feeling of fear has every character seemingly wondering if they will ever escape the space station. By recreating that tension, CA has done a marvelous job of building on top of some core concepts in survival/horror games. At its core, a good survival horror game is about making good decisions and making the player feel uncomfortable and this game excels at both.

From the beginning of the game until the end, CA does a great job of making the player truly feel uncomfortable.  The fear and tension of knowing a one-hit-kill from the Xenomorh is always around the corner makes for a really stressful situation.

Even saves are stressful actually, as the saving feature is identical to Dead Rising; meaning players will have to find save stations, because there are no check point saves. As if this game was not stressful enough, did I mention it is nearly impossible to kill that nasty Xeno? It doesn’t stop there either as, in the early hours of the game, the controls required a bit of a learning curve.

Some of the controls are pretty standard for an FPS. Hold the left trigger to aim the gun/flame thrower and pull right trigger to shoot/throw. There is no jump button so traversing this game is simply about going from Point A to Point B without alerting the Xenomorph. But it isn’t until Ripley acquires the motion tracker that the controls start to feel odd.

Save point in Alien Isolation. What a nice sign of relief.

Players will have to press and hold down the right bumper button to activate the motion tracker, which is a life saver, literally. Holding the motion tracker will alert Ripley to anything moving as well as highlighting her next objective. But even the motion tracker has some faults and just like everything else in Alien: Isolation, it becomes a question of survival.

The core of a good survival/horror game is all about options. How to get to from checkpoint to checkpoint without dying while trying to maximize the scarcity of items. CA does a great job of making players question every move and whether they might want to simply try and live, or fully explore the game’s world.

There are a lot of collectibles and stories about the crew of the Sevastopol to uncover here, which can be read through the computer monitors. This a prime example of when CA makes the player choose between exploration and survival. Exploration is fun, but is it worth it? More than once while I was reading something, the Xenomorph would enter the room and, next thing I know, I am getting a sloppy death kiss. Ripley is easily killed too, so don’t expect a hazmat suit such as Isaac Clarke or Gordon Freeman.

Final Thoughts

Players can expect an enjoyable game here in Alien: Isolation. It is going to require some trial and error though, which can be frustrating given the save system, which is the one really big knock against this game.

More than once I lost 30 or more minutes of progression only to be killed and have to do the events again. While this is tedious, something about the game had me locked in. There is a serious rush of excitement being able to navigate through the halls from checkpoint to checkpoint without dying, and if that doesn’t scream well made survival/horror, I don’t know what does.

About Rick Brown

As a fearful proponent, I agree with out robot overlords on House Bill 10010101 - The Full Extermination of the Human Race. But until then, make sure to check out all my writings on video game stuff.

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