Alien Isolation: A Lifelover’s Nightmare
Please god, just let me make it to that locker over there………
I cannot count the number of times I had a similar thought while playing Alien: Isolation. It is one of the scariest (if not THE scariest) as well as one of the most fun games I have ever played. This is why:
When you think about a survival horror game, you probably think about Resident Evil or Silent Hill, games where you have a limited supply of ammo and things to kill. Or maybe you think of games like Outlast or Amnesia where you can only hide because fighting means death. Alien: Isolation manages to find a happy (terrifying) medium between the two. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley. She is on an expedition to find information about her mother when she and her crew get stranded on a giant space station called Sevestapol. Sevastapol is in the middle of being decommissioned and has more than it’s share of problems aside from the xenomorph that is hunting everyone. Really though, Ripley is about to have a worse day than Issac Clarke did in Dead Space. The game gives you plenty of weapons that you can potentially use BUT, using said weapons on the xenomorph that relentlessly hunts you the enitre game is like trying to explain Gorguts to a die hard Nickelback fan. Shit just ain’t gonna happen. You are better off using the tools you can craft as a distraction and then getting the fuck out of dodge. Simple, right? Wrong. This will only work for a period of time because that Alien fucker is smart. As an example, one of the things the game allows you to craft is a noisemaker, which you can then throw across the room so that the jackass organism goes to investigate it. When I found this out, I started doing it a lot, to the point where I relied on it. This was one of the biggest mistakes I could have made, because that fucker learns from your encounters. There was one point where I went to throw a noisemaker and proceeded about my hacking while it was distracted, only it wasn’t distracted as I found out when I got stabbed through the chest because that shithead was all like, “Nah man, I’m not falling for that this time.” You may have noticed the various slurs I just used referring to the xenomorph. Like it was an actual person. That right there is why I started the review this way, because that is the essence of this game and ultimately, the reason it’s so damn good. Here’s a clip from my first extended encounter with the jerk:
I am going to refer to the xenomorph as Bob from now on just to make things a bit easier, and also because I don’t like typing out xenomorph. So here’s the thing about Bob: Bob has one purpose — to kill you. He doesn’t care how, he doesn’t have a reason, he just wants to kill you plain and simple. And he has all the time in the world. I tried so hard to think of Bob as a sequence of code, an AI that had to follow rules, but in the end he really just became “that alien asshole” because he behaved as unpredictably as any living thing. You may have one encounter where he comes and rips you out of your locker and kills you and another one where he simply ignores the your room altogether. Or, even worse, you may think it’s okay to leave, only to see Bob waiting for you as the door opens. Seriously, fuck Bob. The entire game is basically about getting from point A to point B while doing your best to not get brutally murdered by Bob. You may have to hack a door or access a computer on the way which wouldn’t be so bad if Ripley didn’t stand up in potential full view of Bob while doing so. Bob is impervious to bullets and explosives; these will only anger him. So how are you supposed to survive? The most useful tool at your disposal is your motion tracker. It will let out little beeps when Bob is near, meaning you should check it regularly. If it starts beeping fast, it’s time to hide. You can hide in a locker, a cabinet, or under a table; or you can test your luck and crouch behind some boxes or a desk (seriously, don’t do this, I was super lucky). This won’t always work, though, since sometimes Bob wants to know whats inside the locker. Eventually you can defend yourself with a flame thrower, but that only sends Bob scurrying for a bit and when he comes back he most likely won’t be phased by flames. Just the simple knowledge that you are never for one second truly safe in this game creates a sense of dread unlike any other while simultaneously giving you a rush of adrenaline. The other thing about Bob is he can be incredibly sneaky, like in this clip:
One of the biggest tools the game uses to scare the fuck out of you is sound. Whether it be the sickening clunk of Bob dropping out of an air duct, his footsteps in your vicinity, or even simply walking by a vent and having it open and wondering if it opened because of you or because you are about to get killed. I can’t tell you how many times I just sat there and listened, wondering if I should leave the comfort of my locker (it’s cozy and it even has a window!), just waiting to hear Bob’s footsteps in the hall or his banging around in the vent to give me some idea of where he was. A lot of times I just didn’t trust the motion tracker because it doesn’t exactly pinpoint where Bob is. Also, there is the fact that if Bob is close enough he will hear the beeping of the motion detector, and then it’s time to die. Did I mention that the motion detector also shows the direction of your objective so you can’t just avoid using it? The musical score is phenomenal as well as terrifying, and always fits perfectly with the situation. At times, it will even give you an indicator of how fucked you are. If it sounds like a violin being played quickly it’s time to hide. If it sounds like the foghorn of a giant cruise ship, it’s time to die. Everything about the audio in this game is done to perfection.
The game does give you some reprieve from playing cat and mouse with Bob only to deal with humans that will shoot on sight or passive aggressive androids that want to help you die. I say passive aggressive because, while these androids are looking for you they say things like “I only want to help” or “this really wont do” or my personal favorite, “you are making me waste company time.” If they corner you, you can kill them with your guns, but it’s not an easy task. More often than not, firing at them will cause them to reply with “Really?” or “My turn!” or “You’re becoming hysterical.” And when they start trying to strangle you it’s, “Let me help you.” Oh, and if it’s in an area where Bob is lurking, firing any sort of weapon will cause Bob to come investigate. It’s a testament to how good this game is that they can make something as boring as a common android become almost as terrifying as Bob.
I should also point out that the developers absolutely nailed the retro sci-fi look of the original film. Everything from the CRT monitors to the color and lighting of the station, even the furniture. It really made me want to go back and watch the original film again.
If I had to find some complaint about this game, I would say it can feel a bit repetitive at times and the save point system can be downright frustrating. However, I don’t think the game would be as harrowing as it is without that save system. This is a situation where autosave would have been the wrong choice. There is nothing like being inches from a save point only to see Bob drop down right next to it and have to hide, or going up to the save point, learning there are enemies nearby, and second guessing your intent to save.
Alien Isolation legitimately scared the shit out of me. There are times I was afraid to even move for fear that Bob might drop out of the vent above me at the most inconvenient time imaginable. It was an experience that messed with my mind and gave me massive adrenaline rushes. It was a punishing, brutal assault on the senses that I, for some reason, couldn’t get enough of. It wasn’t the Alien game we need, but the one we deserve. You know what the craziest part of all this is? I can’t wait to play it again.
I’ll leave you with a video of what to me was one of the creepiest parts of the game:
Jack Bauer gives Alien: Isolation 0.5/5 flushes.