In recent years, Ridley Scott has attempted to resurrect the Alien franchise he began in 1979 by creating a prequel series which is currently set to be a total of 4-5 films. It was kicked off with 2012’s Prometheus, which sought to delve into the mysterious origins of the human race, with a cameo appearance from a xenomorph looking alien to connect it to Alien. More recently, Alien: Covenant released in cinemas this year in an attempt to continue the story ark and explain how xenemorphs came to be. You can read our review of Covenant here. These films have received mixed reviews, showing that despite the several attempts the original and iconic Alien simply can’t be matched by a film.
Enter 2014’s Alien Isolation
Alien Isolation manages to capture the atmosphere of Alien, boasting a relatively simple yet effective storyline to compliment it. The game feels like a nostalgic trip back to the Nostromo, a trip you can actually take in-game with the original cast through dlc. Alien Isolation succeeds as a sequel where most of the films fail by maintaining an authentic Alien atmosphere and not overcomplicating the plot. Isolation is a horror survival game, leaving the player mostly defenceless against the many threats aboard Sevastapol. This style helps emulate the original fear from Alien, forcing the player to fight off androids and xenomorphs in mostly the same manner that Ellen Ripley had to.
Alien Isolation was originally released in October 2014 by SEGA and Creative Assembly on Windows, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Linux, and OS X. Creative Assembly, the studio behind the Total War franchise, began production on Alien Isolation after it was pitched as a hide and seek online simulator. The original concept was similar to Friday the 13th The Game, released previously this year, as one player would take control of the xenomorph and hunt down crew members. The final product, however, was a 13 hour long single player survival horror experience.
Isolation was generally well received on release, averaging a 9/10 on Steam. It did, however, receive some mixed reviews, as it was awarded a 5.9/10 by IGN on the grounds of the difficulty setting. The game recommends being played on its Hard setting, due to the alien’s heightened senses being more authentic to the xenomorph from Alien. The issue with this means that the xenomorph is incredibly sensitive to noise and movement, making it even more difficult to learn the mechanics through trial and error with an alien on your tail the whole time.
Alien Isolation was designed to be an ode to Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien in almost every way available to them. The team at Creative Assembly deconstructed the film to try and discover what elements were crucial to building the atmosphere of Alien, and attempted to incorporate those as much as possible in game. The result of this attention to detail is a beautifully retro low-fi station, which looks and feels familiar to fans of the film. According to the developers, they didn’t put anything in the game that couldn’t be made in 1979, which payed off fantastically in my opinion, achieving an authentic Alien experience.
The score from the original film was also deconstructed by the developers so that they could create their own music with some recurring elements from the film. The game’s soundtrack contributes to the nostalgic and unsettling atmosphere which Alien Isolation does so well. In addition to the replication of music and basic elements of the 1979 sci-fi, Creative Assembly also went to great lengths to replicate the visual effects featured in the film. After animating the in-game monitors, the development team converted them to VHS and then re-recorded them using cameras on a curved television. This method allowed them to create the desired distortion that fit with the 1970’s lo-fi style of Alien.
The plot of Isolation mimics the franchise it’s based on, with Amanda Ripley confronting a singular xenomorph on a failing space station. The game follows the daughter of Ellen Ripley as she attempts to recover the flight recorder from the Nostromo. The choice to use Ellen’s daughter as the protagonist of the game only adds to the sense of continuation from Alien, as Ellen’s daughter is mentioned in Aliens although never featured. It also makes the player care about her, knowing that she is the child of a cinematic legend. The plot is familiar enough to feel nostalgic without being too repetitive. Several plot twists towards the end of the game manage to develop the storyline from that of Alien whilst also staying true to the original feeling of the horror.
The most important gameplay mechanic in Isolation is stealth. The player must navigate their way through Sevastapol Station utilising tools and hiding spots along the way to either take out adversaries or avoid them. The game allows the player to find schematics for tools such as noisemakers, flashbangs, molotov cocktails, and smoke bombs. These can be used to hurt, kill, or distract the many android and human enemies that Amanda will face throughout the course of the 13 hour long campaign.
Not only is the xenomorph invulnerable, it also appears to learn from the player throughout the game. The alien is designed to react to the behaviour of the player, meaning tools such as noisemakers become less effective the more they are used. The development team implemented this AI in part because of the save system. Players have to manually save their game at save stations located throughout the game, which are often few and far between. The development team stated that the alien’s behaviour needs to appear to be spontaneous, otherwise patterns would become obvious and eventually less frightening after repeated deaths. While this can be frustrating when you haven’t saved for over an hour and die, it really helps create a tense atmosphere when playing as both the player and Amanda have something to lose.
Despite the somewhat repetitive nature of the game after 10+ hours of playing, Alien Isolation still manages to succeed as an enjoyable and terrifying sequel to Alien. Its clever AI, familiar score and visuals, on top of the nostalgic plot manages to pay tribute to the iconic horror whilst also standing on its own two feet as an excellent survival horror. Although I actually enjoy sequels such as Aliens and Covenant, Isolation will definitely go down as my favourite follow up to the film that redefined the horror genre. For me, Alien Isolation will always be the Alien sequel we deserved, but not the one we needed back in 2014, as it definitely doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.