Videogames reviewed in 10 straight-to-the-point questions, every Wednesday
Game: Alien: Isolation
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), XBOX One
Time to beat: 15-20 hours for the main campaign
Q1: Who’s this videogame for?
- Fans of the original Alien film. This game is the closest thing you’ll get to being part of it, from the safety of your living room
- Survival horror game fans. This game really pushes survival to the limit. You never feel powerful enough, and minor wins like finding a locker to hide in or the ability to save at designated phone booths feel like major victories. Ammo and weapons are scarce, too
- Stealth-based game fans. If you think you can beat this game going guns-blazing, you’ll get more than your ass handed back to you. Just know that the alien cannot be killed by any of your weapons, only mildly annoyed by them
- Fans of sci-fi horror in general. This game is all atmosphere, both in and out of the main space station
Q2: What’s the story like, and does it require any pre-existing knowledge?
Without delving into spoiler territory, you play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver in the 1979 movie Alien). 15 years after the disappearance of Ellen’s station, the flight recorder from her ship, the Nostromo, is found, so Amanda sets out to find her mother by joining a Weyland-Yutani expedition to retrieve the ship.
The game really captures the essence of the original movie, and really feels like its part of the same universe. Even though you don’t need to have watched the 1979 film to enjoy this game, I strongly suggest that you do, as it is referenced multiple times through dialogues and lore that you find during your adventure.
Unfortunately, the story does tend to drag on for a little bit in the second half. I do think this would have been a more powerful and less frustrating experience if it had been shortened by about 25% of its actual length.
Q3: What’s the learning curve like?
The game is very well paced, and does a good job of teaching you new gameplay elements as they are introduced. Due to the scarcity of materials, you may feel like don’t get to experiment too much at first, but in the long run it pays off to be familiar with the different devices you can build using the loot you collect. It will help you get out of tough spots when you need it most.
What you may learn the hard way is how good the alien is at picking up your scent and sounds but trust me, once you’ve pushed your luck too far, you will have learned your lesson. Given that none of the alien’s appearances are scripted, you will be forced to adapt an experiment until you find an approach that works.
Q4: What are the controls like?
They are functional first-person-shooter controls. They feel responsive and do the job well, nothing spectacular.
Q5: Does it have split-screen?
Nope, this is an exclusively single player game… although you may need a buddy to keep you company if you are playing this with the lights off. I actually think this game is fun to just watch, because the alien never behaves the same way twice. And also because I enjoy seeing other people scared.
Q6: How’s the online component?
No online component on this game. I wish they had a “reactions” feature where you could share your reactions at specific moments in the game.
Q7: How’s the presentation?
Outstanding. The level of fidelity of the graphics is great, but what really brings everything together is the art direction. It truly captures the essence of the source material, from the sounds the alien makes, from the “futuristic” computers and the sounds of the alien tracker. It all makes you feel like you are living in that ship, desperate to find a way out.
If you don’t have a surround sound system, try to play this game with headphones on for full immersion. Below is a semi-spoilery video of us playing halfway through the campaign.
Q8: What are similar games / alternatives you’d recommend?
If you like horror in space, then Dead Space is definitely a must. In terms of art and sound direction, it is very close (given that Alien was a source of inspiration for Visceral Games), although Dead Space is played in the third person.
If you like the franchise, you can play Aliens vs. Predator (2010), I game that yours truly worked on back in 2010 as a videogames tester. It is an action-focused first-person-shooter, so not real horror elements in that one.
For survival horror, you can turn to the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill,although a more recent alternative would be Resident Evil VII. Fatal Frame is also a good choice.
Q9: Anything you wish you knew before going in?
I was warned about parts of this game dragging on for a little too long, so I sucked it up and pushed through them. Had I not been aware of that, I may have been likely to get frustrated and potentially give up, so you have been warned.
Other than that, the game plays fairly intuitively. If something feels like it will kill you, it probably will, and if a place seems like could be a safe spot to hide, you can definitely try (just make sure to hold your breath).
Q10: Should I buy it?
At this point it should be fairly easy to find at a discount, so I would definitely give it a go. There is some DLC available as well. I think the game is a unique enough experience to warrant a purchase.
I am a fan of the Alien franchise and the horror genre, and this game delivers on both fronts. The constant sense of dread and helplessness can be overwhelming for some players, but the satisfaction of crafting your weapons and using them effectively to get out of a tight spot is truly satisfying.
My main complain is the unnecessarily long sections of this game, which I think could have been shortened to lessen some frustration and repetitiveness.
7 out of 10 facehuggers.
I've been a gamer since the SNES days and Donkey Kong Country was the first game I ever owned.
I currently work as a management consultant, and my console of choice is the Nintendo Switch, which I carry with me during my travels.