11.02.2014

GVN Review: Alien: Isolation (Xbox One)




Alien: Isolation
Microsoft Xbox One
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release: Oct 7, 2014

I am a big fan of the Alien franchise so you can imagine my disappointment when release after release I am disappointed with all the game adaptions that have come.  Alien 3 for the NES and Sega Genesis were run and gun action games that had zero tie-ins with the movie.  Alien Trilogy and Alien Resurrection were mediocre FPS games that felt bland and boring.  Finally, the recent Alien Colonial Marines was an atrocious mess of a game that has been universally panned by critics everywhere.  However the one thing they had in common was them being action games.  None of those games, except the Gameboy version of Alien 3, attempted to create a survivor horror game which is something I've always wanted.

Fast forward, there was the announcement of Alien Isolation and I had my reservations given the debacle that was Colonial Marines.  When I finally picked it up, I had finally found the Alien game I was longing for.  Alien Isolation does almost everything perfectly in regards to bringing the Alien universe to life.  It pretty much almost feels like playing the first Alien movie which was a horror film disguised as a sci-fi flick.

Alien Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of Alien, as we follow Amanda Ripley, Daughter of Ellen Ripley.  Amanda is asked to go on a retrieval mission by the Weyland-Yutani Company because they claimed to have found a data box from the lost mining ship, the Nostromo.  Amanda only joins the missions after being coerced to find closure to what happened to her mother.  Upon reaching the space station Sevestapol, all hell breaks lose before you even set foot upon the place and it just gets progressively worse as you go on.

Plot wise, having picked Amanda Ripley to be the lead was something that irked me at first, but it provides a good story element in a game where sadly there is very little story to begin with.  As we progress through the game, there will be only a few cutscenes for the entire game while the rest unfolds in the first person view.  You interact with what few friendly survivors are on the space station whom tell you where to go to progress the game.  Most of the interactions come off naturally while a couple of them feel a tad poured on.  The first friendly NPC you encounter, Axel, kind of hams it up with the tough guy survivalist persona.

Other NPCs you encounter tend to be one off characters that really add nothing but a few lines to move things along.  There's only a few characters that actually accompany you for a good portion of the game but for the most part, it's just you all alone running around a falling apart space station.  There are also quite a few twists and surprises the farther into the game that are definitely in line with what you'd expect from the Alien franchise.   Unfortunately in the grand scheme of things, while the story's twists will keep you drawn in, the NPC's don't really other anything other than to become part of the rising body count.

On the gameplay front, Alien Isolation is an incredibly impressive game.  The controls are really good and very responsive, the level of interactivity in the Sevestapol space station, the puzzles and problem solving are rather decent, the gameplay mechanics are very well done and the Alien AI is incredibly good and challenging.  There's a very robust and nifty crafting system that allows you to build numerous tools to either do harm or create diversions to escape all your assailants.  There are also multiple tools you will collect to help you unlock areas of the game that you couldn't access like theplasma torch, the access tuner, and the maintence jack.  The most important item you will acquire is the motion detector and it will be used the entirety of your gameplay experience.

There are also Kinect related gameplay elements that add a little excitement to Alien Isolation as well.  If you have the Kinect mic on, any character, human or alien, can detect the sounds you make.  This features to be honest is rather clunky especially if you have a family.  The other features use the Kinect camera to act as a tilt to look around corners.  This would have been a nifty feature if not for the fact that the action still requires the left bumper to be held.

The environments are pretty interactive for the most part allowing you to manipulate certain elements of the station to your advantage.  There are numerous outlets that let you manipulate or disable elements of the area your in like disabling security cameras or air purification systems to prevent being detected.  There's numerous air ducts for you to crawl through allowing you passage to not be detected.

There are also numerous places to hide yourself in order to avoid your assailants and your main adversary, the Xenomorph.  Aside from the ever vigilant beast, there are also numerous bands of humans who are paranoid and out to fend for themselves.  They will shoot you on site but unfortunately don't offer anything that you could consider a challenge.  The other enemies you come across are the malfunctioning androids called Working Joe's.  These guys are relentless and extremely dangerous in their own right and requirement a good amount of thought in determining to either engage or avoid them.

Alien Isolation is for all intense and purposes a first person survival horror game.  Having it in the first person perspective instead of an over the shoulder view like the recent Resident Evil games.  The controls are very precise and accurate for a game that relies heavily on quick actions and even subtle movements.  Despite the numerous weapons and items that you can craft as your progress, the game is more on the stealth oriented side.  Try to run in guns ablaze you will die often and very quickly.  There's limited ammo and crafting material scattered around. The Xenomorph, whom the game truly centers around, is quite possibly the most engaging, challenging and scary AI being I have ever encountered in a game.  The creatures movements are random and doesn't have any movement patterns like the other AI characters in the game.  The alien can easily detect your movement if you run, can ambush you from various areas, will relentlessly investigate areas where it last heard noise or saw you.

If you constantly use the motion detector, the creature will hear it and eventually find you.  If you are hiding in and air duct for too long, the alein will also eventually crawl in there and come after you. The creature can even be attracted by conflicts with the other humans.  You can easily take advantage of these types of scenarios of letting the alien rip them to shreds to allow yourself to escape. It's best to play through the game as cautiously as possible because you will die a lot until you get the hang of out to avoid the alien.

One of my favorite signs of the AI is when you confront the alien with the Flame thrower aimed at it.  After you've used it a couple of times to scare away the alien, it will freeze and hesitate.  This is pretty cool because there are a couple of times when I did this and was able to slowly back out of a room before the creature would decide to eventually charge you.

I would also like to make it known that this is also the first game since Silent Hill 2 to truly scare me.  It sets the tone right away with your arriving on Sevestapol station.  The place is falling apart and there are noises coming from every direction.  Power will go out many times leaving you in the dark and there are tons of areas that can make you feel claustrophobic.  They Alien encounters are truly terrifying for the first two thirds of the game.  It is relentless and the many times I would think I am in the clear, I would suddenly find myself dead by either having the creature grab me from an air duct overhead, running its tail throw me or even just running into a room and ripping open the locker your hiding in.  The motion detector kind of helps up the paranoia level because while it can warn you of when the alien is nearby, but it can also lure it to you if it's really close.

There are also multiple instances of scare tactics littered all over the place like seemingly broken androids grabbing your ankles as you pass by them or a vent hissing or the lights just going out.  Later in the game, the sense of paranoia and dread will be replaced by adrenalin as you are making efforts to stride towards the endgame.  I also found near the end of the game that i feared the Alien less and less because of the number of tools I had at my disposal.  In a weird way, being scared witlessly makes this game very exciting.

Outside of everything else, Alien Isolation is just simply a gorgeous game.  Sure it has nice high res crisp visuals but what truly makes this game is the way everything was designed to capture the original look of the first movie.  The idea of future technology is littered everywhere with the huge mounting computers all over the place.  Wonderful little easter eggs are place right into view like the bobbing water cup chickens.  The space station in both is stable and slowly self destructing forms are architecturally amazing with pipes, grates, steel frames and other metallic surfaces all over the place.

The musical score is probably one of the best parts about the game.  It borrows themes from the original film and has its own original tracks to help keep you on your toes.  The music chimes in at the perfect moments like when the alien is walking past you while hiding under a table.  It's very intense and then there are those times when the music can be a bit too calming throwing you off your guard.

Some of the best sound design goes to the the game's ambiance.  Hallways are filled with echoes of creeking pipes and vents hissing with escaping air.  At times you are so into the world that you won't notice a lack of a musical composition which can at times help you to ear nearby conversations of aggressive survivors and hearing if the alien is entering/exiting an area through the air duct system.

There is one minor problem in the sound design which is the actor voice audio.  At times you can hear the NPC as they talk to you via the communication system.  However, when standing next to them and you look in an opposite direction the audio seems to cut off completely.  Thankfully there are subtitles that will allow you to catch what you didn't hear.

As a complete gameplay experience has everything going right for it.  The alien's persistant AI is challenging but not unfair in any way.  The game is a nice lengthy  adventure clocking in at about 16 to 20 hours.  There are plenty of collectibles scattered about the station in the form of ID tags, station logs and recoverable Nostromo logs voice by actors from the first movie.  After beating the game there is a survivor mode available as well as a free DLC add-on Crew Expendable which allows you to play as members of the Nostromo trying to outwit and survive against the xenomorph.

As I've mentioned this is THE Alien game I have been wanting to play for years.  But then again it probably wasn't possible due to the limitations of most of the technology in gaming at the time.  Alien Isolation is an exciting and nerve wrecking game that warrants an immediate purchase for not just fans of the movie franchise or survival horror games.  Alien Isolation is easily one of the best,if not the best game, to have been released this year.

+ A dark gritty surreal world that fits perfectly in the Alien universe
+ A beautiful game that captures the look and feel of 1970's future tech
+ The Alien is a brilliantly designed AI beast
+ Nice lengthy adventure lasting up to nearly 20 hours
+ The musical score and ambiance helps add to the paranoia as you walk
space station
+ lots of items ranging from upgrade-able tools to collectible ID tags
and NPC logs
+ Lots of genuine scares to keep you on your toes
+ Excellent stealth mechanics and solid controls
- Voice audio tends to cut out when looking away from an NPC for no reason.
- NPC's are just there to give out missions and brief dialogue
and be cannon fodder. Can't really connect with them.

Overall Score: A

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