Main Course: Alien Isolation – a great stealth game riddled with parasites

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It’s been a long wait for a good game based on the Alien franchise, and after Gearbox stabbed the hearts of fans with a rusty Pitchford – sorry, pitchfork, the wait appeared eternal. Then Creative Assembly announced Alien: Isolation. Early impressions revealed it as a taught stealth game with an emphasis on survival, taking its inspiration from 1979’s Alien and games like Amnesia equally.

Isolation is a polished and faithful representation of the universe; the unassuming but somewhat speckled environments of the film transfer to videogames perfectly. The super-sharp visuals that sci-fi fans have come to expect and appreciate are present and in top form.

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The tight, built-for-humans corridors make for an environment that instantly becomes claustrophobic once you hear the sound of an Alien dropping from a vent or stomping around the corner. The moment of panic when you hear the Alien will have you running for the nearest hiding place.

This is the greatest achievement of the game: the sound ranges from screeching sci-fi violins and the bass-like thump of the Alien in the vents or behind you. Trust me, both sounds will tear through your nerves like acidic blood through two decks of the Nostromo or a chestburster through a, well, chest, I guess…

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So do yourself a favour, put on a pair of decent headphones and revel in the fear that the sounds on offer can make.

That said, Isolation is not as scary as many have claimed. In conversations I’ve had about the game, people have said that they could only watch playthroughs on Twitch due to its fear factor. In truth, the game is tense; the fear is the same as being caught in most good stealth games, or that fraught feeling that a timed puzzle can induce as the time approaches zero. The Alien and the environment are too familiar to be genuinely terrifying but the sense of anxiety caused is unparalleled.

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Just because the game isn’t overly frightening, doesn’t mean it can’t be unsettling.

The narrative can be a little lacklustre and forced. A few fan-service moments and obvious set pieces ultimately hinder the tense pacing found when avoiding haywire androids and stalking Aliens. The only tale worth noting is the relationship between Amanda Ripley and the enemies she faces. That said, Amanda is a worthy successor of Ellen Ripley, and makes for a genuinely sympathetic character while retaining the strength and force her mother was revered for. It sounds like an awful box quote – or a Destiny’s Child parody – but Amanda is a survivor through and through.

The game has its minor flaws: endless lever pulling and weak mini games intended to depict Amanda’s skills as an engineer become tedious; manually saving becomes a repetitive and compulsive task; the frame rate often takes a nose dive, particularly in cut scenes; terrible lip syncing on the character models makes them laughable rather than sympathetic; questionable or clichéd motives drive the narrative.

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Prepare to see these screens a lot.

The biggest flaw I encountered was the now well-known game-breaking mission 16 bug; while it isn’t quite as game breaking as first thought – it forces you to load mission 14 and try again – replaying an hour and a half of the game actually detracts from the experience. Isolation does not call for an immediate replay, no matter how good the stealth scenarios are.

But the stealth scenarios are very thrilling: the unpredictable Alien will keep you on your toes and the simple Working Joe androids are genuinely unsettling and difficult enough to kill to make resource management an important task.

Isolation’s success will depend on the player’s patience and whether they can make it through the colossal tale that Creative Assembly have weaved.

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Come on now, the game is good but it isn’t good enough to warrant a full on mindgasm.

Isolation knows its strong points – namely, hiding from the Alien – and does its best to keep this at the forefront. It is a true exercise of what most stealth games recently fear; i.e., force the player to consider stealth as a primary tool for survival. Sam Fisher wouldn’t last two seconds in Amanda Ripley’s shoes, so remember the days of the old schoolyard playing hide-and-seek, put on a set of headphones and enjoy cowering in a vent. But be warned, even that isn’t safe from the Alien’s predatory nature.

Rare

Rare – Full of flavour and worth the blood.

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