Make no mistake, this is one scary game.
My last post from May 2018 – Alien Isolation: Progress Update, saw me about one third through the game and more than likely cowering in a crew locker somewhere aboard the space freighter, Sevastopol, praying that the alien wouldn’t sniff me out. Fast forward twelve months, I jump back in, determined to finally overcome those irrational fears, changing the game difficulty to novice, pussy that I am. This didn’t make the game noticeably easier, but I did get the impression that the alien appeared less often, probably busying himself by feasting on my fellow crew members instead.
What sets this game apart from so many others is the meticulous attention to detail. It’s no accident that Alien Isolation picked up a BAFTA award for sound production because that’s where the secret of its immersion lies. And, just as the alien learns from the player’s actions, we can learn from his sounds when he is lurking, or lurches, clattering up a ventilation shaft. Much of the game is played in murky, shadowy semi-darkness and when the alien is nearby, you can hear his heavy footsteps, but it’s usually difficult to tell whether he’s above, below or behind you. It’s this aspect of the game that prickles the hairs on the back of your neck and gets your heart beating faster, as beads of sweat literally trickle down your back. But he’s also an alien in a hurry. A hurry to skewer you for lunch, knocking over filing cabinets and storage boxes as he seeks you out– telltale signs that he’s in the next room, or maybe even behind you.
Today, most games have eschewed the save system and now use checkpoints, which is a lazy cop-out that benefits nobody. Some other games, this one included, use both checkpoints and a manual save system, thus saving us from the agony of having to replay hours worth of progress in the event of sudden death by alien fangs. The developers cleverly blended a save system into the game itself by strategically positioning save points throughout the game, subtly disguised as emergency stations which our protagonist Amanda Ripley could access with her keycard. Some players have complained that this aspect is an immersion breaker, which I totally disagree with since the save stations become mini objectives in themselves. Often, whilst trying to complete a task with the alien sniffing around nearby, I would feverishly get it done and sneak off to a save station just to make sure my progress would not be lost if I was attacked. Never once did I feel that the immersion had been compromised, added to which, you can’t return to a save station for a repeat save for about ten minutes, which seems fair.
Ridley Scott Should Be Proud Of This Achievement
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and whilst the game isn’t exactly imitation, having been fully sanctioned by 20th Century Fox, I’m sure Mr. Scott will have been flattered by his creation being so lovingly translated into such a polished video game by The Creative Assembly:
To help the designers authentically recreate the atmosphere of the film, Fox provided them with three terabytes of original production material, including costume photography, concept art, set design, behind the scenes photos, videos, and the film’s original sound effect recordings
But I digress. As I crept around the interior of the spacecraft I was struck by the lovingly created attention to detail, the familiar Alien soundtrack, the whole VHS-era look and the time-consuming boot-up times of the numerous PC terminals scattered around the ship. The tension ramps up when you need to access a door or terminal using an access tuner and as you feverishly tap away at the gadget, you hear the alien rummaging around in the next room looking for you. These are not scripted events or cutscenes, so real-time doesn’t stop and when he gets you, it’s simply because you weren’t quick enough in deciphering the access tuner.
There are many such devices used for opening doors or gaining access to computer terminals and they all add to the tension because of their time-consuming use. An action which in reality takes about ten seconds to complete, feels like an eternity when danger is near.
Many a time I’ve shouted at the screen, “Come on will you!” or “Hurry up, woman!” when I knew that danger was lurking nearby. It’s also true that if you have your PC microphone switched on, the alien will hear you talk in real life, so be warned.
I Finally Finished The Game
Getting over my scaredy-pants complex was no easy feat, but I finally managed it by regarding the alien as more of an irritation and a nuisance factor that simply needed to be avoided in order to make any progress. After 37 hours of playtime (and three years), I finally reached the end, knowing that I’d played probably the best video game in my entire collection. In fact, I then went and bought the full Season Pass which includes seven extra missions, two of which are set on the Nostromo ship from the Alien film, so I’ll definitely play those when the mood is right. I’m also planning on modding the game for some extra eye-popping graphics, just for the hell of it.
Check out this clip of Alien Isolation in 4k and you’ll see what I mean.