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Alien: Isolation – Xbox 360

Alien: Isolation – Xbox 360

AlienIsolationCoverPlatform: Xbox 360

Developer: The Creative Assembly

Publisher: Sega

Release Date: October 7, 2014

Genre: Survival Horror, Stealth, First-person shooter

Nerd Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by: InfiniteKnife

 

 

 

If you read my Top 10 Scary Game Moments, you’ll get a glimpse into some of the things that make me love the horror genre in video games. To make a game truly scary, you have to do more than just hit the player with a bunch of jump scares. For me, environment and ambiance are a huge first step. They set the tone for the whole experience. Resource management is huge and is something that is very often missed in horror games these days. Think about it. It’s much less scary when you never come close to running out of ammo or health items. Feeling helpless and/or alone is also a huge fear factor for me. This can be achieved by an antagonist, like in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, or the overall atmosphere and feel, like in Silent Hill, to name a few.

Alien: Isolation does an incredible job of bringing these and other key elements together to make a horrifying, intense, and memorable experience.

When I mention the Alien movie series, many will jokingly exclaim Bill Paxton’s famous “Game over, man!” line from Aliens, but where the series got its epic start was in the first film Alien, released in 1979. The crew of the Nostromo explores a derelict ship on a strange planet and one of the crew members gets an alien implanted in him, which explodes from his chest, grows to 7ft tall in like an hour, and proceeds to mercilessly take out all but 1 of the crew. Sound familiar?

In Alien: Isolation, you play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the only surviving member of the Nostromo, Ellen. She is an engineer, working for Weyland-Yutani, the same company that basically almost got her mom (and definitely her friends) killed 15 years prior. She is told that a scavenger ship picked up the flight recorder from the Nostromo and is invited to help recover it to try to get closure as to Ellen’s disappearance.

The game mostly takes place on the recently decommissioned space station, called Sevastopol. Things start out innocently enough. You get a good sense of what’s been going on in your initial exploration, but as one would expect, crap hits the fan pretty early on. It’s discovered that the same type of alien from the first film has made its way onto the station and has been doing what Xenomorphs do best, murder people. Hard.

You'll be seeing this guy a lot. Try not to let him see you.

You’ll be seeing this guy a lot. Try not to let him see you.

This is the first game I’ve played in a very long time whose main antagonist can’t be killed. That’s right, folks. The alien is unkillable. To make matters worse, it is constantly hunting you down throughout the majority of the game. This is where the stealth element of the game comes into play. Since the alien can’t be killed, you need to move silently and hide whenever he comes around. This may sound easy enough in theory, but this creature is a skilled killing machine and is fast as hell! He catches you, you’re killed instantly and make no mistake, he’s going to catch you. Thinking about trying to outrun him? Think again. You’ll be greeted with a sharp tail through the back. Some of the deaths are actually pretty cool, even though they can scare the crap out of you.

It’s worth mentioning that I really liked the controls. Fans of first-person shooters will likely not have a hard time getting used to gameplay, but there were a few details that I thought were great for helping the horror/intensity element.

The HUD is pretty minimal. It only shows your current ammo count and doesn’t get in the way of the action. In lieu of an on screen map, the classic motion tracker from the films is here. It shows moving objects in a conical area in front of you, with other indicators showing movement to the sides and behind. When you have it out, the player’s focus fades for the background, but holding the L trigger, switches focus so you can see what’s in front of you. This felt realistic to me and was a cool addition. It also emits some light and sound, so you can’t overuse it or the alien could be drawn to you. There is also a full map available. It shows locations of save points and other notable areas so you don’t get lost.

Thanks, motion tracker. I got this one. (background focus)

Thanks, motion tracker. I got this one. (background focus)

By holding LB, you can lean to the left/right and peer over objects you’re hiding behind without worrying about accidentally going too far and ruining the whole thing. This is really handy for when you are trying to make a break for the next cover spot and you want to make sure you don’t walk right into enemy sights. There are also parts of the environment you can use to hide from the alien, like lockers and cabinets. They aren’t completely safe, however. If the alien comes by and stops in front of you, you’re prompted to lean back and hold your breath. Health slowly drains while holding, so if you haven’t been healing, it’s possible that you can run out of breath, resulting in the locker door being ripped off and you having a bad end to your day.

For the most part, weapons are for fending off non-alien enemies. A few examples include a revolver, shotgun, and flamethrower. I mentioned that being forced to practice ammo conservation is a big part of making a good horror game experience and it really comes into play here. You may find some ammo around, but it’s usually just 1 round at a time, so it’s smarter to avoid conflict whenever possible.

Not as effective as you might think.

Not as effective as you might think.

One thing that was both good and a little bad for me was that the flamethrower actually is effective against the alien. When I say effective, I mean it causes him to retreat, but it’s VERY temporary. You only have a couple seconds to hide or get away before he comes storming back but it’s usually plenty. The balance is that ammo is relatively scarce and it burns through really quick. Even so, having it made the encounters a little less scary knowing I’d be able to get away more easily.

Not so scary now! Ok, you're still terrifying.

Not so scary now! Ok, you’re still terrifying.

Reloading, particularly the revolver, can also be a bit intense because it’s done in real time, one bullet at a time, making it smart to do when you’re in cover. Depending on when you need your weapons, you may not always have the luxury of time, so it’s always important to keep everything reloaded as much as possible.

Being an engineer, Ripley can take materials she finds laying around and craft devices that help avoid confrontations and sneak through an area. A few examples are a noisemaker, Molotov, and a flashbang bomb. These, along with flares, can distract the alien long enough for you to make your (temporary) escape. In addition, they can also be used to lure the alien into areas where hostile humans are blocking the way. Our friend, the alien doesn’t discriminate and will mess up other people pretty much right away. There’s a risk here, though. If the alien comes and wipes out the other humans, he lingers around the area, making him a bit harder to avoid.

Molotovs: Always awesome!

Molotovs: Always awesome!

In my playthrough, I did a good job of resource conservation and didn’t make as much use of all my items as I could have. I did read that the alien artificial intelligence (AI) is smart enough to learn from your tendencies, so there may come a time later in the game where he sees a flare you’ve thrown and heads your way knowing it came from that direction. It’s horrifying to think about, so I’m a bit glad I didn’t encounter it myself.

In addition to the alien, there are other threats in Alien: Isolation. As I mentioned a bit earlier, there are other humans, also on edge about the alien. The game tells you that most of them just want to be avoided but every encounter I had with them resulted in being shot at, so I just tried to lure the alien to them and have him do the dirty work for me.

Scarier than the humans are the Working Joes. These are androids, like Ash from the first Alien film. These are stated to be simpler models used for manual labor and are programmed to not be able to harm humans. Of course, their programming is changed and some come after you, walking toward you in about the creepiest way possible. If they catch you, they try to strangle you or just pummel you to death. Working Joes can be defeated, but they are the toughest in the game to take out, especially if they are in groups. You can use conventional weapons, but because ammo is so scarce, you’re better off saving up your stun rod charges and building EMP bombs to stun them and then taking them down with your melee weapon. There is also a powerful gun you get later on that can take them down with a well executed head shot.

There is a bit of a puzzle solving element to Alien: Isolation that is not made any easier by having to avoid the alien. It’s not a major part of the game but in certain spots, can really add to the intensity. One example is the security tuner that can be used to hack some electronic locks on doors. It lights up and beeps, leaving only a short time to match the symbols in order before you have to try again. If you’re moving quickly down a hallway with a pissed off alien in pursuit, even doing something simple like this can be really stressful.

Saving is another interesting part of this game. There are save stations all over the maps and no limits to how much you can save, but there is an element here that I found to be unique. The game does not immediately pause when you try to save. You insert a card and have to wait a solid 4-5 seconds before the machine is ready. You’re not going to want to save if you’re actively being pursued because you can (and will) be killed before you can get the chance. I really liked this element of the game and felt it added to the experience. The spacing of the save stations was also solid. Rarely did I find myself playing for too long before finding one.

"Come on, come on!!" You'll be saying this a lot.

“Come on, come on!!” You’ll be saying this a lot.

Visually, Alien: Isolation is beautiful. The lighting and textures are great and the environments fit perfectly into the Alien universe. It feels like you’re playing through one of the movies. All the 80s computer technology is there in full force as you access consoles to read notes, hear audio logs, and open doors. You can also find passcodes to doors and storage areas, so it’s good to look carefully.

Such technology. Very DOS.

Such technology. Very DOS.

I have surround sound speakers in my living room. In my opinion, you’re doing yourself a big disservice if you don’t play with this kind of audio setup. To be able to hear what’s happening all around you is invaluable when you want to know whether the alien is in a vent in front of or behind you.

I loved the campaign, but I’m generally a big fan of campaign modes. There is a survivor mode where you get to play a few different maps and complete objectives while avoiding the alien within a time limit. The faster objectives are completed, the more points you get. Top scores are posted onto a leaderboard. It’s similar to mercenaries mode in Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. Personally, I’m not a big fan of these modes, but if that’s your thing, it’s done pretty well.

There is a ton to love about this game and not much negative to say. Early on, it sometimes felt like I spent a whole lot of time hiding because the alien wouldn’t go away, but that would have also been partially attributed to still learning the game and being absolutely terrified. The scares were incredible. It didn’t matter what part of the game I was in, when the alien caught me and killed me, I still shrieked like a girl and it was awesome.

Overall, Alien: Isolation is one of the best horror games I’ve played in the last several years. I would strongly recommend it to any fan of the film series, sci-fi, and/or survival horror. Pick this one up if you have the means and about 15-20 hours to kill. You won’t regret it.

Enjoy!

Written by InfiniteKnife

InfiniteKnife

My personal favorite games are those in the Survival Horror and Sports (baseball) genres, but I can find at least a game or 2 in just about any category that I love to play.

I grew up on Nintendo consoles (NES and SNES) and have been an Xbox guy since the first one was released in the early 2000s. It’s hard to stay away from the classics as the 16-bit era is probably still my favorite overall.

 
 

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