Solo Gamer Reviews

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Alien: Isolation - Page 2

GAMEPLAY (cont'd)

The game does not come with a warantee on your pants

While horror is largely subjective, the design of this game lends itself more to a white-knuckle, nerve-racking kind of horror than to a jump-out-of-your-pants scare-fest. In many ways, it's an endurance test, and it's difficult to play for more than an hour or two in a stretch. It's also remarkably long for such minimalist survival horror, at roughly 20 hours on the low end (if you don't spend much time backtracking or getting lost). I don't see this as a problem, because if it's a good game, why would you want it to be short?

Where this game truly excells, though, is in its AI (which is fitting, since those are the game's initials). Humans and androids aren't stupid (except on Easy difficulty)--they will flank you, follow logical search patterns based on where you were last seen, and won't be fooled by your devices more than once. Even more impressive is the alien itself, which is programmed to be nearly autonomous. You can play the same stretch of a level the same way multiple times (and probably will, since death is frequent), but the alien will do different things each time. It doesn't follow a set path, but it has a very detailed behavior set that lets chaos build on initial conditions. You can eventually get a feel for what will work and what won't in avoiding the creature, but no matter how well you think you know it, it will still get you from time to time.

Spending too much time admiring the scenery is not advisable

This is the single best innovation of the game, and it moves the goal posts for the entire genre. Any other survival horror game can be beaten by brute force memorization of enemy patterns and scripted events, but that strategy won't be as fruitful in Alien: Isolation, where the alien's behavior is downright unpredictable. Instead, you have to develop your own heuristics in how to tackle any particular area, learning tactics by virtue of natural selection. For instance, you'll learn pretty quickly that it is counter-intuitively more effective to hide in a narrow hallway than in a large, open room, which is also true in the real world. This is a good example, then, to demonstrate to the anti-video game types that a game really can teach you applicable real-world strategies.

[Gameplay: 9 - An exercize in restricting players rather than empowering them, this is a refreshingly new take on survival horror that rewards stealth far more than gunplay.]


Not a screenshot from the movie

From a cinematic perspective, Alien: Isolation does an amazing job recreating the aesthetics of the original movie. Sevastopol is like a remix of all the sets and props from Alien. There's the anachronistic computers--a choice I love that embraces paleofuturism rather than modern futurism--the lotus-shaped stasis chambers, the flickering lights that unevenly come on when you enter a hallway, the stuttering sound effects of half-broken technology, and much of the eerie musical soundtrack.

That soundtrack is mostly ambient, letting the silence of the nearly abandoned station do its job in setting the atmosphere. You can hear whenever an enemy is moving around above or below you, and there are plenty of incidental background sound effects that keep you on edge. The music crecendos whenever a threat is nearby, which can be used as something of a crutch, but as you approach one of the game's climactic moments, the music is constantly pumping, no longer cluing you in to the presence of enemies. There is one surprising digression at the game's mid-point that almost literally puts you into one of the film's most memorable moments, and there are some creative sets late in the game that show you new and impressive things. (The station's reactor, for instance, is stunning.) Fans of Alien couldn't possibly ask for more from Isolation, especially if they grab the "Crew Expendable" DLC that recreates the Notromo and features the voices of the original cast.

Unfortunately, Isolation does have some unforgivable frame-rate issues. It's more notable on next-gen systems, but during cutscenes and other processor-heavy moments, the frame rate will drop to ridiculous lows. Indeed, the very first cutscene is borderline unwatchable on the PS4. Also, the graphics aren't terribly impressive. Textures get muddy up close, facial animations are stilted and poorly matched, and human models look as though they need an additional bit of layering before the uncanny valley becomes acceptable. The alien, on the other hand, looks fantastic, especially up close (though you're playing it wrong if you're getting close enough to notice).

[Presentation: 7 - Mediocre graphics and horrible frame-rate problems detract from what is otherwise a masterful recreation of the Alien aesthetic.]


He's a star, and he knows it

This definitely isn't a game for everyone, but for fans of the franchise and fans of innovative survival horror, this game will not disappoint. It is probably the best Alien game ever made (granted, that's not a terribly high bar), and it does succeed in capturing the mood and feel of the original film. Still, it is far from a perfect game, plagued by terrible framerate issues, an uneven difficulty curve, and some questionable design choices. At the end of the day, if you want to know what it feels like to constantly cower in fear to evade a perfect organism that is hell-bent on murdering your face, (1) there's something seriously wrong with you, and (2) odds are you will find what you're looking for in Alien: Isolation.



A refreshing take on survival horror that succeeds where nearly all other Alien games have failed.

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-e. magill 11/3/2014

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