After Spending 20+ hours with Alien Isolation, I can say that it’s one of the best modern horror games in a long while, in its Gameplay to its sound design: almost everything here is a great example of what makes a horror game.
Let’s start with the story, shall we? Our main Heroine is Amanda Ripley Daughter of Ellen Ripley (whose name you might recognize from the films Alien and Aliens this game is based off) who gets informed of a found flight recorder left by her mother’s ship the Nostromo. Ripley, her android co-worker named Samuel and an executive administrator called Taylor, head out to the place the flight recorder is being held at, Sevastopol station. Unfortunately, things don’t go as expected of course and everything for the lack of the word goes to shit.
This type of plot is nothing new, and in fact, it’s actually quite predictable, especially if you’re a fan of the Alien franchise, you can piece together what the end twist was going to be. Given the setting, it is a bit disappointing that the plot is your standard run of the mill horror story set up, however in the long run of things this is by no means a big issue.
Another issue I have with the story is that the characters that you meet, with the exception of a few, are rather bland, even the main character Ripley isn’t very interesting, which makes it a bit hard to feel bad when something goes wrong, or if someone dies. While the story may have been towards the lackluster side of things, that’s not the case for the sound design and presentation: the game really excels at these and I’ll break it down why.
In horror, sound design can mean everything; if things aren’t atmospheric in its music or sound effects, then it can really fizzle any sort of tense feeling you might get. Luckily, Alien Isolation is phenomenal when it comes to this. Every creak under you foot, every noise coming above and below you, they all just feel real. It also adds to the setting in an abandoned space station making everything seem to have a creeping echo effect adding to the tension. While it might seem basic, these effects really shine during enemy encounters is you have to hide and sneak away from them knowing full well that they could hear you if you either move too much or run. It all makes for an intense and thrilling experience.
The meat and potatoes of Alien Isolation come in the form of a cycle of going to this area, picking up a weapon or item, hiding from the enemy or enemies, neaking away and rinse and repeat. It sounds mundane when I put it like that, but in actuality, that’s what makes the game a lot of fun the play. Even though it can be boiled down to that, the gameplay is a lot deeper than your average game of what’s basically hide and seek.
As you progress through Sevastopol you will pick up scraps and other seemingly useless material, but once you find blueprints you can create all sorts of devices you can either use to distract your foes or heal yourself in a pinch. For those looking for a challenge, as you up the difficulty, materials become very sparse to find and given that a lot of times you can find materials in areas that enemies patrol, it becomes a gamble whether or not it’s worth risking being seen, given how most of the things you craft is to get away from them in the first place.
The main threat over the course of the game comes in the form of the Xenomorph: a tall, lean black creature that is as terrifying as it is deadly. You will need to be extremely careful when dealing with him, because unlike the androids when he sees you, you’re as good as dead. There is little you can do to get away from him. Luckily, to stand a chance of avoiding him, you get a device called a motion tracker which does exactly as it says on the tin, it tracks the motion of things around you, but at a catch, it beeps quite loudly when it detects movement, so it’s very dangerous to bring it out when you know for sure that he’s near.
The Xenomorph has a trick up his sleeves, he can crawl into vents (which you better hope you’re not in them as well) and drop out of them close to you if he hears your footsteps for even a second. Your best hope to get out of these situations (or lessen them) is to crawl, which muffles your movement at the price of speed, obviously. At first, this is quite exciting since you’re moving slowly every second could be your last, but after awhile it does start to drag on when you’re trying to just get from point A to point B, instead of being scary it just ends up getting dull. If the Xenomorph is near and there is no way to get away, do not fear, there is an option. You can hide via lockers just like other horror titles such as Outlast, but unlike its neighbors in the genre, it’s a bit more involved since if he senses you, you’ll need to hold your breath so he doesn’t hear you. It’s a neat feature, but it’s never really clearly explained how long you need to do it, even if I thought I was safe and he left, I went to breathe again and he came back to kill me. Essentially, it’s a confusing feature that should have been more properly explained.
Overall, Alien Isolation is a great horror game with really fun and intense gameplay. With its amazing attention to detail and its use of sounds within the environment, it puts you at the edge of your seat throughout your experience. The game is about 8 or 9 hours long, Giving you plenty of time to be getting a lot of scares for your money. The downsides are that the story is dull and uninteresting, and while it’s a lot of fun it can get repetitive and slow paced, however, if running with your tail between your legs is for you, I high recommend you step aboard the Sevastopol and meet the terror that awaits you.
My overall feelings of the game are as follows (out of 10): Sound 10/Visuals 8/Story 5/Gameplay 7.