Shadow of Phoenix

Respect for Games

Shade’s Review of Alien Isolation

Posted on this Site: Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Originally Published on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at https://shadevideogames.blogspot.com/2015/02/shades-review-of-alien-isolation.html

I love survival horror.
I love the first two Alien movies.
Combine those two together, and we get Alien Isolation.
This game is a wish come true for me.
When I first saw Alien a few years back, I thought about how great it would be to have an Alien survival horror game.
Of course, the Alien Resurrection game on PlayStation is a survival horror, first person shooter, but I was thinking about more of a survival horror game with similarities to the first Alien film.
Then in 2014, Alien Isolation was officially announced as being in development by The Creative Assembly with Sega publishing it, and I could not be more excited.
Alien Isolation was released on October 7, 2014 for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.
 
The story is an interquel of Alien and Aliens taking place 15 years after Alien, and 42 years before Aliens.
The protagonist is Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley.
Yes, Ellen Ripley has a daughter.
In the special edition of Aliens, one of the re-inserted deleted scenes shows Carter Burke giving Ellen Ripley information on her daughter.
It reveals that Amanda had died two years prior in her 60’s.
In Alien Isolation, Amanda is in her 20’s, and she is searching for information about her mother’s disappearance.
The Seegson Corporation’s Sevastopol Station has received the flight recorder of the Nostromo (the ship of the first Alien film on which Ellen Ripley was one of the crew members), and it is wanted by the Weyland-Yutani Company.
Amanda is offered to be apart of the team sent by the Company to retrieve it.
Once they reach Sevastopol, however, it’s obvious that something has gone horribly wrong.
 
The entire game is in the first person view of Amanda Ripley.
Like most current video games, the left stick moves Amanda, and the right stick moves the camera.
Pressing the left stick has her run while pressing the right stick makes her crouch.
There is a lot of crouching in this game because in many situations with enemies, it’s best to not let them see you.
Running is not advised when enemies are anywhere nearby.
The more noise you make, the more likely you’ll get caught.
This is especially true on harder difficulty levels.
 
The main enemy in this game is, not surprisingly, the alien.
You’ll be doing everything you can to avoid being caught by it.
You can’t kill it, and you’ll automatically die when it catches you.
Some people who play this game say that they don’t find the alien scary after seeing the Alien films.
I understand that some people are easily desensitized.
I’m the same way with certain aspects of horror particularly when it comes to jump scares and showing blood and gore.
For me, though, I still find the alien frightening somehow.
I don’t think it’s just one thing about it that makes me uncomfortable.
It’s the combination of how it’s created with the facehugger and host, kills the host when its born, has acid blood, has sexual overtones in its design, and other aspects.
 
Facehuggers also make an appearance.
As I said in my review of Alien Resurrection on PlayStation, I hate facehuggers.
They always disturb me.
Similar to that game, facehuggers will jump onto the screen if you don’t kill them in time.
This time you automatically die if a facehugger jumps on the screen because Ripley will die anyway from the chestburster.
 
There are also android and human enemies.
The androids are known as Working Joes.
They are Seegson’s humanoid synthetics, but they’re not sophisticated like the Weyland-Yutani androids.
They have hairless, sleek rubber skin, no gestures or facial features, glowing eyes, and deep, distorted voices.
These guys are creepy as hell.
I’m still debating which is worse: the alien or Working Joes.
 
I’ve always wondered if robots could ever make good horror.
Ever since the original Terminator film, I’ve been thinking about this.
The T-800 endoskeleton chasing after Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese towards the end scared me a little bit.
The Working Joes in Alien Isolation prove that robots can be terrifying if done right.
 
The enemies that I don’t find terrifying are the hostile humans.
They’re more of a nuisance than anything.
If they see you, they’ll shoot you, and it pisses me off.
They’re not scary.
They’re annoying.
Unlike the alien, facehuggers, and Working Joes, there is nothing disturbing about the humans.
They’re just willing to harm you for no good reason, which drives me nuts.
 
The game claims that they’re just trying to survive.
How are they just trying to survive when I’m not doing anything to harm them?
They know I’m human just like them also trying to survive, but they think it’s necessary to shoot me.
When people are in a survival situation, it’s very crucial to work together, and not kill each other.
If I attack them first and they started shooting then that’s understandable.
Or, they could possibly shoot first out of panic.
It also makes less sense when they start shooting me, half of the time the alien comes after them.
I would think that they would take into account that the more noise they make the more likely they’ll attract the alien’s attention, and be even more hesitant about shooting me.
At least, they should not shoot me to prevent the alien from attacking them.
When the alien does go after them, I cheer on the alien because the humans frustrate me so much.
 
It makes me wonder if the hostile humans are just there to be another type of enemy.
I understand that this game is limited on the number of enemies it has, but this type of cat and mouse horror game does not need a lot of enemy types.
The human enemies in this game are not good at being scary.
 
What to do when enemies are around depends on the enemy, the situation, and how much resources you have.
This game really puts survival in survival horror.
The tactics that are used against enemies are hiding, distractions, and combat.
I primarily focused on hiding and distractions, and only used combat when I really needed to.
You’ll definitely be relying a lot on the motion tracker to know if any enemies are nearby.
 
When the alien is close by, I rely mostly on hiding.
The best places to hide are lockers and small cabinets.
As a long as you don’t make any noise, the alien should not find you.
Nonetheless, there are times when it will try to sniff you out while you’re hidden.
You might be able to get away with hiding under an open space such as a desk, but there is a good chance that the alien will see you because you’re pretty much in plain sight.
Sometimes I used distractions if I was close to a specific area that I needed to be.
Devices such as noisemakers, smoke bombs, medkits, and several others must be crafted using resources you find throughout the game.
The flamethrower is good for scaring the alien away.
At some points in the game, the flamethrower is your only defense against it.
You can’t kill it so you have to do your best to stay away from it, or keep it away from you.
On the other hand, facehuggers must be killed, and the flamethrower is the best way that I know of to do the job.
 
For Working Joes, they can be killed but it’s not easy.
It’s usually best to avoid being detected by them just like the alien notably when you’re low on resources.
Furthermore, there are times when you really have no choice but to kill them.
The best ways to kill them that I’ve found are with the bolt gun and shotgun.
A stun baton can also be used to immobilize them, and then hit them repeatedly with the maintenance jack before they recover.
Pipe bombs work really well when they’re in groups.
Fire can kill them, although it won’t kill them immediately.
It will take at least a couple molotovs or quite a bit of flamethrower fuel to kill them.
 
Human enemies are best avoided whether it’s hiding or using distractions.
This is mainly due to them having firearms majority of the time.
On occasion, I used the maintenance jack to hurt a human enemy, or let the alien kill them.
I quickly got tired of dealing with them.
 
The horror in this game is very well done.
It’s nerve-wrecking trying to survive against the alien and Working Joes.
I was always worried about being caught.
When the alien is close, it’s constantly on your ass, and I wasn’t confidant that I was safe when hiding from it.
Every time I took the chance of walking towards the goal destination with the alien or a Working Joe nearby, I was very paranoid and nervous that it would catch me at any moment.
Sometimes Working Joes are not hostile towards you, which makes them even less comforting to be around because you’re not always sure if they’ll attack.
They can be hospitable one minute and deadly the next.
There really isn’t any jump scares or blood and gore.
I did jump a few times while I was playing, but it was not due to a scare tactic.
It was usually because the alien, facehugger, or Working Joe came out of nowhere.
These enemies frighten me, and I did not expect them to be so close to me.
 
The music and sound effects can also frighten me.
Music and sound effects are two aspects of making a good horror game, and Alien Isolation gets them both right.
Music creates the mood while sound effects can induce fear.
There are times when the music is calming, and it relaxes me.
Other times the music is more aggressive, which makes me uneasy.
The sounds make me paranoid.
One example is when the alien travels in the air ducts a lot similar to the original film.
It can be heard moving around in the ducts, and it makes me nervous.
Once I hear it hissing, I know it’s out of the ducts, and it’s close by.
Then I think I’m screwed because it might hear me trying to get away.
 
You will die a lot.
No matter what difficulty level you play.
I’ve only played the entire game once, and I played it on the easiest difficulty.
If difficulty levels are provided as an option for a game, I like to play on the easier difficulty the first time playing because I like to enjoy the game, and not get frustrated due to dying a lot.
I still died a lot on novice, and, from what I’ve read, dying is more frequent on hard and nightmare modes.
There are no cheap tricks to kill you in Alien Isolation.
If you die, it’s because you messed up somehow.
You will make many mistakes that will get you killed, and you have to learn from those mistakes to progress.
 
A typical characteristic of survival horror is the limited inventory.
The inventory in this game is limited.
There is no inventory management like the old school Resident Evils, but you are limited on how much you can carry of each item.
It’s very easy to have all your items maxed when there is plenty of resources lying around.
Then later, you’re low on items in your inventory, but resources are now hard to find.
That is the name of the game.
You have to choose wisely on when it’s best to use items.
 
As I said earlier, you will be using the motion tracker a lot to detect any enemies nearby.
Be careful while using it because enemies can hear the noise of the tracker if they’re close enough.
One time, I was hiding from the alien in a locker.
I didn’t know that it was only a few feet away, and it came right for me when I looked at the tracker.
Sometimes you don’t know what enemy is close because it just shows that something is moving in your vicinity.
Not knowing what enemy it is adds to the horror.
 
Something else that adds to the horror is the manual saving system.
You have to do most of the saving by interacting with a save station, which looks like an emergency phone.
I’ve said in some of my previous reviews that manual saving is a characteristic of making a horror game scary because it produces more worry about dying.
Like the motion tracker, enemies can hear you using the save system if they’re close enough.
The game will warn you if hostiles are nearby before you save.
It makes me nervous to save at times.
 
Many people, including reviewers, have complained about the manual save system saying that it makes the game too hard.
I really don’t understand that.
There are plenty of chances to save through most of the game.
They made me think that there are very few save stations, and I was surprised that there were a lot more than I thought there would be.
I saved my game countless times.
 
The people complaining about manually saving must not have played old horror games, or may not remember playing them very well.
The majority of video games nowadays have autosaves and checkpoints every five minutes, which has spoiled gamers.
Some players may be missing save stations because they’re not paying attention to their surroundings.
Definitely pay attention to the surroundings in this game for save stations, resources, hiding spots, enemies in the vicinity, and objects to interact with.
 
I’ve read some reviews claim that there are no autosaves in Alien Isolation.
That is not true.
There are some autosaves mostly at the beginning of each mission.
It just doesn’t have constant autosaving like most games.
In my Silent Hill: Downpour review, I said that constant autosaving kills the horror.
I don’t mind the autosaving in this game since it doesn’t occur often.
I’m happy that manual saving is a part of Alien Isolation.
It creates more tension, and it makes the game feel more like the traditional horror games that I love.
 
Speaking of interacting with objects, interactive objects are highlighted.
Mission objectives are shown on screen at certain times, and they are listed on the map screen.
The map pinpoints the location that you need to be with a green or white circle.
There are also on-screen button prompts.
In my reviews of Silent Hill: Homecoming, Shattered Memories, and Downpour, I criticized highlighting objects, on-screen objectives, and button prompts.
I was critical of them due to the early Silent Hill games relying on environment exploration, and clues such as memos to figure out what to do.
With Alien Isolation, there isn’t always much time to explore that much because you’re focused on not being caught by enemies.
You’re also on a huge space station, and it can be difficult to figure out where to go without a waypoint.
Highlighted objects, button prompts, etc. don’t bother me much here.
 
One flaw is that the green or white waypoint on the map can be confusing.
No matter what floor you’re on or what floor you switch the map to, the waypoint will stay in the exact same spot.
This confused me a couple times when I would go the waypoint as shown on the map, but the goal destination was actually on another floor.
 
A couple of other flaws are glitches and near escape attempts.
It seems that glitches have become the norm in video games.
Not surprisingly, Alien Isolation has its share of them.
Some of the ones I experienced include Ripley falling through the floor while crouched, and one where a character freezes in place when he’s suppose to be killed.
There was also a part when I opened a door to a long hallway (I don’t remember which mission it was), and the hallway wasn’t there.
It was just outer space.
After a few seconds, the hallway appeared as it should.
I’ve read about some complaints of the game having glitches that prevent you from progressing.
Thankfully, I did not experience any myself.
 
I’ve also read complaints of the game’s length, and the several near escape attempts.
It is a long game.
There are 19 missions, and it’s slower paced than most games.
It took me almost two weeks to play it from beginning to end.
I don’t mind the game’s length, and I also didn’t mind the near escape attempts too much until the end.
What I mean by near escape attempts is that Amanda is ready to get off the space station, but something sets her back that prevents her from escaping.
This happens a few times.
I can understand it as a way to make players think that they’re finally getting away and escaping the horror.
Then there is a setback, which is a good way to lower the hopes of surviving.
The last setback, on the contrary, kind of annoyed me.
I knew the game was about to end, and there was yet another setback.
At this point of the game, the very end, being prevented from escaping got a little ridiculous.
 
Some think that the ending is a cliffhanger for a sequel.
I don’t really see it as a cliffhanger.
We know from the special edition of Aliens that Amanda survives to her 60’s so she has to survive in Alien Isolation.
I’m debating about whether or not there needs to be a sequel.
I wouldn’t mind to see Amanda’s story continue, and for a sequel to improve on some of the flaws of this game.
At the same time, I got what I wanted from Alien Isolation.
It terrified me, it used more traditional aspects of survival horror than most recent games in the genre do, and Amanda finds some information on what happened to her mother.
Of course, I know where Ellen Ripley is during this time, but I was interested in what Amanda is led to believed.
 
I’m also concerned that Sega would want the sequel to be more pleasing to gaming audiences instead of being a good horror game.
For example, the follow up could have more combat and faster pace with the intent of widening audiences.
That happens a lot with survival horror franchises, and it usually alienates many fans causing sales to decrease instead of increasing like the publisher had hoped.
They could also take away the manual save system, and just have autosaves since so many people complain about it.
I don’t like that idea because manual saves are good for horror as I’ve said many times.
Maybe easy difficulty levels could have autosaves while harder levels have manual saves.
Current reports of an Alien Isolation sequel is that The Creative Assembly is discussing it.
If Sega decides not to produce a sequel, it won’t bother me too much.
 
The replayability in Alien Isolation is pretty good due to the difficulty levels and extra content.
There are five difficulty levels: novice, easy, medium, hard, and nightmare.
Novice and nightmare were actually added in a recent software update for the game.
The only extra content that comes with the game is survivor mode.
It is a challenge mode with a time limit where you must escape the alien with the best time possible, and you’ll receive a score at the end.
There are optional objectives as well to increase your score.
The problem with survivor mode is that it only comes with one map.
There have been a few more maps released in a couple add-on packages, but you have to buy them separately.
That is one of the reasons why I don’t like DLC.
 
Something else I don’t like about DLCs is day one DLC like Crew Expendable and Last Survivor.
Both of which were pre-order incentives for Alien Isolation.
I didn’t pre-order it, but I was able to get the Nostromo Edition with the Crew Expendable voucher code.
I haven’t made time to play it, but it’s really neat that it takes place during the original film with most of the original actors providing their voices for their characters.
The issue is that it’s very short.
From what I’ve seen of gameplay footage, it can be played in 20-30 minutes.
The same goes for the Last Survivor add-on.
I think they could have been extra content already a part of the game when it was released instead of DLC.
 
I think Alien Isolation is a great game even with its few flaws.
It has traditional aspects of survival horror including very limited resources, little combat, slow pace, and manual saves.
It relies very much on music, sound effects, and being hunted by very strong, disturbing enemies to terrify players.
It doesn’t have hordes of 20-50 enemies attacking you, no upgrade system, no partner that’s always following you, and it’s not a shooting gallery.
It is just true horror.
It is one of the few modern horror games that has many similarities with the video games of the golden age of survival horror (1996-2004).
 
The Evil Within is another video game in the survival horror genre released around the same time as Alien Isolation.
I’ve seen several articles on video game news sites saying that The Evil Within is a return to the roots of survival horror.
I just don’t see it.
I like The Evil Within because it’s a very fun game.
It just isn’t the old school survival horror that I know and love from the early Resident Evils (pre-RE4), Silent Hill 1-4, Fatal Frame, Dino Crisis, and on and on.
The Evil Within is the same survival action with horror elements that we’ve been getting since Resident Evil 4.
Alien Isolation is closer to the roots of survival horror than The Evil Within.
 
The two most important recommendations I have for anyone playing Alien Isolation is to be patient and play any of the easier difficulty modes first.
This is a long, slow paced game.
It’s also not an easy game even on easier difficulty modes.
Take your time to figure out how to survive and complete objectives.
You may have to look up written guides or gameplay footage on occasion because you might get stuck.
If you’re tired of playing or the game is frustrating you, quit playing for while whether it’s for a few hours or a few days.
 
The game is really difficult on hard and nightmare modes, which is why I suggest playing novice, easy, or medium first.
I know some people like the go straight for the harder difficulties for the challenge, but I would highly suggest to make an exception for this game.
I have yet to play it on hard or nightmare mode, but I’ve read many comments that both of them can enrage you.
The difficulty can also be changed while you’re playing.
If the game is too easy or too hard on the difficulty you’re playing, don’t be ashamed to change it.
 
I would recommend this game to anyone who likes old survival horror games, and the Alien movies particularly the original film.
Whether you should buy or rent depends on your preferences in games.
The good news is that the price has dropped some, and it will drop more as time goes by.
If you want to try it, but there are things about it that you’re not sure if you’ll like then I would definitely suggest to rent it.
I got it at full price soon after it was released, and it was well worth it to me.
I would say that Alien Isolation is one of the few great survival horror games that has come out in recent years.