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Alien: Isolation review: The best, most terrifying Alien experience in nearly 30 years

Hayden Dingman | Nov. 18, 2014
"This is about survival!" a thin, twitchy guy named Axel yelled in my face, and it was at that very moment I knew he was going to die.

"This is about survival!" a thin, twitchy guy named Axel yelled in my face, and it was at that very moment I knew he was going to die.

And he did. Like some sort of gruesome magic trick, an enormous spike burst out of Axel's chest. He looked down at it with probably a great deal more shock than I did. I know the rules. I know you can't say "This is about survival," in a horror game without an ironic death shortly thereafter.

Apparently Axel wasn't a fan of the genre.

Leave me alone

Alien: Isolation is in an intriguing position, coming as it does after the widely-panned Aliens: Colonial Marines. Much has been made of the fact that this is an Alien game and not an Aliens game. Sure, the two are part of the same franchise, but the film Aliens took the brooding survival horror framework of Ridley Scott's original Alien and replaced it with bombast. (Yes, I'm sure you can tell I prefer Alien.)

And Creative Assembly made the most of that name. "It's Alien, not Aliens," they repeated over and over. Isolation was meant to shy away from the excess of Colonial Marines, instead opting for a tense first-person survival horror experience, replete with a deadly and (above all) smart alien that hunted poor Amanda Ripley around the creaking corridors of the space station Sevastopol.

It's an excellent premise — reestablish the alien as a foreign and fearsome foe, cold and emotionless. You spend most of Isolation crouched, frantically crawling from hiding spot to hiding spot and hoping against hope you can make it to the next save point.

Then dying.

This is the best alien in any Alien game, no question. The way it slinks out of a vent is unnerving, and seeing its tail flick mere inches from your feet can stop your heart. The cat-and-mouse feel of slipping in and out of vents, hiding under tables and tip-toeing around corners — when Isolation is at its best, it's fantastic.

But when it's not, it's dumb. While the game creates a tremendous sense of tension when it's firing on all cylinders, much of Alien: Isolation comes down to brute-force slogging your way past an AI that's just random enough to be annoying.

You'll hate the alien when you're in the middle of rounding a corner and hear it drop out of a vent behind you with no warning, dying before you can even turn around. You'll wonder why the alien can't hear you noisily cutting open that door panel with a plasma torch but it comes sprinting when you knock over an empty gas canister. You'll grimace when the alien cheats — when you leave the alien behind, walk through a doorway, and find the alien already waiting in the next corridor. You'll be confused when the alien comes up, stares directly through you and then inexplicably walks away, leaving you waiting for a death that never comes. You'll even laugh, the rare few times the alien's animations break and you remember you're playing a video game.

 

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