My stuff and your stuff: I write books, produce music, rant a bit, and in the meantime review things other people have done. With words.
David Kimberley hides in a locker...
Ever since first appearing back in 1979, the Alien of note has had a love-hate relationship with the movie-going and gaming community. Loved for the original terrorfest and its macho sequel, hated for the third offering of the franchise, the subsequent Resurrection and pretty much every game that ever held the Alien moniker.
Following the tuts of disappointment when Aliens: Colonial Marines arrived, eyebrows were naturally raised when Sega released Alien Isolation, a first-person survival horror game that claimed to be as terrifying as the original movie. Further murmurs arose when the developers turned out to be The Creative Assembly, known for their Total War strategy titles. Gamers and franchise fans held a collective breath.
From the moment the title screen appears, it is clear that Isolation means to pluck at the player’s delicate nerves. When the music kicks in softly, it is with the same eerie undertone used by the original movie and you are compelled to listen through the entire opening score before starting the game.
As the opening scenes unfold, it becomes obvious that the development team have really done their homework. There are nods to the movie everywhere and, while there are new locales and characters, it draws on everything that made Alien so good.
Set on the rundown station, Sevastopol, you play Amanda Ripley who is investigating the disappearance of her mother by finding the flight recorder of the doomed Nostromo. Instead, she finds a station in a state of decommission being run by a skeleton crew and a number of Working Joes (friendly by name, frightening by nature). Oh, and to top it all off, there is something on board killing people.
Some may think the game would lead to standard shoot-em-up fare at this point but they would be hugely mistaken as it decides instead to send you off into the dark corridors of Sevastopol with nothing but your wits. It is only later that you come across a flashlight, motion tracker and weapons but, to be fair, they will do as much good as they did for the crew of the Nostromo because the way to survive in Isolation is to stop, look and listen.
Imagine the scene towards the end of Alien when Ripley is left alone to make her way to the shuttle, peering round each corner and hoping not to run into the creature stalking her. Every level where the alien appears in Isolation is like that final scene. Giving you the ability to hide under desks or in lockers while it searches for you just elevates the tension, especially as you listen to the thudding footsteps getting louder until it leers into view.
Most games would crank up the music at this point for added atmosphere but Isolation keeps it quiet. When you know the alien is nearby and you decide to move from the relative safety of your hiding spot, you will be glad there is no orchestral crescendo to drown out the sound of the approaching beast.
In fact, the music only tends to kick in during certain scripted moments or cut scenes. Mixed with the superb voice acting, it adds a cinematic feel to the game before plunging you back into the nightmare.
When you find crew logs from Sevastopol, their fear-edged voices echo into the silent corridors and make you wish you could turn the volume down. However, it is when you come across logs from the Nostromo that the nostalgia really kicks in because the original cast have returned to lend their voices to what is already a fantastic homage to the movie. One of the new characters you meet is even voiced by William Hope, who played Lieutenant Gorman in Aliens.
Isolation looks the part too. The lighting in the game is used to near perfection, offering the player many shadowy corners to peer nervously at. When you are lucky enough to grab hold of the flamethrower, it creates an eerie flickering light around you, making you feel like Dallas when he went hunting for the alien in the ducts. The developers have done a great job bringing Sevastopol to life (so to speak) and you may even find yourself staring out a window at the planet below once or twice.
However, despite the inspired graphics and sound throughout, it is the alien itself that steals the show. Nothing can truly prepare you for the moment it first appears and your initial attempt at avoiding it. Instead of following a predetermined path like the Working Joes, the alien will actively hunt you down, investigating any noises, checking open doors and, most disturbing of all, lying in wait. I still remember the pathetic whimper I emitted as I crawled from under a hospital bed thinking it had gone only for it to pounce from a dark corner of the room. You can’t kill it – you can only run and hide. You are the prey, plain and simple.
A special mention though does have to go to the other enemies you may face. The Working Joes are terrifying to encounter, mainly because of their monotone voices telling you to remain calm as they beat the hell out of you. The humans in the game can be dangerous but it is oddly satisfying when they make so much noise the alien attacks them instead, giving you time to flee.
Alien Isolation is one of those games that can frustrate you at times but stick with it and the rewards are fantastic. When the alien decides to wrench open the locker you are hiding in yet again, don’t despair. Just try a different tactic.
If you love to be scared or if you are a fan of the movies, this game is for you. It uses sight and sound to great effect, creating a fear-inducing atmosphere that leaves you rattled but wanting more. Playing with headphones is recommended too, making the experience even better.
Being terrified has never been so much fun.