This first impressions review is based on 8 hours of gameplay in the main story. The review will be updated with our impressions of Survival mode and videos of gameplay over the week. 

Check out our previous articles on the game here and here.

Pre-order the game from Zavvi today and receive the Nostromo Edition which comes with added DLC. 

Fear is often divided into two categories: rational and irrational. Rational fears are those based in reality: they are a natural response to things that could harm us. Irrational fears, on the other hand, are those that are based in an exaggeration of reality or even in fantasy. The true and resonant strength of Alien: Isolation is that unlike other games in the genre, which rely heavily on shock and horror and gore, it manages to make you lose the ability to distinguish between which of your fears are rational or irrational.

Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of the first Alien film, with you taking control of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, the major protagonist of the franchise. The opening cut scene informs you that the flight recorder from here lost ship, the Nostromo, has been found and is currently held at the large space station Sevastopol. As such you are sent to retrieve it, but once you arrive at Sevastopol, it quickly becomes clear that all is not ok. The station has the Alien aboard it, which has made the residents and androids aboard descend into an ultra-Darwinian, almost post-apocalyptic, state of being with survival of the self the only goal. This then, becomes your only true goal too.

Alien: Isolation

Skulking around the station is a joy – though perhaps in the context of the ever-looming tension and fear that pervades most of the levels joy is the wrong word. Much has been made of Creative Assembly’s wonderful attention to detail in reproducing the old-fashioned dark futurism of the original film, and this focus and atmosphere is what sets the scene for terror: not knowing what will happen.

Retro, monotone computers whirr as you turn them on, power generators and door locks have considerable weight as they clunk into place, live wires fizzle ominously. Walking through steam will cause Amanda to cough, and if you want to hide in a storage closet you have to hold your breath as the ever-learning alien stalks past, waiting for you to give of the smallest hint of your presence.

Instead of scaring you with shocks and unexpected horrors, the atmosphere and true tension in Alien: Isolation comes from the very fact that that you know exactly what is coming after you, but have no idea where it is but for your noisy motion tracker. The design and integration of this tracker is one of the masterpieces of the game – on the one hand, knowing where the alien is and what direction you need to be going in at any moment is essential to your survival. But the very act of knowing where the alien is puts you into danger as the damn thing bloops and fizzes and spills out its own ominous green light. This dialectic between knowledge and danger creates its own kind of quantum horror.

Everything in the game-world becomes something that could lead you to your demise. That innocuous looking briefcase on the floor that when you began the game you ran over with gay abandon? An hour in you’ll be skirting around it, terrified that if you knock it, the alien will hear it and your life will soon be over.

Alien: Isolation

Apart from the alien, the station also contains clusters of violent survivors and reprogrammed androids intent on ‘subduing’ you, by whatever means. Your interactions with these others, with the ever-looming presence of the alien skulking above, can create some really nice interactions – like creating a noise distraction so that both they and the alien convene at the same place and keep each other occupied whilst you skitter off into the shadows.

Likewise, you must use your limited arsenal of weapons sparingly and intelligently – running in, guns blazing is a great way to tell the alien exactly where you are. Likewise, there are various terminals that can be hacked in order to create distractions or aid you in your objectives. Indeed, there are also, helpfully plenty of places to hide, not limited to cupboards, the undersides of desks, or vents – though again, crawling through the vents at anything other than a snail’s pace creates plenty of noise in and of itself.

I think the best thing about Alien: Isolation, along with its magnificent adherence to the tone and design of Ridley Scott’s original film, is that all of these elements balance together and really define your relationship to the alien as the major antagonist. Looking back at the great film critic Roger Ebert’s review of the eponymous film, he said:

‘One of the great strengths of “Alien” is its pacing. It takes its time. It waits. It allows silences. It suggests the enormity of the crew’s discovery by building up to it with small steps […] The masterstroke of the surface murk through which the crew members move, their helmet lights hardly penetrating the soup. The shadowy outline of the alien ship. The sight of the alien pilot, frozen in his command chair…’

It is the adherence to the masterful aesthetic of the films that really makes Alien: Isolation a terrific game. Despite a few issues I have with the responsiveness of the controls and the AI of the humans and androids (the Alien AI is near flawless, which only makes these other actors look even more simplistic), this game marks a great return to form in the survival-horror genre.

Pre-order the game from Zavvi today and receive the Nostromo Edition which comes with added DLC.

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