Alien hasn't ever really been the nearest and dearest horror franchise for me. I love horror films, and the genre itself, and I enjoyed the first two films, but it wasn't something I adored. Something I think any horror enthusiast can agree on, however, is that the films harbored suspense through minimalism, and the times with was less commotion usually meant the shining aspects of the films. Less is more, and that was the formula. Sometimes that works, and sometimes, plain and simple, more is more, but Alien wasn't an example of that. That's a lot of why Alien v. Predator and the followups to the second film didn't succeed. And that's why making a video-game out of Alien was so difficult. Alien: Isolation is the most ambitious attempt to enter Alien as a video-game franchise. Does it work? Thumbs are tilted, but still up for me.
Fifteen years after the events of the 1979 film Alien, Amanda Ripley is in-search of her mother Ellen Ripley, or at least, some sort-of closure for what might have happened. When a flight recorder of the Nostromo spacecraft (the one from the film) is located, she heads to a remote space station called Sevastopol to retrieve it. BIG MISTAKE! Sevastopol has been left battered and bruised, and damn-near cannibalized, and it's communications are offline. Ripley soon becomes separated from her crew and is on the station by herself. That would've been fine, except that the folk on the space-station have, almost all, become hostile and vicious, the androids are malfunctioning, and an unidentified creature is wandering around.
Alien: Isolation does an amazing job at so many things. The setting and atmosphere is terrific. The visuals parallel the first film, with a 70s interpretation of the future, and it all just looks the way it's supposed to look. It's dark, desolate, decrepit, and it is complimented nicely by all the things surrounding it. Like, the music, for example, which carries the spirit of Ridley Scott's first film, and keep the vibe feeling tense even when nothing's happening. In-fact, I feel like the sounds are almost one of my favorite parts about the video-game, because, like the film, it's the not-knowing that really makes it for me. I am wigging out about footsteps on the ceiling, or when intense-music starts to ready itself, and even if it doesn't always lead to a pay-off, for a while, I bought into it every time.
Alien has a presence. In-fact, I had more appreciation for the character in Isolation than I did ANY of the films. The movements and motion-captioning for it was done well. It just wanders, and for a bit, even seems like he has some sort-of thought-process, and that fact alone is unsettling. Something I've always thought was interesting about survival-horror video-games is the certain psychology with them. In a film, most of us completely grasp the fact that nothing bad can happen to us from watching said film, hence why we were more afraid as kids, because we're naive, but video-games are allowed to carry more weight than that. Obviously, you won't die. But your character can die. And with this game, in-particular, that fear is actually relevant. Isolation is difficult, at least, at first. And if you die, the fear of 'having to do that all over again' is actually a real thing, which is funny in-retrospect, I was actually panicked about it at the time.
Alien: Isolation would be the best horror video-game I've ever played, or at least beside The Evil Within, if not for some variables. (Best at illustrating horror elements, not best game overall.)
It took me about 23 hours to finish the whole game, and for a premise as simple as this, I think they should have cut that time in half.
In the beginning, I had a legitimate fear of Alien, and seeing him the first time felt special, even after having seen him so many times before. But after a certain point, I was no longer afraid and it no longer felt special. I felt annoyed. I felt annoyed when I had to hide in the locker and wait for him to slowly walk by me. I felt annoyed that I couldn't run without alerting him because I wanted so badly to get through it. I felt annoyed about using the motion-tracker, I felt annoyed about a lot of stuff that I used to love, and that's because it went on way too long and became repetitive.
The stealth became repetitive, the missions became repetitive, and with that, all the other limitations started leaking out to the surface. Things like how underdeveloped Ripley feels, or how bland every other character feels. I went from being greatly immersed to simply irritated.
This means that – for about half-or-more of Alien: Isolation, I was bored or annoyed, with only small glimpses of enjoyment. Their concept was spread to thin and the final product paid dearly for it. This is a shame, because, it's not even as if the moments are bad, there's bits of cool stuff there, it's just been stretched and the novelty has worn off. Not only that, but there's a lot of times that your objective feels obscured or other-wise unknown. I wasn't alone in this, either, as, for the occasional times I needed help with a simple objective, I'd find YouTube videos dedicated to five second tasks. The map in the menus isn't always the most helpful, and sometimes the way is obscured or a vent that's difficult to see in the darkness. Some argue it might hinder the realism, but I think Isolation would've benefited a great deal from more directness in those instances. Or even if the motion-detector was more consistent with advising where to go for your objective. (Sometimes it does, usually, it doesn't.)
On the bright-side, Sega just cracked the formula on how to make an effective Alien video-game, and the mechanics for it, and the crafting, actually had a certain bit of depth. I wish they would've made a faster way to craft-said weapons, but I definitely think it offered a bit of strategy to defeating characters. Like, for example, throwing a 'Noisemaker' bomb to one-side of the room, attracting the guards, but also attracting Alien, while you're hiding safely beneath a table or in a locker. Stuff like that's a lot of fun.
In the end, Alien: Isolation is a good game, albeit, with a lot of repetition and an occasionally ho-hum single-campaign, but it has an atmosphere and setting unlike any horror video-game out right now. It's well-made, and it captures the film with such poise that any Alien fan will love it. I am not certain what they could do in an Isolation sequel, but since I know they won't stop with this one, we can rejoice in knowing that they might have someone capable at the helm.