I couldn’t play Alien: Isolation at night. The notion of being alone, in a dark room, in an empty house, while going through a game where I’m also alone, in dark rooms and corridors, in an almost-deserted space station, hit too close to home. Especially since both had an invader. In Alien: Isolation, it was a xenomorph playing cat-and-mouse with Ellen Ripley’s daughter, while at home my cat waited until the absolute worst moments to make his presence known. Alien: Isolation gets inside of your head.
In space, no one can hear you scream. If someone does, they won’t care.
15 years ago, the Nostromo disappeared. No one ever found out what happened to it or its crew, and Amanda Ripley has spent all that time waiting for any kind of news about her mother. Finally, an opportunity arrives. The flight recorder has been recovered, and Weyland-Yutani wants to send Ripley, a synthetic named Christopher Samuels, and a lawyer named Nina Taylor to go get it. It feels like it should be a simple trip, but the second the Torrens drops the trio off at Sevastopol Station, things go wrong. There’s evidence of disaster and no way to reach anyone inside.
Instead of taking this ominous situation as a clue that the Nostromo’s flight recorder isn’t worth it, Ripley, Samuels, and Taylor attempt to access the station. Debris cuts Ripley off from Samuels and Taylors, and she is forced to board the station alone. It’s more a ruin than a functioning hub, and Ripley quickly learns that anything still alive or active is against her.
The result is a truly isolating adventure. While Ripley isn’t truly “alone,” it is her against everyone and everything. Other humans, synthetics, the alien, and environmental obstacles stand in her way. It’s haunting, and even though the dialogue isn’t the best, the story is still engaging.
The highest praise for Alien: Isolation would have to be that it is faithful to Alien. The journey and experience of Amanda Ripley perfectly parallels that of her mother. In each case, a person thinks they know what they are getting into, quickly sees things go wrong, and spends the rest of the thriller attempting to stay alive as things progressively get worse. There’s a constant dread of knowing something is out there, watching and waiting, and it could at any second attack. There’s a determination, as in both cases a glimmer of hope provides every incentive to attempt everything to survive. With Alien: Isolation, that means silently creeping around a huge station, dealing with conspiracies and revelations, being aware of the surroundings and praying for the best.
It works because Sevastopol Station encourages a sense of desolation. One could even consider the location as important a character as Ripley and the alien. The wreckage littering corridors, graffiti sprawled along walls, and vast expanses of emptiness come together to tell its own kind of story. The environment is what encourages the sense of unease and desperation, and little details clearly show it once was something far greater and more welcoming, but that comfort was shattered in an instant. In fact, I lamented lack of interaction with it. Unless there’s an item that specifically has to be moved to allow Ripley to progress, something like a plan or tool that has to be taken, or a spot that can act as a hideout, everything is cemented in place. Considering the necessity of stealth, I would have loved the opportunity to try and arrange areas to offer cover, or the challenge of knowing Ripley backing into a desk could cause whatever is on it to fall and alert opponents.
Unfortunately, there’s a bigger problem than being unable to properly tool around Sevastopol Station. I feel as though Alien: Isolation is a victim of filler. There were times when I felt like The Creative Assembly intentionally padded certain quests or events in the hopes of lengthening the experience, increasing the tension, and providing more opportunity for interactions with hostile forces. It made the experience less unsettling, because instead of feeling as though I was on edge because I didn’t know what was ahead, I wanted to get things over with. It may have even resulted in a few, critical mistakes on my part, because I was so tired of things going on as they were, that I wanted to speed ahead when I could. I stopped caring about other characters, because all they did was eat away at my time.
Though, I can’t help but feel that some will feel differently about the extended sequences and series of events. While I grew impatient and felt it further distanced me from other members of Alien: Isolation’s cast, I could see some people enjoying these extra moments. After all, they do allow for more opportunities to interact with the xenomorph, as well as other hostile forces. This, in turn, can allow for a stronger bond to be forged with Ripley. Spending more time protecting her from harm undoubtedly makes a player care more about the character. It’s a divisive issue, and I’m sure every player will have their own feelings about the pacing.
One thing is for certain, no one will doubt how scary Alien: Isolation can be. It really does feel like a person has been placed in a situation where they could very easily die. There’s always a chance the xenomorph is lurking about, and it’s AI is programmed in such a way that it feels as though it is learning. At least one opponent is smarter than you, and it’s refreshing to know. Despiration is palpable, especially on higher difficulties. Alien: Isolation is a chilling game that feels like it could best you, because a good player has to be constantly, cautiously playing and watching their surroundings, taking care not to make Ripley a target.
Alien: Isolation is more than a video game. It’s a sign of redemption, and reparations for Aliens: Colonial Marines. It shows that hype can sometimes be merited for a title. It proves that Sega can be trusted to make a good game. Most importantly, The Creative Assembly has shown that the Alienseries can be counted on to provide inspiration for thought provoking, thrilling spin-offs. Alien: Isolation offers an ambiance and story that draws perfect parallels to the source material, and successfully immerses players in a world where it really feels like a xenomorph could come and upend everything you’ve worked for over the course of hours in moments. It is scary for all the right reasons, and I’m positive anyone who plays will appreciate it.