Welcome to last week: Alien: Isolation – PlayStation 4

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Well the title will be a give away that I am now a PlayStation 4 owner, but I shall leave that to another post. Right now we are looking at Sega’s latest attempt to gain some credibility with the use of the Aliens franchise licence that it acquired from Twentieth Century Fox.

Many will no doubt remember Sega’s last Aliens release – the much maligned Aliens: Colonial Marines. Released in early 2013 to much anticipation, the game was by and large classed as a “train wreck”. While I personally would not go quite that far in criticising the game, Gearbox certainly did not give the game the justice it deserved and should have got their backsides royally kicked by Sega.

The huge fallout from the release, especially over how it fell drastically short of what had been expected based on promotional material, is well charted across the gaming community, so I’m not going to drag it back up here. Eighteen months on and Sega are publishing Alien: Isolation and in the attempt no doubt try to gain some credibility of their custody of the licence. Programmed by the Creative Assembly, the game is played in first person, but it is not a FPS like Aliens: CM.

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Set 15 years after the events of the first film, Amanda Ripley, daughter of Nostromo survivor Ellen Ripley, is looking for closure after the disappearance of her mother. Amanda is told a report has been received stating the flight recorder for the Nostromo has been recovered and is being held at a remote space station – the Sevastopol. Accompanied by two Weyland-Yutani employees, Amanda sets out for Sevastopol and upon arrival quickly finds things have very much gone awry. And so the game begins, first with trying to establish what has gone wrong, and then trying to escape Sevastopol itself.

Ammunition is in short supply, but the game is very much about stealth and avoiding combat, than any outright action. This is more of a first person Metal Gear Solid than Resident Evil. The Alien itself cannot be killed, but androids and hostile humans can all be dispatched if required. Missions are task based affairs requiring you to either collect something from a certain area or to just survive from point A to point B. Weapons can be complimented with some homemade devices intended to distract or disorientate which are “crafted” from parts found lying around Sevastopol.

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If I were to give Alien: Isolation only one note of praise, then it would have to be for the environments that make up Sevastopol.  Should you have ever only shown some interest in Ridley Scott’s original Alien film, you cannot fail to be impressed by how well Sevastopol mimics the environments of that film. Apparently the programmers studied original Alien set designs by the legendary Ron Cobb, and the faithfulness to this is evident throughout thus creating a strong bond to the original material the game is trying to lead on from.

There are some issues with the game, however. When looking down at the floor, Amanda’s feet are not very well integrated with the environment and it looks like you’re walking on air – very odd. It’s a minor gripe, but it really should not be there. Another occasional problem is clipping. In one area I defended myself by attacking a woman who was about to shoot me, clubbing her around the head with my wrench, I expected her to fall down dead. Instead I must have hit her that hard that her body vaporised, because it just disappeared!!

Another minor irritation is the inventory management system, which is fine early on in the game when you only have, literally, a few items, but later on as your choice of weapons and aids has expanded, choosing the item you want can be cumbersome with getting the appropriate icon highlighted for selection. I actually found many of the crafted items redundant, but I guess it depends on your own strategies to survive.

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The Alien’s dogged persistence in staying in your area, even though it has not seen you (but knows you’re there), can be hugely annoying. Some times you feel as if you are stuck in your bolt hole for far too long before you feel confident enough to move off to a safer area… and if you do stay in the same spot for too long the Alien will find and kill you. The game is tough enough as it is, and I felt that a little more breathing space should have been granted if the Alien decides its prey has evaded it and moved on. I felt this also hindered my desire to explore Sevastopol further. Once you know the Alien is nearby, it immediately puts you on edge (which is a good thing for the game), and deters you from exploring rooms you’ve not yet accessed. Sevastopol is huge, and there is so much to explore, but with the Alien on to you half the time, you just want to make it from A – B as quickly as possible… or to the next nearest save point!

Indeed saving is an important part in progressing. I had read several reviews underscoring the requirement to save, save, save! Personally, if I could give any tactical advice on getting through the game, it would be to follow the mantra of “save, save, save” as much as possible. Especially after any encounters with the Alien have been passed.

The sound is excellent, and very much forms part of the game. Creative Assembly have been allowed the use of many musical cues from the Alien film, and they use these to create atmosphere, build tension and to warn of impending danger. Being a big aficionado of the first film, I was very impressed with the way the cues are implemented while you explore, it felt like I was in the film at times. Sound also plays a big part through noise. Very rarely will you walk through a section of Sevastopol without some kind of clanging going on, a klaxon going off, or rattling of some kind emanating from the corridors. This of course puts you very much on edge as you try to keep composed. I really do not recall playing a game where the sound has played such an integral part in building the game’s atmosphere since the original Silent Hill.

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Overall the game is very well put together. The graphics are brilliant, the lighting top notch, the sound is fantastic and the game is a good length; making this by far the best Alien game of recent years, and arguably the best game to use the main film franchise to date. The game will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some will lament the lack of any full blown action, the slow narrative pace, and no doubt the tension / suspense created by encounters with the creature will not be to all tastes. Yet, I feel that it fulfils the brief Creative Assembly set out very well and they are to be commended for their efforts in bringing the Alien world so effectively into our homes. Alien: Isolation is not perfect, but it is very, very good.

If only Aliens: Colonial Marines could have had production values like these…

Alien: Isolation
Version tested: PlayStation 4
Also available on: PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3.

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