Sega Wins with Alien Isolation
Alien Isolation was a long time coming. And as far as survival horror games are concerned it was definitely worth the wait. Alien Isolation is one of the most suspenseful games I have played since Resident Evil 2 and is the best Alien game to date. Instead of Sega making another lackluster sequel to one of the best franchises to hit the big screen, the story is set in between the first and second films. This keeps the technology and the design of the game within the late 1970s time period. The ship, the space station, and your equipment stay true to the original film by Ridley Scott. The soundtrack is also identical to the feel and eerie mood of the original films with the sound design team able to work with some of the original sounds from the first film. Feeling safe in your living room? Alien Isolation will change that making you check the locks on your door and jump at any unfamiliar sound in your house.
The story follows the journey of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, who as we know was played by Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films. Amanda is working for the Wey-Yu or simply “the company” as an engineer. After hearing about the Nostromo’s disappearance (Ellen Ripley’s ship that was infiltrated by an Alien and missing ever since…duh) Ripley (Amanda) agrees to join the investigation team and find out what happened to her mother. The Nostromo’s flight recorder is been held at a space station called Sevastopol and Ripley and friends leave at once to retrieve it. However, upon arriving at the space station Ripley quickly realizes that things are not necessarily what it seems. Rumors of a killer on the station have led the population of Sevastopol into a post-apocalyptic frenzy due to this unknown threat. (Spoiler Alert, the unknown killer is an Alien that somehow made it aboard the station). Amanda finds herself face to face with the same monstrosity as her mother upon arriving at Sevastopol. What a family tradition huh? If this wasn’t enough psychotic synthetic AI have taken over parts of the facility killing anyone who disobeys them.
Now, this is not a James Cameron version of the series with geared up marines wielding machine guns and flame throwers. If you were excited about Alien Isolation so you could blow away countless aliens and color the walls of a space station with acidic green blood than you should avoid this game. There is very little action even by early survival horror standards and a lot of the time all you have to defend yourself is a single flare. The majority of your time with Alien Isolation you will find yourself hiding and distracting enemies so you can run and hide some more. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Even after hours and hours of hiding, running, watching your back and keeping your eyes glued to your motion tracker for potential threats, Alien Isolation still keeps you on the edge your seat.
This game looks, feels, plays, and sounds like the original 1979 Alien flick in every way. The sounds are so similar to the Alien films you feel like you are an actor on the set. The sound design team was able to get ahold of the original sound material used in the first film as well as creating an original score to match. The clanking and random computer beeps and the dripping water are a great use of literal sound to create tension which is something Ridley Scott has always excelled at in his films. (I always loved how in all the Alien films there was always dripping water everywhere. We can build these spaceships and travel at light speed, and use cryo-sleep for space travel, but leaky pipes? Yeah we don’t know how to solve that.) Due to the soundtrack there is always a sense as if something is going to jump out at you at any moment even though nothing has happened in an hour and a half. When hiding from the Alien the music switches to a more suspenseful melody causing a truly frantic experience. The sound design team should be commended.
Even though this game has been credited with having amazing graphics in this regard I wasn’t very impressed. Now don’t get me wrong the graphics are not bad by any means, but with games like Sunset Overdrive, Infamous: Second Son, and Shadow of Mordor, Alien Isolation has a hard time comparing. And with all the time in development I expected more. While the backgrounds remain very polished the characters in the story are sometimes pixelated and grainy. Also, when watching the Alien mutilate people on the space station I felt as if I was watching a combat scene from Code-Veronica on the Dreamcast back in 2000. I expected if nothing else the Alien would be polished graphically to create some HD fight scenes that we would expect from these next-gen systems. However, it became apparent that a lot more time was spent on sound design and the story than the character graphics. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing since most games these days are lacking in both of these aspects.
The save system is also a feature that leaves something to be desired. There is a lack of save stations around Sevastopol and sometimes to prevent replaying certain portions of the game over and over again there are many times that I had to back track quite far to save. This is something that older gamers will remember from the good ol’ days of PSone. However, in the current auto-save era players may find this time honored tradition frustrating.
While having a few flaws, Alien Isolation is an intense experience that should not be missed by fans of the franchise or survival horror enthusiasts. The sound design is impeccable and the environments mimic the original films perfectly. Unlike Sega’s last few blemishes with the Alien franchise, Alien Isolation proves that a quality Alien game just takes time and a high attention to detail. There has not been a more accurate depiction of Ridley Scott’s vision ever on a console. Maybe the Alien Isolation team at Sega should take over the movie franchise as well so we can forget about Prometheus and move on. Unfortunately, that is just wishful thinking.
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