1 – Introduction
Maybe you remember my previous review for Colonial Marines where I lamented the fact that the franchise was suffering a bad streak because of first Prometheus and then Colonial Marines. While Alien Covenant failed to redeem the Alien on the silver screen, its video game incarnation returned in 2014 with a vengeance in Alien Isolation. But are the accolades justified? Let‘s find out! (Spoiler: They are)
Apropos spoilers: MILD SPOILER ALERT!
2 – Gameplay
Gameplay-wise, Isolation could not be further from Colonial Marines‘ run‘n‘gun antics. I won‘t bore you with stuff you already know. Suffice to say: This time, you‘re the hunted. You can‘t kill the Alien, you can only survive it. I previously played games from the renaissance of survival horror, games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast. Of course, part of me was looking forward to get stalked by my favorite movie monster, and even among its peers, the Sevastopol drone stands out as something unique. While the foes of those other games either did not actively hunt you or relied on heavily scripted sequences, your precious behind is really on the line here! A standout section already infamous among players is your visit to the medbay a third into the game, where the drone hunts you relentlessly, and you savor every little ounce of progress. Other times, the game lulls you in a sense of false empowerment when you are sufficiently equipped to take down Working Joes left and right on your way to the reactor… only for the game to unload a bucket of ice water on you once you reach the maintenance area.
Now, on to what I didn‘t like. Isolation shares one problem with other games of the „nouvelle vague“ of survival horror. These games often get so intense that you become desensitized to the terror. Tension turns into tedium. This happened to me in said medbay section, where I died so often that it became annoying instead of shocking. However, the sheer fact that I can single out instances where that happened is a testament of the structural perfection (see what I did there?) of the campaign. To produce a lengthy game with such good pacing is, for me, maybe Isolation‘s greatest achievement. Aside from frequent crashes while loading (which probably stems from the fact that I played with the bare minimum of hardware, but it still shouldn‘t happen), there isn’t anything negative for me to say. If anything, the experience was, at times and in a positive way, such an ordeal, that I usually played no more than two hours at a time.
However, one last bit I want to talk about. MILD SPOILERS! SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON‘T WANT TO GET SPOILED. Near the very end of the campaign, you find yourself in a nest full of Facehuggers. These are one hit killers, like their big cousin. Once it‘s on your face, it‘s game over. No quick time event to prevent the parasite from latching on. To make matters worse, this section drops the savepoint system it has used before in favor of checkpoints. So, you‘re basically forced to do this one trial and error (unless you have godlike reflexes) until you get it right. It‘s no big deal, but it‘s glaring in a game that was classy enough to withstand the temptation of such gaming sins up to this point.
3 – Graphics
No, really. The lighting plays in a league of its own. The fluid animations of the Aliens are terrifyingly awe-inspiring. My favorite is the one where the Alien lowers itself from a shaft. Majestic! Much has been written about the slavishly accurate and lived-in design, and it‘s all true. In the beginning, I was skeptical whether a sprawling space station that was basically the Nostromo on growth hormones would provide enough variety to avoid getting boring and repetitive. Fortunately. my fears were unfounded. My next trip to Sevastopol will be on Easiest, to gather collectibles, but also to enjoy the locations without constantly having to look over my virtual shoulder.