4 – Sound
The graphics deliver a big chunk of Isolation‘s atmosphere, but this is a game that values acoustics just as much as visuals. The environmental sounds speak its own language, one you will have to learn in order to survive. The Alien is present, but some distance away? The sounds will tell you. The Alien has dropped out of a shaft nearby? The sounds will warn you. You will also learn the Alien‘s „language“. A wide variety of growls, hisses and screams inform you whether it‘s frustrated or aggravated… and its horrible shriek will unmistakably tell you when it has discovered you and you‘re seconds away from death! Fun fact: The trilogy of Alien audio dramas used Isolation’s sound library for the creatures, and rightfully so!
The music is amazing, too! Somehow, the team has managed to fuse Goldsmith‘s classic score with modern electronic textures. As with Colonial Marines and the last two Alien movies, I applaud the fact that, again, Goldsmith‘s work is referenced, It seems we finally have our own Star Wars main theme! Jokes aside, this helps establishing a central music identity after an initial qadrilogy of films of which every single one had a different composer, who each did his own thing. It‘s also used to great effect to make special scenes memorable, like a sudden vista of nearby space. Great stuff, though not an easy listening experience outside the game. But that wasn‘t the case with Goldsmith‘s original score either, was it?
5 – Story
Concerning the story, reactions were lukewarm, describing it as run-of-the-mill and devoid of really captivating character writing. Okay, it‘s not The Last Of Us, that‘s for sure. But it also didn‘t disappoint me. I can only urge everyone who has not played the game, but plans to, NOT to get spoilered! There are a handful of stunning moments and twists that are best experienced unprepared. I know this is written in 2018, four years after the game‘s release; the damage is probably done. But it can‘t hurt.
Yeah, aside from a twist or two, it‘s pretty standard fare. One may also find the unfortunate constellation of circumstances that pits Ripley‘s daughter against the same Alien species that haunted (and will haunt) her. I think it‘s not that big of a problem. The plot explains her presence well, and the plot (and a looooot of text logs) also provide enough backstory to also explain the presence of our favorite drooling killer bug. In fact, you get to… but that would be telling. There‘s also the ending, which made everyone cry „sequel bait!“, but in the end, we know what happens to her, so… ?
In any case, let‘s talk about what‘s good! Of course, Weyland-Yutani has its greedy fingers all over the mess, but we thankfully don‘t get a slimy Burke-alike as the face of the Company, which is an overused trope by now. There is also a very sad and touching moment which actually immersed me so much that I banged my maintenance jack aginst the bulkhead in-game, mirroring the helpless rage and grief Amanda felt. One thing I can still not decide if I like it or if it bothers me is the fact that we never get to see the human antagonist in person. We only get to experience the fallout of his greed and ruthlessness and hear his voice in audio logs. It‘s an interesting way to go about this, and the game may have collapsed under its own weight if it had also included him in a prominent role. On the other hand, it felt odd to me.
In the end, I think that complaining about the story too much misses the point. Isolation is not about winning story awards. It‘s about making you experience an Alien movie first-hand. You and your fight against the Alien ARE the story. My roleplaying bit earlier may sound silly, but I bet you also at least have thought Ripley‘s famous line „I got you, you son of a bitch“ once you won a decisive victory against the creature. Sometimes, it‘s not the story itself, but how it is told.
6 – Conclusion
Alien Isolation is the ultimate Ripley simulator. You won‘t get any nearer to the „real“ thing without risking mental trauma. As such, it is a very draining experience, one you probably won‘t casually play just for the fun of it. I admit installed and played through Colonial Marines afterwards just to feel the catharsis of finally being able to fight back against the Alien. On the other hand, Colonial Marines failed in what Isolation manages almost effortlessly: Giving Alien gaming a good name and, most importantly, being something very special.