The simple narrative and and lack of gore makes for one of the most terrifying games of all time.
Many of you may know that I have been streaming/playing this game recently, and those that did watch it will know I screamed like a little girl. I have only ever played this game on the odd occasion, but I have never got too far, because I only ever played it during the day, and without any headset on. Now that I am streaming the game, the streams are taking place much later in the evening and that gameplay is combined and enhanced with the use of a good quality headset. This is the only way to truly appreciate this game and how good it really is. Even though it scares the shit out of me, I can not get enough of it.
- After the dismal attempt at an alien game, namely Alien Colonial Marines, which is considered by many fans of the franchise as being the worst alien game to ever be released, Sega who own the license to the gaming side of the franchise needed to redeem themselves ten fold, more so because of the low sales from Colonial marines. So they hired a British development team called Creative Assembly, which was an unusual choice as they are more known for creating turn based and real time strategy games like the Total War series. So to have them create an all new game for the Alien franchise was a very bold move that worked out wonderfully.
The Director Alistair Hope and lead writer, Dan Abnett who is best known for comic books and graphic novels, took a lot of inspiration and cues from the original 1979 Alien film while working in the timeline to fit with the events of the movies. Just like the 1979 movie, the narrative of this game is very simplistic as it is horror survival at its very basic level, with a 'cat and mouse' twist.
If you take a look at other 'Horror' games, they more or less rely on gore, like the Resident Evil franchise, Dead Space, Silent Hill, F.E.A.R., and many more. Yes they are still 'Horror Survival' but many of them lack the atmosphere to truly scare you.
Isolation has little to no gore in the game, with the exception of certain characters being killed by the Alien, but they are far and few between, and they enhance the atmosphere, not take away from it. The only time other than the odd cut scene where you will see gore is when the Alien finally catches you and kills you.
- The game relies more on the audible sounds to create a seance of fear, similar to the original 1979 film. The fear that there is something close, but not there. Think of it like hearing noises as a child and having that fear that something is under the bed, you want to look, but scared in case something is there. It is a similar effect the game creates.
The low 'hums', intensive music, the sounds of hearing the Alien move through the ships air ducts, its heavy footsteps, Even the silence can create that sense of fear, and then you have the sounds from the motion tracker, you can hear and see the impending danger, but altogether, it all adds to create an atmosphere that is unparalleled in the gaming world.
You have to find a way of the ship while avoiding a solitary Alien that can kill you at any moment. In its simplicity, the devs created a game that is fear incarnated in game form.
- The 1979 film used a lot of props that 'looked' futuristic, yet when compared to the technology of today, it looks dated. If you look at some of the more recent films in the Alien franchise, Prometheus and Alien Covenant, the technology used in them films looks far beyond the original 1979 film. To some people that could be a good thing, but to fans of the franchise, its a side step away from what the Alien franchise is all about.
The Devs for isolation understood this fact, and instead of creating a futuristic look to the game, they just simply looked towards the first 2 films that kicked off the franchise. Everything you see in the film can be found in the game, from the cushioned walls in the sleeping quarters, Mothers Central command room, the computers, the tools, weapons, the motion tracker, the layout of the entire ship and even the nodding chicken in the water that you see at the very start of the 1979 Alien film. It is all in there, and it works beautifully. The game is almost a digital representation of the 1980's Science fiction genre. Or how we would of imagined it back then.
The game overall is incredibly well optimised, despite the fact it is an AMD sponsored title. On both AMD and Nvidia platforms, you can expect very high frame rates, even at 4K on mid level gaming PC's, yet graphically, it is right up there with some of the best looking games in recent history. The volumetric lighting and overall dark tone of the game plays very well towards creating that atmosphere that makes the game as terrifying as it is.
The only real let down of the visual side of things is the facial animations on all the characters bar the Alien. The mouths just seem to be out of place when they are talking and the faces seem to lack any emotion. Almost like Cher after her face lifts.
Fortunately though, the majority of the game is solo and you are in a first person perspective, with the only other faces you will see are the androids that can be found in certain sections of the game and of course the Alien.
- As mentioned, there is only one Alien in the entire game. He is there just to hunt you down and kill you.
You can tell that the Devs have spent a very long time in designing the Alien and its AI. When you do finally get up close to the Alien, you can see just how good it looks. Well the only real way you can get a good look at it is when you are in hiding and looking at him from cover, through the grills in a locker or from under a table. The animations of his movement are typically what you would expect to see in a predatory animal like a crocodile, snake and even a praying mantis. The way it holds its arms like a dinosaur, how it will whip itself around and chase after a noise... it is uncanny on how it reacts to the smallest thing.
And then we get to its facial animations. If any of you have watched the first 2 films in the franchise, you will know exactly how its face looks, more so the mouth with its trembling lips, the saliva that drips from it, and how that inner mouth moves out so fast. All of it has been perfectly captured. Though the only time you really see this is when the alien finally gets hold of you and drives that inner mouth right into the screen.
The alien is all but indestructible. You can burn him, scare him off with explosives or a 'cattle prod' (similar to the one in the 1979 film), but you can not kill him. And this is part of the reason why he can be as scary as he is. Just like the 1979 film, the psychological effect he had on the crew over the fact that he is the perfect killing machine, is carried over to the game in that he has very limited vulnerabilities and it would take throwing him out of an air lock and burning him with the engines to kill it.
- The AI the Alien has is quite possibly one of the best in gaming to this date. While in other games, the NPC's generally have a set of fixed commands to follow... basically, if X happens with Y, you respond with Z action. Not so in isolation. The Alien is very intuitive and anomalistic in its nature. Try to imagine being stalked by a monster in your worst nightmare and unable to run away from it... it is a similar deal here.
The only way to get past the Alien is to hide and be as quiet as possible. If you hide in a locker and the Alien is close enough, he will hear it and investigate the area where the sound came from. If you hide in the locker more than once, it exponentially increases the likelihood that the alien will simply find you and kill you, so you really can never hide in the same place twice. You can just about get away with hiding under a table, but the risk of the alien hearing you underneath is very high. When the Alien is close, it tends to do a lot of investigating to try and find you, it will even try and lure you out by hiding in the air ducts waiting for you to make a sound, and then dropping in near your location. Its like hide and seek in hell, only you can load up a previous save point if you do die.
But sometimes the Alien can be very unpredictable and can be very infuriating to get past as he will almost patrol an area in such a way, it is almost impossible to get past. On other occasions if you hide before the Alien gets close, he will simply go direct to your location and kill you, making you hesitant about hiding in that same location. He will just hunt you down like an eagle after its prey. There is really no logic to the Aliens hunting patterns, and that's what makes it so good, the unpredictable behaviour is almost animal like, just as you would assume with an 'Apex' predator.
- You take on the role of Amanda Ripley, as fans of the franchise will know, Amanda is Ellen Ripley's daughter from the films. The game takes place after the 1979 film and Amanda is looking for her mother. A flight recorder from the Nostromo was found and Amanda goes to get it, only when she arrives at the Sevastopol Station, and after an accident she is stranded there and discovers that something has happened there, with only a select few people remaining. Your job is to find a way off the station without being killed by the alien.
That is the gist of how the game starts, but it is nothing compared to actually playing it. When you take everything that has been said so far in this review, it comes together in one of two ways...
1st – you play the game like most other people. In the middle of the day, or with the lights on and through either TV speakers or satellite speakers (speakers placed away from the source).
- This method of playing the game does not help towards making the game enjoyable to play. Because you can not 'feel' the atmosphere the game creates with its simplicity, it eventually gets boring to play, and you will end up putting the game down.
2nd – you play the game late at night or in the dark with a very good headset or pair of headphones on, with the volume turned up and no one there to disturb you while you play.
- This is the only real way to truly immerse yourself in the game. With your focus set on the screen and a very good headset on, with the volume turned right up, you will be able to be a part of the experience the game gives. Because of the music and audio, creating the atmosphere, if you don't wear a set of headphones that can vibrate your head with the low tones, you will be very disconnected from the game, and without that connection, you can not experience the game to its full potential. Once that connection is made to the game, it makes it all the more real and is what makes you have that feeling of dread and fear when playing the game. Some gamers have even gone the one step further and use the Oculus rift headsets to fully immerse there senses within the game.
- Apart from some minor imperfections and the fact the only way to experience the game fully is to use a headset and play alone in the dark, the game is worth a very good 8.5/10.
If you are a fan of the horror genre, you need to play this game. Just be sure to have some spare pants on standby. The game is quite possibly the best Horror Survival game of all time, and will soon become a timeless classic, just like the 1979 film.
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