Alien Isolation might well be the best looking game on current gen consoles, its fan service is off the charts and, for about 7 hours or so, is amongst the best survival horror games ever created……sadly, the next 13 hours aren’t so hot. It’s never a bad game, and in its finest moments represents the absolute pinnacle of movie tie-in video game development, but as fantastic as these moments might be, the fact of the matter is, this game is far too long……far, far too long.
I’d like to think we are beyond judging video games based on length, that we would all prefer 8 hours of fantastic gameplay to say, 20 hours of mediocre gameplay, but obviously, Creative Assembly didn’t get the memo. It’s not that the game is ever mediocre in terms of moment to moment gameplay, it’s the simple fact that, after those first horrifying brilliant hours of gameplay, Creative Assembly stretch out an experience that is ill suited to such an excessively extended running time.
Taken on its own merits, the 15th hour is as polished and well-crafted and the 2nd, but by then, all of that initial fear and tension has drained away and given rise to a collection of trial and error experiences that don’t offer up nearly enough variation. While the Alien itself is utterly terrifying and the gameplay perfectly balanced to create a sense of horrifying helplessness, once you eventually become used to the sight of the Alien (and you will), the game subsequently becomes more about the mechanics rather than the experience, and while competent enough, playing out the same game of hide-and-seek for 20+ hours is going to test the patience of even the most Buddhist of gamers.
Don’t get me wrong, other humans and the equally terrifying androids do offer up a degree of variety, and in fairness to Creative Assembly, the last few hours offer up some of the most memorable moments of the entire experience, but while the mechanics are admirably simple and unquestionably effective, there are undoubtedly spells in this game (many of which last multiple hours), that feel like a complete chore.
It’s not like the story is that great either. Like so much else in this game, it starts of very promisingly with Amanda Ripley (about the only thing to come directly from Aliens rather than Alien…..well, Aliens: Special Edition anyway), working as an engineer in an attempt to find out what happened to her mother, ending up on the Alien infested Sevastopol space station where the black box of the recently found Nostromo is being kept. It’s a decent set-up and a clever way of linking the story to the movie, but it’s hardly a yarn that requires 20+ hours to tell, and to be honest, after that initial surge, falls back on relatively boring corporate shenanigans and shed load of ‘go here and do that’ fetch quests.
Still, while the game doesn’t lend itself well to a 20 hour long experience, it would be criminal to overlook just how good this game is for those first 7 or so hours (keep in mind that many videogames fail to deliver anywhere near 7 hours of quality gameplay). As a huge fan of the Alien saga, with Ridley Scott’s original amongst my favourite movies of all time, I really can’t stress enough just how good a job Creative Assembly have done recreating the look and feel of his sci-fi horror masterpiece.
Right from the VHS-style opening sequence through to the late 70’s take on futuristic technology, Alien Isolation is an absolute tour de force in artistic design. Not only that, but outside of maybe, Ryse on Xbox One, arguably stands as the most technically accomplished current-gen release to date. The level of detail throughout is spectacular, but it is the truly next-gen lighting that steals the show. Visually stunning and absolutely essential to gameplay, the lighting will often give you an idea of where the Alien is, and often, thanks to some clever tricks, will lead you to believe it’s there when it’s not. It’s a perfect marriage of technology and design and is one of the primary reason that the core experience works quite so well.
The star of the show though? Well, that has to go to the Alien itself. A stunning amalgamation of all the best bits of design from H. R. Giger’s artistic design, Ridley Scott’s original and James Cameron’s follow up, Creative Assembly’s might just be the best of the bunch, delivering a creature that both looks the part and, perhaps more importantly, moves how you would expect it to. Sure, it can sprint after you in classic Alien video game style, but the finest moments are often those when you watch on from hiding as it unfurls itself from the shadows in a slow and strangely hypnotic fashion. It’s in these moments that you can truly appreciate the horrifying majesty of its original design…..something that is a little harder when it’s biting your face off.
And bite your face of it will…..many times. Make no mistake; this is a tricky game, one that requires patience, and one that, despite your best efforts, will see you die from no fault of your own on more than one occasion. The randomly generated alien is brilliant for the most part with its unpredictability proving one of its greatest strengths (and one of the games’ best scare mechanics), but equally, that randomness can see the alien show up in the kind of places that ensure that even the most careful of gamers will inevitably fall foul of its nashy teeth and stabby tail.
Dying in a video game when it’s no fault of your own is never fun, and it’s certainly not here, but in fairness, those random deaths are rare and are more than made up for by the on-going fear that the alien could literally be anywhere. While the aforementioned excellent visuals often play a large part in this, the equally brilliant sound design also plays a major role. Like the visual design, Creative Assembly rarely put a foot wrong with the audio, doing a great job of cranking up the already sky high tension via an array of often subtle audio cues. Sure, some of the supporting cast are a bit wooden (their facial animations are also the one minor weakness in the games’ otherwise top notch visuals), but for the most part, the audio / visual design is of an impeccably high standard.
There is no questioning the fact that Alien Isolation outstays its welcome, but despite being at least twice as long as it should have been, I find it very hard to mark it down too harshly. Looking back now, those hours of relative repetition aren’t what I remember – instead, what I recall most vividly are those opening hours in which Alien Isolation is as good as anything I have played this year and arguably the finest example of a movie tie-in the video game industry has ever created. Yes, there are too many fetch quests and the animation of human charatcters are jarringly disappointing, but other than these relatively minor niggles, Alien Isolation really is a truly spectacular experience, one that fans of the film and of survival horror will find equally compelling.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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