Monday, 20 October 2014

Alien: Isolation Xbox One Review

Remember the scene in Alien that consists of an hour of Ripley moving between lockers, desks, beds and vents? Remember how the tension is built up over the opening hour and then dragged to its breaking point and far, far beyond over the next twenty hours? No? Well there's a reason for that. 

Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation, set up to fill the gap between Alien and Aliens has you play as Amanda Ripley searching Sevastopol Space Station to find out what happened to her mum after the Nostromo exploded. The game follows the current trend of horror games that sees you using your wits rather than an arsenal of weaponry. Essentially you are screwed. In many games, like Outlast, this works really well and that's because the game is a good length and doesn't blow its load in the first hour and a half. 

The first hour of Isolation sees you largely walking around, meeting people and synthetics and getting a feel for the terror ahead. The fan service the game lets you soak in is amazing, visually and sonically this is Ridley Scott's future as it was predicted in the seventies. Touches like a film style grain, the 70s Fox logo and a faithful recreation of the Nostromo's style make you feel like you are in Alien. Then after this hour you meet the Alien, hide under some desks and frantically try to get away. It's scary, bloody scary. If the Alien gets you, you're dead. Oh and the Alien looks gorgeous, in its own way. But where the film was an expertly paced scare-fest this is simply dragged on with little meaningful change introduced along the way. You unlock new gadgets for distraction and fighting and build them using the game's simple but intuitive craft system and this allows for backtracking and exploration of other areas but largely the game has little else to show you. 

After a few hours the scares become frustrations. The Alien AI is very clever, many encounters are random and it will approach you in different ways. Hiding is only ever a short term fix. At first this is tense, exciting and enjoyable but seven or eight hours in, when you aren't even halfway through the game, this is annoying, you just want to get stuff done, you don't want to hide in a locker after using the motion tracker to try and dodge the Alien. You wish the game would give you a Pulse Rifle or a Power Loader. Horror becomes boring, not good for a horror game. And then of course you realise what the game is: a fetch quest. All you ever do is go from A to B to get something, then head back from where you came. They try to make back tracking more interesting by allowing exploration of new rooms and by adding tension but, again, this just becomes frustrating as you wish you could just be there already. 

The game also features a Survival Mode which sees how far you can get before dying, a nice idea but all of the same problems that plague the normal game mode plague this and so again the tension becomes mundane. It's a shame, if the game had been maybe ten hours long and had featured a little more variety then it would be truly great but as it is it's hard to get into. 

That doesn't mean its wholly bad, as I said the fan service is jaw dropping. Fox allowed Creative Assembly to use sound effects and visual aids from the film so the motion tracker sounds and looks perfect, the beds you sleep in are exactly as they are in the film and the computers all look like they run on MS-DOS. The love for the series leaks out of everything, unlike in that other Sega published Alien game. And the graphics are stunning, for starters Ripley has legs when you look down. Always a bonus. But then there's the amazing detail, the glow of computer screens, the pooling of blood, the amazing fire and, of course, the Alien. Giger's monster has never looked better, his creation is faithfully captured in all its glory and it's hard not to smile the first time you see it. The perfect organism indeed. 

It's just a shame that love doesn't show in the gameplay. What starts out as a tense and loyal servicing to the franchise soon becomes bloated, frustrating and dull and that's why I simply cannot recommend this, even to an Alien fan. Alien is my second favourite film of all time and yet this game did not do it for me, in fact I have already gotten rid of my copy. It's not as bad as Colonial Marines but that doesn't mean it's a good game. 

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