Review: Alien: Isolation

About this Game

Alien: Isolation

Publisher

Feral Interactive, Sega

Developer

The Creative Assembly

Release Date

October 7, 2014

Console

PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4

Time to Plat

~25h

Platinum Difficulty

Medium

Online Trophies?

No

Difficulty Trophies?

Yes

Follow Us

“A Survivor, Unclouded by Conscience, Remorse, or Delusions of Morality.”

I’ve always enjoyed the Alien Movies ever since my Dad let me stay up late to watch the first film with him. Aliens was one of my favourite movies of all time, too.

Of course, most of you will know that the rest are… Not great movies… Despite that — somehow — just because it’s another chance to see the awesome Xenomorph in action, I still enjoy watching them. I’m not blind to how goofy or poorly-representative they are, but they pull down the nostalgia-goggles just enough for me to see past it.

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Fans of the original movie are in for a treat in the form of Nostromo logs, featuring voice-work from the original cast.

So, it would stand to reason that when Alien: Isolation was released 7 years ago, I would check it out, right?

Wrong.

Alien: Isolation came out at a time where Horror games were the big thing, and I hated them all. Amnesia and it’s popularity thanks to YouTube lets-players triggered a new wave of Horror games where the main mechanic was that you get to run away from an invincible creature and have no agency in your survival other than cowering behind barrels for 5 minutes at a time waiting for the damn thing to leave.

We then got similar games like Slender, Outlast, and many more, all which followed this same boring archetype where the game forgoes excellent storytelling or unique mechanics in favour of having you run away from a big thing for several hours. Of course, many people enjoyed these games for this very reason, and I wouldn’t want to shame anybody’s tastes in videogames, I just found that the very idea of this got stale rapidly and soon became nothing but an annoyance.

The same thing happened to me for Horror movies. I used to love Horror films and would watch them frequently for fun until, eventually, films like Paranormal Activity and the Conjuring (god I loathe that film) ruined horror forever. Instead of excellent tension-building story-writing and well-thought-out concepts we were left with pathetic jump-scares which were always preceded by heavy and obvious bass build-ups, as well as a complete and utter lack of creativity or story-telling.

So, naturally, I stayed far away from any new horror movies and games, and that includes Alien: Isolation…

However, after an interesting discussion with MrZhangetsu about how horror movies are getting good again, an agreement to have a horror-binging night when the pandemic is over was born.

With my renewed open-mindedness towards Horror, I decided to check out the PlayStation Store’s Halloween sale, and picked up Alien: Isolation for less than £10…

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Meet Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda.

Alien: Isolation Review

A Blast from the Past

One of the most immediately obvious things about Alien: Isolation is how this 7-year-old title still looks so fantastic. A masterful use of lighting and atmospheric particles really brings the game’s visuals to life.

There’s only one thing I can think of which doesn’t look great in this game, and that’s the human characters, who all for some reason have very tall upper lips which are very rigid during any sort of facial animation. Their skin looks plastic and they move very strangely.

This, of course, isn’t the case for the Androids, as they are supposed to move awkwardly, and they’re supposed to have plastic skin, so actually the Androids look amazing!

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These cheap Seegson Androids are nothing compared to the Weyland Androids we’re used to.

Their deadpan expression-less and animation-less faces, sheer white hairless skin which loosely hangs from their necks, and their bright glowing irises all come together to form a truly creepy enemy type. Seeing one of these guys speed-walking towards you down a dark corridor is certainly enough to turn your own skin pale.

You’ll also notice that Alien: Isolation has kept extremely faithful to the 80s sci-fi aesthetic of the original Alien movie, rather than trying to update it for modern technologies. This works excellently in a few ways; for one, it’s such an odd juxtaposition to literally be in space, on a space station, with space-age tech and Androids roaming the halls, but not have so much as a plasma-screen or anything us modern folks might consider to be high-tech.

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Even the handheld devices have big fat CRT screens in lieu of a more practical LCD screen.

This detail helps to add to the eeriness of the game. Every control room is full of solid mechanical buttons, every computer terminal can just about muster displaying a single colour, and every single thing on the station makes a beeping or whirring noise. This, of course does a lot to the atmosphere of the game, and makes it just that bit harder to hear if there’s a Xenomorph hissing in the vents.

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A room filled with buttons.

Surprisingly, even when sticking to this one movie-established aesthetic, there’s a lot of variety to be had. There are chunky residential areas, button and monitor-filled command decks, stark white medical bays, dark and raw engineering sections, and you’ll even get to take a space-walk a few times, which is a thrilling but painfully slow experience.

Also, you’ll get the opportunity to experience some of that H.R. Giger-designed genitalia-inspired Xenomorph architecture, which is a very surreal experience to be able to walk through and interact with.

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I don’t think I need to explain what this doorway looks like, do I?

In short, I am in love with the way they’ve not only kept true to the technical limitations and creative direction of the original movie, but the way they have managed to put more life into it. So those painted PVC pipes which look like PVC pipes in the films, keep the same shape and aesthetic in the game, but don’t look so obviously like PVC pipes, if that makes sense?

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I particularly like how some things are designed to look like the Xenomorph from a distance, so when those lights blink to life, you have a short moment of “Oh shit, it’s here!” before your brain processes what you’re seeing.

I Think I’ve Seen This One

The story takes place on the Seegson-company-run Sevastopol space station, where Amanda Ripley has been convinced to join an expedition with a crew who are looking to recover the flight recorder from her mother Ellen Ripley’s maiden voyage in the Nostromo, tying the game in to the first movie.

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Approaching Sevastopol’s orbit around a Gas Giant.

Looking for closure on her mother’s disappearance, Amanda joins a small recon team consisting of a Weyland Android, Christopher Samuels, and… a lawyer named Nina Taylor. Not the best salvage team there ever was.

As you can imagine, things take a turn quite quickly as space debris knocks the team off-course during a space-walk between their ship, the Torrens, and the Sevastopol Space Station. With Ripley making it on-board but having no idea what happened to Samuels or Taylor.

Even stranger, though, than the random bits of space-debris which the team were somehow unable to see or detect before setting off, is the fact that the station is deathly quiet. Graffiti and abandoned belongings litter the Sevastopol’s halls and common areas while human survivors run around in the dark, hiding from… something.

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What happened here?

That something is the Xenomorph, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The mysterious, cunning, and ruthless killer we know so well has found its way onto the Sevastopol and it’s up to you to save the station. But how did it get here? What about the Nostromo flight recorder? How is this all connected?

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The “Perfect Organsim”

I don’t want to spoil the story as I genuinely think it is a really good Alien-universe tale of survival, but I will say you’ve probably seen it before. Of the 6 Alien movies, I’d say at least 3 of them follow the same story beats as though there’s some predetermined template they’re supposed to follow.

Alien: Isolation — though with some key differences, and a few sections which are completely unnecessary — follows this same formula, making it quite predictable for anyone familiar with the films.

Surviving

Gameplay has three major aspects which will rarely intertwine; dealing with Humans, dealing with Androids, and dealing with the Alien.

For all three, the motion detector tool is extremely useful, allowing you to essentially see around surfaces and out from vents without having to expose yourself to the enemy, so that you can stay hidden and – most importantly – safe.

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You would need to pick a better hiding spot than this though…

Stealth is your best tool and not having to deal with any enemy is better than having to deal with them at all. Ammo and crafting resources are scarce throughout the game so you want to be able to save as much of them as you can for when you really need them.

With crafting supplies you can make EMP Grenades, great for taking out androids, Flashbang grenades, excellent for blinding a group of Humans, Molotovs which give the Xenomorph a good fright, and plenty more including Med Kits for healing and Smoke Bombs for stealth.

On top of that, you have several choices of weapon, each suited to a certain enemy and the right situation. With these tools and weapons, you’ll need to use the motion detector in conjunction with the map to find your way to various objectives undetected and unharmed in the hopes of making progress and helping to save Sevastopol from the creature.

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The game’s map is constructed over time by visiting new rooms or collecting information from map points.

Dealing with Humans is fairly easy, their squishy flesh-bodies are highly susceptible to all manner of weaponry and even just a good bonk on the head with the maintenance wrench is enough to see them out of action.

Androids are a different story, requiring multiple bonks on the head or something high-caliber like a point-blank shotgun round to the face. They are susceptible to electric damage, however, making the stun rod or EMP grenades highly effective at temporarily dealing with the problem.

And then, of course, there’s the Xenomorph. This is your horro-game bad guy, the big scary thing that you have to run away from because it’s invincible and can insta-kill you. The thing which makes the Alien so much different from the other enemies of the same type in your typical amenesia-cloned trashy horror games is that you do have some agency over the Alien.

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Look out for saliva dripping from the vents, indicating the Xeno’s presence.

This makes all the difference. Obviously, you still want to avoid confrontation at all costs because the damn thing is insanely fast and can often kill you before you have time to think about what’s happening, but you have some self-defense measures which can keep you alive just a bit longer.

Fire. The Xenomorph hates fire. “Most animals retreat from fire.”

Luckily you have two ways to use this to your advantage, if you make it far enough in the game. The flamethrower can be used to flare up quick bursts of flame at the Xenomorph before it can get to you, forcing it to recoil and retreat into the vents. Alternatively, the Molotov is a quick and easy way to engulf the creature in flame, but it requires a lot of resources to craft.

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A well-placed Molotov does the trick.

Unfortunately, though, playing against the Alien for just a short amount of time makes one thing very obvious; It’s programmed to purposefully get as close as possible to you without seeing you. While, yes, it is somewhat random and, yes, there are long stints where it will leave you alone, as soon as the Xeno is in “pester-the-player” mode, it’ll stalk your location.

That just leaves you to not mess up and get seen, so you’ll either have to complete your objectives very carefully, use flares or distractions to draw it away from your location, or just sit and wait for it to leave… which is very boring.

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Oh boy, here we go again!

It just gets pretty annoying when you’re close to your objective and then the Xeno shows up to make you sit there waiting. Or walk around a table three times trying to stay out of its line-of-sight until it leaves. All tension is then gone from the moment and the fear the creature once incited is just replaced with mild irritance due to the creature’s predictability.

All in all, though, with the amount of agency you have over the creature, the number of additional enemy types which you have total agency over, as well as a well-crafted story with some very interesting beats, the game’s by far one of the best Horror titles I’ve ever played, and is certainly some of the best Alien media out there.

There are plenty of DLC stories in the game, too, which all have plenty of new gameplay to offer, but sadly there are no additional DLC trophies for Trophy Hunters to sink their teeth into. Hey, at least your completion rating won’t be harmed!

My Alien Isolation Trophy Experience

Hard Difficulty Playthrough

There are a few trophies in Alien: Isolation which are bound to have the casual trophy hunter turning their nose up at it, because they’re real stinkers. “One Shot” asks you to complete the game without dying, “Mercy or Prudence?” requires that you complete the game whilst never killing another Human, and for “Survivor” you have to beat the game on Hard Difficulty.

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I may have had to spare Humans, but Androids saw no mercy!

To complete the game with a single playthrough, I’d have to earn all three of those trophies at once. Something I came very close to doing. The one I didn’t earn was “One Shot”. And it’s a little annoying because I only had about 3 deaths committed to my save file, and so could have pulled it off if I’d save-scrubbed or just used my second-to-last save in those instances.

Regardless, I had it in my mind that doing Hard Difficulty without dying was too much of a challenge for me and that I would need to do it on Novice Difficulty… If only I’d had more faith in my own abilities!

During this time, I vigilantly went after every archive log I could find and every ID tag, to reduce the amount of collectable clean-up I’d have to do. I was able to find the 100 archive logs I needed, and even got every Nostromo Log after spending about 2-3 hours in Chapter 16 speed-walking around the Sevastopol looking for anything I might have missed.

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Finding the 10th Nostromo Log.

By the end of my run, with all 19 chapters complete, I had just a few ID tags missing as well as a few miscellaneous trophies left over… And of course, the One Shot trophy…

Despite that, the longest part of my journey was over, and luckily I enjoyed the game a lot and was more than prepared to blast through a second playthrough!

Cleaning Up

I had no idea at this point whether my collectable progress would be remembered if I started a new game, so I wanted to collect every misc trophy until One Shot was all I had left, so that I could start a new game without losing progress. I can now confirm, for those curious, that collectable progress does in-fact carry over even if you make a new save so I could have earned many of these trophies during my second Playthrough instead, to save some time.

As part of this phase, I collected the last few ID tags, killed an Android with the Maintenance Wrench, killed 10 Humans, Fired the Revolver for the first time, and then let the Xenomorph kill me 100 times.

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I saw a hell of a lot of this.

The latter task took about 40-50 minutes, so I found a good spot to farm Xeno deaths and then stuck a podcast on to watch while I sacrificed myself to the penile demon several times.

Novice Deathless Run

All that remained, then, was to complete another full playthrough of the story campaign, this time without dying.

I stuck the game’s difficulty on “Novice” and blasted through it in about 6 hours, completely deathless!

In fairness, the game’s hilariously easy on Novice difficulty, half the enemies are blind and deaf, you can walk pretty much everywhere unless there’s an enemy in the room, and you take so little damage from everything except the Xeno that you begin to feel like you might be a Weyland Android.

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Doing the excruciatingly slow space-walk segments again after already having done them wasn’t very enjoyable.

The only real threat, then, was the Xenomorph but once I had the flamethrower I was able to laugh in its face whenever it appeared, as I let off a few bursts of flame and then watch it retreat into the vents like the dribbling little baby it is.

With my second run done, I was blessed with the Platinum Trophy. Which actually has a pretty disappointing icon compared to the other trophies…

My actual Platinum Screenshot contains a big spoiler, so here’s the one I got using the Switcheroo Method:

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Time Breakdown

Hard Difficulty Playthrough

Clean-up

Novice Difficulty Playthrough

Alien: Isolation Trophy Guide

I strongly recommend you get this platinum for yourself and add it to your collection. But who would I be if I laid a task like that on you without a little helping hand?

Check out our Alien Isolation Trophy Guide here.

That concludes my Alien: Isolation Review. If you enjoyed reading this review, please do let us know, it means the world to us when we hear feedback and we love engaging with people over the game we just platted. It’s basically the only thing motivating us at the moment!

You can follow us on Twitter @GetPlat and Instagram @platget where we’ll be sharing updates, screenshots, upcoming reviews and general gripes about the games we’re working on so feel free to follow us or use it as another channel for feedback!

Verdict

Plat

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Not only is Alien: Isolation probably the best Alien series game you'll ever play, but this fantastic Survival Horror has just the right balance of spine chills and adventurous curiosity to have you invested through every dark corridor of the Sevastopol. I strongly recommend you go the extra mile and plat this masterpiece.

Pros

  • Gloriously faithful 80s sci-fi aesthetic
  • Perfect balance of scripted and random encounters
  • A Horror game which gives you real agency in your survival

Cons

  • Perhaps a bit too long with some unnecessary sections
  • Alien AI becomes irritatingly predictable
  • Having to gather collectables in a game like this feels out of place and is a nuisance for trophy hunters
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Platinum Trophy

This is coming from someone who is a fan of the Alien series, but abhors modern horror and horror games; this game is fantastic. I highly recommend it to thrill-seekers and sci-fi-loving wusses alike.

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About the Author

More fond of single-player experiences and story-driven games than anything else, TheDblTap has a keen eye for secrets and collectables, a skill which serves him well as a Trophy Hunter. However, with little patience and poor timing, he can struggle where MrZhangetsu would succeed.

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