Alien: Isolation: A tense game of cat-and-mouse

October 13, 2014


Few films have inspired a generation of action-focused science fiction, both in games and other movies, more than James Cameron’s Aliens. While the titles inspired by Aliens are generally excellent, the ones based directly on that property haven’t fared as well. This is where Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation comes in. Based entirely on the original horror film that spawned the franchise, Isolation is a subtler take on its source material and, as a result, manages to make more of an impact.

Taking place 15 years after the events of the original Alien, Isolation follows Amanda Ripley, the daughter of the film’s central character, as she boards a space station in the hopes of finding the truth behind the disappearance of her mother. A lot of the back story will be lost on those not familiar with the movie, as will many clever callbacks, but this tale manages to stand on its own thanks to its understated take on this ever-expanding sci-fi universe.

Isolation has a surprisingly slow-paced opening, giving you an opportunity to adjust to the game’s mechanics and take in the atmosphere. In this day and age, this sort of opening is rarely seen but always appreciated, especially in horror games. It isn’t too long before Ripley runs into the titular alien, spending the majority of the experience trying to survive both the seemingly invincible creature and the many other dangers that surround her on the abandoned station.

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Once you are into the game proper, it won’t take long before you fully grasp what Alien: Isolation is all about: keeping hidden from its many dangers as you attempt to complete a handful of different objectives. The alien spends the majority of the game on your tail, always lurking in the distance even when it’s not visible. This creature and its incredibly adaptable (and unpredictable) AI is the star of the show, making sure you never feel safe.

At first, you might yourself exceedingly frustrated by its behavior, unable to get a full understanding of how to properly escape without immediate death. Once you spend a little more time observing the creature from one of many hiding places, you’ll better understand its patterns and, from this, find new ways to avoid contact with it entirely. Don’t get me wrong, it will still find you and kill you on many occasions, but with the right amount of patience (and due in part to the game’s incredible sound design), you’ll soon find yourself able to tell just when it is and isn’t ready to pounce.

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This is the real thrill in Isolation: always expecting the alien, but never being sure exactly when it’ll show itself. This sense of dread keeps you constantly on edge and aware of your surroundings at all times. You’ll quickly be able to notice (and mentally note) hiding spots, surveying each and every room to better plan a strategy for when the inevitable happens. And since you can’t save on the fly, coming across a save station you is like finally being able to catch your breath after a lengthy cat-and-mouse session with the creature.

The alien isn’t the only threat, and depending on who you ask, it may not even be the most dangerous. You’ll come across scatterings of human NPCs along your journey, many of whom won’t hesitate to shoot you for even glancing in their direction. This, of course, can summon the alien. Nothing is more satisfying than sitting back in a hiding spot and watching the creature tear these guys to shreds. Sure, you’ll then have to deal with it in your area, but at least you know you’ll have an easy way to dispose of anyone standing in your way if absolutely necessary. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

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And then there are the Worker Joes. The Alien series has had its fair share of dangerous androids, but the Worker Joes have them all beat. Not only are they not designed to appear human, but with their glowing eyes and expressionless faces, they are also speedy and silent, making them just as much of a threat as the alien. Needless to say, these guys are incredibly creepy, and many of the game’s best scenarios have you sneaking through giant clusters of them. As terrifying as the alien is, I found the missions involving the Worker Joes to be the scariest.

You do have a multitude of different tools at your disposal, thankfully. For example, your handy motion tracker is capable of, well, detecting motion from any moving target. You’ll mostly be using it to check if the alien is in the vicinity, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself keeping a close eye on it at all times, even when you think you’re safe. In one of the smartest design choices, pulling it out makes Ripley focus on it over her surroundings, making the environment around you slightly blurry. It puts you at a slight disadvantage and forces you to never rely on it in all situations.

You also have a handful of different distraction items and weapons. The distraction items, including noise makers and flares, never seemed particularly useful, but weapons are your absolute best resource. You have a couple of standard guns, none of which are recommended to use when you know the alien is around, but they aren’t all you come across.

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Other weapons include a rechargeable stun rod, perfect for incapacitating Worker Joes, and a flamethrower, the only weapon in the game effective against the alien. It won’t kill it, but it will give you just enough leeway in order to find a safe place before it decided to come back for more. Some of my favorite moments come from just narrowly escaping death thanks to some quick thinking and the always-useful flamethrower.

Alien: Isolation manages to be both an effectively terrifying and a fantastic homage to a classic film. The art design is brilliant, recreating that film’s visuals in some truly memorable ways. On top of that, the pure terror you experience attempting to sneak around the alien, Worker Joes or even normal humans is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a recent horror game. Despite all of that positivity, it does manage to handicap itself due to its length.

Isolation is a long game. A very long game. While I still found myself truly enjoying the majority of the experience, it has several sections that really drag it down. It’s almost exhausting, both in terms of its grueling nature and its overstuffed campaign. The pacing is great, don’t get me wrong, and there are a decent number of quiet moments, but you’ll definitely begin to get more impatient with its seemingly endless bag of tricks by the time you get close to the end. It doesn’t ruin the experience, it just makes you wish The Creative Assembly were a little more focused in its desire to pay tribute to Alien.


It’s safe to say Alien: Isolation isn’t a game for everyone. Its brutal difficulty and slow pace will turn many people away, but if it hooks you, like it did me, you’ll find a lot to love here. Sure, it goes on a little too long, but it is one of the most memorable, stressful and all around terrifying horror experiences I’ve had in a very long time. The moments of absolute dread I felt did more than enough to overcome its weaknesses. If you’re willing to overlook its flaws or simply want to see how a team best handle a licensed properly, especially one as revered as Alien, look no further.

Pros: Brilliant art design and atmosphere that invokes the film, alien AI keeps you on edge at all times
Cons: Overstays its welcome

Score: 4/5

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