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Every year around Halloween, I like to binge-watch scary movies to get me in the mood for the holiday. This year, my partner suggested something new: binge-playing a scary game. He had read reviews and decided on the action horror game, Alien: Isolation, which has been out now for just over a year. Over the past two weeks, we took turns playing through this adventure on his computer.
I had fun playing as Amanda Ripley, a strong female protagonist, using stealth and logic tactics to avoid the single alien and other, lesser enemies. The game takes place 15 years after the first Alien film, with Amanda setting out on a quest to find some details about her missing mother, Ellen Ripley. This is the initial objective of the game, but it eventually turns into finding a way off the Sevastopol, a space station littered with the alien, androids, and human survivors. This change in objective is fine, but the game does not make that clear (suggestion: don’t give me false hope for an ending before extending the conclusion of the game by several hours.)
There are numerous positives to the game. Given that it’s a first-person game, you really get to experience the scares up close and personally. There are many tense moments, including your initial cut scene encounter with the titular Xenomorph as it slithers out of a vent over your head. Even before this, you experience the main tactics of the game: crouching, slow walking, and peeping, which are all necessary for your survival. Bullets are limited and various diversion-generating devices are plenty. This adds to the fear and suspenseful experience of Alien: Isolation.
I enjoyed playing as Amanda, but I found that the motion tracker quickly becomes the protagonist of the game. This isn’t necessarily a complaint, but I didn’t enjoy relying so heavily on the device. The sounds are a close second to ensuring your safety, but the problem with this is that it’s rather unreliable. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t without its glitches. From patchy spawning and traveling of the alien across the map, to unreliable sounds, you have to play a guessing game as to where your main enemy is throughout the 15 hours of gameplay.
In lieu of these glitches, you find yourself dying often without chance of survival. Given that I died innumerable times, I got to experience the various kill sequences by the Xenomorph. These are detailed and upsetting, but also relieving, as you have breathing time before your next spawning in a loaded save.
Save points are few and far between, which is frustrating, given the pace you travel through the game. With all of the sneaking and slinking, you assuredly won’t be making your way through this game too quickly. Additionally, it is made clear that you will need to backtrack through the station by the doors requiring an ion torch — something you will continually wonder about for quite some hours.
A main challenge of the game is hiding from your enemies. If you find yourself in one of the many lockers across the map, you can waste your health by holding your breath and lean into the back of the locker. One time, I had found my way into a small metal storage cabinet, and an android aggressively ripped me out, pulling me toward his blank, red-light-lit eyes. Sudden scares like this force you to mirror the fear Amanda is going through in the game. They also make the patterns confusing, as an enemy can discover you randomly, despite all of the precautions you take.
Rewiring stations — placed all around the map — are confusing. It took some time to figure out what the point of them was and what they added to the gameplay. Most of the time, it was nothing except a little atmospheric embellishment.
The atmosphere is built in the down time between alien appearances. Following the aesthetic of the first movie, Alien: Isolation is designed to look like the 1970s take on a futuristic space station with mechanical futuristic flourishes. The entire game is well designed, and the art is easily appreciated, despite the constant stress you are put under.
I would say that the number of hours was the game’s biggest downfall. Upon reading up on this game, my partner warned me that many people were complaining about the 15-or-so hours it took for them to complete the game, but we waved this off as a bridge we would eventually get to, but I wish we had listened. I would recommend playing this game for the first half, but I wouldn’t suggest getting too invested, given that the payoff is hardly worth it.