Alien: Isolation Review

Welcome to Sevastopol. A Seegson space station orbiting gas giant KG348… I’m a survivor of this horrifying accident. 32 hours of hell in space…

This was the first game for which I haven’t really watched any trailers or gameplay previews prior to release. The main reason for this was not to ruin my experience. And I was right. I did know that I’ll meet one of the most terrifying organisms in the movie industry, the Alien. And I was aware that it’s heavily stealth based game. But other than that, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Trailers and teasers just show too much these days and you already get the feel for the game even before you try it. Which is not cool, trust me. Try one game this way and you’ll see that experience is indeed a lot better.

Basically I had a very very really long review in the pipeline, but decided to sack it and make a lot shorter version which still ended up being quite long. Anyone who wanted to read a review about it already did so, no point in doing it twice. I’ll just make few highlights and my opinion on the critics others have made. Be aware that there will be spoilers ahead!

The story is pretty good, it has few twists, but isn’t anything on a level of System Shock 2 or the original Deus Ex. but still reasonably good for an Alien game, considering we basically know everything about them and anyone who has watches all the movies and played all AvP games knows how things go. Since I haven’t watched any trailers I didn’t really know how I’ll meet the alien, so I was very cautious through the entire “introduction” section, because I thought it will jump on me any second. The tension escalated quite well till around the middle of the game. Which I thought was actually the end, so the game sort of caught me by surprise, especially at the 3/4 of the game where I found out that things went to shits down below the reactor core of Sevastopol. Ending is a tiny bit disappointing and I wish the whole game would escalate in a more tense way, because the first half was really intense and after a middle of the game, tension sort of just drops to zero when you’re dealing with those malfunctioning working Joe’s. They are a challenge, especially the maintenance ones, but they just aren’t as terrifying as the alien and that really killed the atmosphere for me until you deal with some more aliens. The game sort of escalates in tension twice and not in one big linear escalating chunk. The ending is not definitive and clearly calls for a sequel. Do it Creative Assembly! Do it!

Graphics and audio are a fantastic aspect of this game and I wish more of developers would follow Creative Assembly. The graphics are amazing. Sharp textures, amazing shading, shadows that actually have soft edges and not serrated, like we see them in so many games. Environmental lighting is just out of this world with all the sparks making tiny fragments of light in the corridors, light penetrating smoke and fog, the volumetric fog itself is really on a movie level that really makes a damn good atmosphere. Or the heat haze all over the place when you’re down at the reactor engineering. Really subtle touch that gives a great feeling to the levels. Oh and light corona and lens flares are the most spectacular thing I’ve seen in any game so far. When you get that rare occasion to stare out the window of Sevastopol station and observe the orange glowing star in the distance, just breathtaking. And best of all, I was able to experience this brand new game maxed out with silky smooth framerate on a 3 generations old graphic card at 1080p. I have an overclocked Radeon HD7950 which is quite old by all means and definitions and it ran this game as smoothly as butter. That’s amazing and it shows that the game is superbly optimized. There are few tiny glitches like small gaps between certain world elements and alien tail doesn’t get shadow and SSAO treatment when it’s being dragged on the ground, but these are really tiny details.

Sound is amazingly detailed and while I really miss EAX 5.0 (software 3D renderers used in modern games make environmental sounds feel artificial and sort of plasticky) that would give it that proper realistic material feel to the sounds, It’s still good. I especially loved the EVA sequence where you hear pieces of debris hitting your EVA suit and helmet. It just felt so realistic and overwhelming. Especially since whole game is based on being aware of the sounds and the fact that half of the sounds will scare the shit out of you. Music is also great and makes really amazing and tense atmosphere in the parts before you meet the alien, however once you have to actually deal with it, I had to disable music. I prefer to play realistic as a true survivor against a terrifying alien creature, so trying to work out its footsteps over the entire orchestra slamming on the instruments wasn’t all that helpful. It’s sort of part which is great, but is conflicting with the game mechanics. One important fact to point out, this is one of the rare games where motion tracker, a first person player device affects the outer world beyond just a player “element” or a device in your hands. If you use a motion tracker when alien is very close to you, it will actually hear it. So it can help or doom you if you’re not careful. Really nice detail. Oh and you just have to play it with headphones. It’s the only proper way to play such a game. With headphones and a dark room. Only that way you experience the visual and audio together in an almost perfect form.

And with the sound affecting gameplay, there are also weapons that do the same. Holding molotov cocktail or flamethrower primed in your hands and the alien will actually see the flame and it will attract it. Just the same as with the sound, something I’ve never seen in any other game and really adds up to the realism factor. Initial weapons like the revolver are not of any match against the alien and they just attract more shit onto you, but alien is afraid of fire and once you get those kinds of weapons, things become a bit more forgiving and while you still have to think a bit since ammo is not exactly plentiful, you are allowed to make mistakes since it will not mean an instant death anymore.

There were also some complaints over few game elements like alien discovering their hiding places “randomly”. That’s not true at all. All such scenarios that people complained about were not “random” because the game decided so, but because they made crucial mistakes. And I could see all that in their Youtube recordings. You can read more about them in my Alien Survival guide down below, but they mostly violated sneaking rules where they simply walked or even sprinted when alien was in the room. That will always give you away. Or not taking into account alien field of vision. While it often doesn’t see you when you’re hiding, being hidden under a bench where alien can see you from the side of it from a far, that’s not random, that you picking a wrong hiding spot. Plain and simple. In the entire game, I’ve NEVER been discovered randomly, because I was very careful when picking hiding spots. And when I was discovered, I simply fucked up my timing. But it was NEVER random. The other cases that I’ve seen were people bringing up motion tracker or molotov and flamethrower when alien was nearby. Those 2 things mentioned above that people apparently aren’t aware of. The first person weapon effects that affect world around the player. So, the alien is not “cheating” as some say, they just screwed up. Only place where alien felt like it’s cheating is on Hard difficulty. It wasn’t more difficult as such, I could just clearly see the game directing it towards me even though I sneaked past it like a true ninja. So, playing it on medium is really a must if you want to make alien feel like a real living creature and not like a scripted cheating robot.

Save points and lack of auto saving. I disagree with both. There is auto saving when you enter trains, most elevators and even some game sections towards the end of the game. And the save points really aren’t any different from Dead Space 1 saving stations. There are enough of them not to make the game too frustrating and they force you to decide how you’ll progress through the game. I’ve saved so many times even though it said “Hostiles nearby”. It was really tense to pick a critical moment and get to the saving station and save. And in the entire game, not a single time I got caught during the saving. There were near “hit” moments, but never got killed while saving. It adds to the tension and atmosphere. I generally hate limited saving, but having Quick save and Quick load in this game, you’d basically be slamming that all the time and that would kill the experience for sure. I used to be one of those quick save junkies because I’m a perfectionist in my life. So, game forcing me to do things more slowly and carefully actually makes sense and I appreciate it.

Next major complaint was backtracking and re-using of the existing game levels. I frankly didn’t feel like they were annoying at all. In fact, they gave the Sevastopol that immersive feel that you’re actually walking inside a meaningful structure and not just endless unique corridors that never repeat themselves or make meaningful connections to each other. But they did it in a fine way and not like developers did in Halo with freaking copy and pasted 6 bridges, countless retarded copy pasted Library corridors and copy and pasted end ship with just a bit different burned textures. I still take that as the worst offense in level design history and I always compare games to that. Alien:Isolation was nothing like that. Yes, you do walk through same transit stations few times and you do walk through some of the older sections, but just so you can get to the doors and parts that were out of reach in the beginning. Anyone who played System Shock 2 has experienced the same and it gave that immersive feeling just the same. It just feels proper and physical if you can always return to most of the game level parts. Which you can and all the gadgets, objects and items will be still there after hours you left them behind. It makes the world alive and meaningful and I actually like the level design decision for that.

Yes, the game has few minor issues and glitches, but if you look at it as a whole, the game is amazing experience and I think it is the best game I’ve played this year. And it’s certainly among the best games I’ve ever played in fact. You just have to experience it in a way the game was intended to be experienced. Invest time into proper sneaking, making sure you’re silent, sparing resources, make smart decisions. My idea was to play it as a true survivor, trying to die as little as possible and take as much time as needed to end the game as I was really trying to get away from a real alien. If you have the intention to just rush through the game, forget it. You’ll miss half of the game and you’ll also miss half of the true survival experience. People are so obsessed these days to finish the games as quickly as possible and then brag about it on forums. I’m not ashamed of playing this game for full 32 hours. I’m proud of that fact and I wish more players would take more time to enjoy the games. Because when you’ll play it for the second time, the experience will never ever be the same, because you already know how levels look, what major will happen through the story and what’s the end like. So take time and experience the game fully the first time.

I’m not going to give it a % score of X out of 10 score, I’ll just say that game is excellent if you’re willing to invest your time in it properly. And as such, the game earns that cult status. You know, the: “Every time you mention Alien:Isolation, someone will reinstall it.” thing? System Shock 2 has it, so does Deus Ex. And I think Alien:Isolation certainly deserves that same cult status. Masses will not love it, but every time you’ll hear a mention of this game, it will bring back all the amazing and terrifying experiences that you’ve had in it. And that’s for me worth more than anything else.

Buy the game and support developers like Creative Assembly, who have some grande cojones to release a game of such type in times where everyone churn out Call of Duty clones on yearly basis just because that business model guarantees money. They’ve instead gone for the “by gamers for gamers” model. Reward them by opening your wallet. And because it’s the right thing to do.

Here is also my Alien Survival for Dummies guide:

You might be surprised how many of the “rules” you’ve violated when you got caught by the alien. Or how many ways there were to get around a problem. I think there are quite a lot of really useful tips and ways that will give you a new view on a game replay value.

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