Review by Samantha Lienhard
Alien: Isolation is the game survival horror fans have been waiting for.
Not only does it perfectly capture the aesthetic and mood of the original Alien from 1979, but it also adapts classic survival horror mechanics to modern gameplay. Recursive unlocking returns in glorious form, with numerous locked doors you gradually find the means to open and minor puzzles along the way. Resources are limited and involve a crafting system, through which you can build items like medkits, noise makers, EMP mines, and Molotov cocktails. These items enable you to use different tactics to approach situations.
Combat has been de-emphasized without The Creative Assembly resorting to a helpless protagonist. While Amanda Ripley can use weapons, every fight risks drawing the attention of the nigh-invulnerable Alien.
The Alien is a terrifying opponent. Fire forces it back and distractions lure it away, but only for a short time. As it stalks you through Sevastopol Station, its use of the vents means it can show up anywhere. Your only hope is to sneak through the station while watching your motion tracker and hiding whenever the Alien approaches. Even then, your safety isn’t guaranteed.
Your nemesis adapts to your actions, whether that means the Alien checks lockers more often or becomes less afraid of fire. You will never reach a point where you feel completely safe.
And that is where Alien: Isolation truly excels—its ability to cause sheer, unrelenting dread.
The title monster isn’t even the only threat. You’ll also face bands of humans who have turned against everyone else in the station and Sevastopol’s resident AI, the Working Joes. Unlike the AI in the movies, Working Joes are more primitive, with intentionally inhuman appearances. Their dialogue tends to be both morbidly comedic and horrifying, as they impassively attack you with comments such as, “You are becoming hysterical.”
The story is probably Alien: Isolation’s weakest point. It stars Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Alien protagonist Ellen Ripley. When Sevastopol Station gets the flight recorder from the Nostromo, Amanda goes there to try to learn what happened to her mother. Survival soon becomes a more pressing concern, though the search for clues about the Nostromo persists throughout the game. Alongside the core plot, the story of Sevastopol Station’s final days is told through scattered log entries, in true survival horror style. Despite some good moments, Alien: Isolation’s story and characters never become particularly compelling.
Its only other flaw is that it is a bit longer than it should be. Even as someone who loved all of Alien: Isolation’s mechanics, I grew tired of it near the end. The last couple of chapters felt like padding, with unnecessary twists to lengthen the game. If the game ended just a bit earlier, it would have been ideal.
Modern survival horror has attempts to go in many directions with varying results, but Alien: Isolation feels like a true evolution. Its nods to the original film and attention to detail will please Alien fans, and fans of classic survival horror will love how it refines the genre’s traditional gameplay. If you fall into one of those categories, I highly recommend you give it a try.