Crew member Prime Primeson, reviewer for the USCSS Stupidly Epic - final log entry:
Alien Isolation is the latest entry in the video-game related "Alien" series based on the movie franchise of the same name. Preceded by the universally panned Aliens: Colonial Marines, specifically due to the game not looking or feeling like anything that they had presented during their press conferences and it was filled with bugs and glitches - considered an extremely unpolished title by nearly all of the gaming world.
Let me just ease your fears by saying this up front - Alien Isolation is most likely going to be my game of the year. It's not a perfect game, it has some problems I'll nitpick in a second but the overall package is a fantastic, tension-filled space survival horror. It has things in common with the also fantastic Dead Space (and the game even has a little nod to that series if you look hard enough) namely that the protagonist, Amanda Ripley (daughter of Ellen Ripley, the movie series lead) is an engineer, someone who is good with fixing machines and making bespoke items of use like noisemakers, health kits and EMP mines.
So before I gush about the game, I feel like I must address some of the issues I felt with it. The game's cutscenes for one; they seem to chug along at a way lower frame rate when compared to playing the game. I have no idea why this could be, it doesn't feel like it was some kind of artistic decision to run at a more old-school cinematic frame rate, it feels like the cutscene programming was done by someone who had no clue on how to make their code efficient. I feel this way because of its inconsistency. When there's a lot of character movement it chugs like mad, but get a close up of someone speaking and it looks a bit smoother - but again, it's very inconsistent. Not only that but the game's lip synching in-game isn't very good. When you have PS2 games like Metal Gear Solid 2 that look just as good (if not, a bit better) you know you need to fire that facial animator. It just makes the characters look a bit lifeless. A game's character lineup like Silent Hill 2 for example not only has characters that feel real and alive, but a world around them that seems to be physical and really there too. Alien Isolation's human NPCs and even Amanda herself seem to have little to no presence, no physicality. I don't think anything even cast a shadow - Amanda certainly didn't and she didn't even have a reflection when picking up and looking into a space helmet. RayG said she must be a vampire or something... The androids and the Alien itself - They're utterly awesome though!
Another nitpick I have - and yes this is a bit of a reach - is that I'm not very fond of the crafting system in the game. It doesn't really need to be in there. It's implemented in a way that seems like it's shoehorned in just because Amanda is some kind of handyman engineer type. It doesn't have that satisfying workbench and crafting table feeling you got in Dead Space, you just pick up random anomalous stuff go into some intangible menu and spend the items you find and hey presto - the item you want is now in your inventory. It's a big shame as well because everything you do outside of the crafting has a chunky, clunky, physical nature to it. I just wish the crafting system did too - I love crafting systems, but I just feel like the game could have implemented it a bit better.
That's all the complaining I have though, the rest of what makes the game is utterly fantastic. The stealth gameplay for one - this is the only game I've ever played where I have literally been on the edge of my seat the whole way through apart from the very beginning. It's so tension fuelled! To start with I was just leaning back comfortable in my nice big leather seat but as the game went further and further I found myself leaning in closer and closer. You're listening for tell-tale sounds of enemies, holding your own breath in case someone hears you while in a closet or under a table - heck, the game even includes an optional noise detector if you want to play with a microphone enabled. Any noises you do end up making could mean Amanda's death!
You don't dare sprint in the game, if you do someone - or worse, something - will hear it. Sprinting in the game is a last resort and you MUST make sure the alien isn't close because it WILL catch you. No, the game relies heavily on a slow methodical approach for your survival. Hiding behind objects, inside closets or under tables occasionally peeking out using the lean button (L1 for PS4 users) to make sure the coast is clear. Holding out the motion tracker and being terrified of nearby green dots is something that just works. Like I said, it's the tense nature of things. The sounds, the dark, retro-futuristic atmosphere. It all blends together to make an experience well worth your time.
Which is one thing you'll need - this game also has that Metroid Prime feeling of expansive, massive areas that can be fully explored as you progress and come back with new items to get through previously inaccessible doors and vents. The game's huge not just in terms of scale, but has a lengthy story too. In a world where most first person games are fairly quick to finish... say 6 or 8 hours at most, this game took me around 16 hours and has multiple difficulties. It boasts 18 chapters and each one is a struggle to survive. Because this review was so long in coming I restarted the game on the easy setting and let me just tell you, this title will test your patience and will to persevere through in ways no other game you've played on the lowest difficulty ever has. Tons of instant Alien deaths and having to run for your life await you whichever difficulty you set it on. Oh and you can't constantly rely on melee attacking the androids. They may be slow moving, but their reflexes in a wrench-fight are second to none. No, you'll need to stun them with the electric prod or drop an EMP mine down before smacking their heads in.
So yeah, gameplay-wise it's absolutely incredible! But what about visually and audibly? The game's art director and lead sound engineer must have just sat and watched the first two Alien movies like a million times, because this is a 100% faithful recreation of the film's visual and audio style. From the tense music to the blips and beeps of the motion tracker the game nails it. Even crafting an item rewards you with a nostalgic blippity-bleep-bloop from the movie. Visually though, it literally feels like you're playing the first Alien movie. The chunky keyboards and buttons. The levers you have to pull, bolts you have to turn, all of it feels like it was pulled right out of Ridley Scott's masterpiece. Down to the point where you kill androids and they start freaking out and spewing that white milk stuff all over the place. The game is a loving recreation of what made the first movie such a memorable experience, with some little things like the motion tracker from the second film thrown in for good measure. It's not just nostalgia fuelled though, this game is legitimately standalone good. Obviously fans of the series will get the most out of it, but someone who has never experienced anything of the "Alien" movies and games can come in expecting something special.
So what else could I say about Alien Isolation? It's a lengthy survival horror that I feel even is length is intentional. You'll enjoy playing it but its tension will have you crying into your hands that this nightmare struggle Amanda's going through seems to never end. It's a visceral, physical game that has a couple of design flaws that CAN break immersion - but if you let the game suck you in, you'll be hanging off the edge of the seat like I was for 95% of it. When playing it, I was there. If something distracted me outside of the game, I'd come out of the trance-like state I was in, taking a deep breath. This game will utterly have you from beginning to harrowing end.
This is Prime; last survivor of the Sevastopol, signing off.
(For more reviews like this one, visit the Stupidly Epic website)