Alien: Iso­la­tion

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Sega De­vel­oper The Cre­ative Assem­bly For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Out now

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Alien: Iso­la­tion be­gins where the 1979 film ended, with Ellen Ri­p­ley’s chill­ing ship’s log en­try. It’s a per­fect jumping-off point for a game that casts you as Amanda Ri­p­ley and asks you to in­ves­ti­gate your mother’s dis­ap­pear­ance, but it also serves to high­light the gulf that still ex­ists be­tween film and videogames. Sigour­ney Weaver’s short per­for­mance – re-recorded for the game – is nu­anced, poignant and loaded. It’s a pow­er­ful mo­ment that’s im­me­di­ately un­der­mined by the game’s first cutscene, which flatly in­tro­duces us to en­gi­neer Amanda and fel­low Wey­landYu­tani em­ployee Sa­muels, the lat­ter bring­ing news of the dis­cov­ery of the Nostromo’s flight recorder.

The vo­cal per­for­mances aren’t ter­ri­ble for the most part, but what lit­tle depth the ac­tors sal­vage from the script is un­der­cut by The Cre­ative Assem­bly’s be­spoke en­gine, which, de­spite be­ing ex­cep­tional in ev­ery other re­spect, ren­ders hu­mans as dead-eyed manikins with lock­jaw. Char­ac­ters are at least ex­tremely sweaty, but oth­er­wise they strug­gle to re­sem­ble the movie’s stars. And while Sa­muels and Ri­p­ley’s lines im­prove – even if they don’t feel like they truly be­long to this uni­verse – Tay­lor, Wey­land-Yu­tani’s le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the mis­sion, is an in­ex­pli­ca­bly poor ad­di­tion to the cast, and wouldn’t be out of place in a mid­dling JRPG.

This in­aus­pi­cious start is fur­ther marred by nig­gling lit­tle me­chan­i­cal hic­cups that re­ally should have been rel­e­gated to the past by now. Kill a hu­man in your first stealth en­counter, for ex­am­ple, and you’ll be able to take their re­volver ammo but not the gun that lies next to them; your re­volver is wait­ing for you in an of­fice a lit­tle far­ther ahead. And much later on in the game, you’ll need to ac­ti­vate a clean­ing droid in or­der to make use of its trans­port hatch to get around a locked gate. The so­lu­tion to the puz­zle is ob­vi­ous, but for some rea­son you can’t in­ter­act with the bot un­til you’ve prac­ti­cally pressed your nose against the ob­struc­tion first – a coun­ter­in­tu­itive ac­tion, given that the peo­ple who locked that gate in the first place are cur­rently on the other side, emp­ty­ing their clips at you.

But while th­ese and a few other prob­lems, not least the in­suf­fi­cient ex­pla­na­tion of the game’s var­i­ous sys­tems, make for a bumpy on-ramp, you’ll soon find your­self ig­nor­ing each tiny let­down just to drink in the as­ton­ish­ing at­mos­phere of Iso­la­tion’s cen­tral lo­cale. A lot has been made of the team’s ac­cess to the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion ma­te­rial for the film, and its at­ten­tion to de­tail man­i­fests it­self ev­ery­where, right down to the spi­dery pipe rout­ing and padded leather pan­els that line the Sev­astopol space sta­tion’s cor­ri­dors. It’s there in the flick­er­ing CRT dis­plays and bulky hard­ware, and in the bob­bing of­fice toys and loud ex­pul­sions of steam from pre­vi­ously un­no­ticed valves. There have been plenty of Alien games prior to Iso­la­tion, but this is the first time you feel like you’ve stepped onto the set.

That over­whelm­ing sen­sa­tion, and the joy of spot­ting ev­ery ref­er­ence and trans­po­si­tion, will be enough to carry you through the first hours prior to the in­tro­duc­tion of the much-hyped xenomorph, at which point Iso­la­tion stops be­ing dis­ap­point­ing and re­veals it­self to be un­like any­thing you’ve ever played be­fore.

It starts rel­a­tively gen­tly, with a num­ber of hor­ren­dously tense stealth sec­tions in which you try to keep track of the creature’s po­si­tion while mov­ing to­wards your ob­jec­tives in tee­ter­ing, un­cer­tain steps. It might take ten min­utes to get from one side of an area to another, and mis­takes spell death with few ex­cep­tions. Be­fore long, how­ever, the alien has ac­cess to almost ev­ery part of the space sta­tion that you do, and there are no pa­trol routes to learn, no easy AI short­cuts to ex­ploit: you are be­ing hunted, and your sur­vival now de­pends on in­stinc­tive de­ci­sions.

Thank­fully, Cre­ative Assem­bly’s tech does a far bet­ter job of ren­der­ing the creature than it does its prey. The alien moves with terrifying pur­pose and will be upon you in seconds if you make too much noise. It can’t be out­run, but if you can block off its path – by punch­ing an emer­gency door over­ride as you pass through it, for in­stance – or break line of sight, then there’s a small chance you’ll be able to hide in a locker or un­der a desk. But the game never pan­ders to its play­ers, in­stead de­liv­er­ing an un­com­pro­mis­ing take on what it might be like to be trapped on a space sta­tion with a deadly foe. This means that some­times you might open a door to find the creature, and a restart, wait­ing on the other side. Play­ers ex­pect­ing more tra­di­tional videogame em­pow­er­ment may find such mo­ments frus­trat­ing, but Cre­ative Assem­bly’s alien would feel com­pro­mised if you weren’t so vul­ner­a­ble. The fe­roc­ity of the alien’s at­tacks and the game’s low tol­er­ance for mis­judg­ments are both mag­ni­fied by the man­ual save sys­tem, which re­quires you to use emer­gency phone points around the sta­tion to shore up your progress. They’re gen­er­ously placed for the most part, but there are a few tough, lengthy sec­tions in which fail­ure will set you back a good chunk of play. Re­sort­ing to quick or auto saves would di­lute the ten­sion, but long gaps be­tween save points can sap your will­ing­ness to ex­per­i­ment with the game’s AI and the var­i­ous tools at your dis­posal.

Set­backs do at least demon­strate how many dif­fer­ent ways each sce­nario can play out. Along with the alien, you’ll also en­counter hu­man en­e­mies and Work­ing Joes, the no-frills an­droid types man­u­fac­tured by Seeg­son Cor­po­ra­tion, which owns Sev­astopol. On Hard dif­fi­culty (which Cre­ative Assem­bly rec­om­mends as the way the game should be played), a bul­let or two is all it will take to end you, but if you can sur­vive be­ing fired on for long enough, the noise of the guns will bring the alien down

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