Friday, June 10, 2016

Alien: Isolation Review

Alright, time for the first game review for the site. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not really a gamer. Which is why I just now got around to playing this game. I'm a huge fan of the Alien films, (well, two of them, as you well know) so I was looking forward to this one for a while. But is it any good? Read on to find out in my final review in the Alien franchise.

It's 15 years after the events of Ridley Scott's Alien, and you play as Amanda Ripley. The daughter of, you guessed it, our hero from the Alien films, Ellen Ripley. When she's approached and told that they may have found the flight recorder of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley's lost ship, Amanda hopes that this may give her the closure she needs about what happened to her lost mother.

But when she gets there, surprise surprise, she finds the station said to have this flight recorder in shambles. And there's a mysterious creature terrorizing it.

Guys... I finally got my Alien 3. As I said in my Aliens review, Ripley's story should have ended with Aliens. This is a perfect way to continue the Alien story, and it never feels forced. Because of its story ties to the Alien film, not all of which I'll go into here, it never feels forced. And I loved that I got a continuation of the story I love so much without it being an unnecessary cash grab.

The story itself is also really great. It's filled with great twists and turns, nods to the Alien films, and the typical setbacks the franchise is known for. You're always on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. And I really loved the story here.

The anchor for that story is Amanda Ripley. And it was great to play as her. She's a lot like her
mother, being stubborn and headstrong, but she's not a carbon copy. She has her own set of motivations, which becomes really obvious toward the end when she makes a rather big decision that perhaps her mother wouldn't have. And it was really great to have another strong female character leading an entry in the Alien franchise. When the game ended, I was left wanting to see more of her. And I hope this isn't the last we see of her character.

That does, though, lead into one negative aspect of the game. We learn in the Aliens director's cut, the definitive way to view the film, that Amanda lived to be 66. And being roughly 25 in this game, I was never really worried that she wouldn't make it out okay. It never takes away from the in-game suspense, but I do think it takes a bit away from the actual story itself. Even if it was necessary in the long run.

The other characters in the game are fine. They serve their purpose, but it's a video game. Don't go in expecting a plethora of fascinating and compelling characters. You do get somewhat attached to a few, but it's ultimately Ripley that you're invested in throughout.

Another thing that makes her character so compelling is Andrea Deck's voice work as the character. Beyond simply doing an excellent job with the voice, which is made even better by the impressive script and witty dialogue, she doesn't have a particularly strong or commanding voice. And I loved that. She sounded like a real person put in a horrible situation. Her voice would crack, there were times when her voice would lose strength in the middle of a shout, and it sounded great. Sounded... real. The rest of the voice acting was fine, but don't expect anything groundbreaking from anyone else. They sever their purpose fine, but it doesn't go much beyond that.

One of the best things about this game is that it FEELS like Alien. The graphics are really great, even if I think some of the textures and small details could have been better, and the aesthetic puts you right back into the universe created by Ridley Scott. The hallways are straight out of the Nostromo, the cutting torch looks just like Hicks' in Aliens, there are even those weird moving chicken things all over the ship. Every little thing is completely part of that universe. Even the terminology they use and the way Amanda pushes buttons. The retro future is fully realized and truly beautiful.

Another thing it takes from Alien is its sense of dread that you feel throughout the game. Even when you're not in any danger, you feel like you are. This game gets in your head like few others can. It's incredibly scary. There are many threats you have to deal with on the station. There's the Alien, of course, which can't be killed. Eventually you get a few weapons that can deter it for a bit, but they're few in number and hard to come by. So it's safer just to hide from it and pray.

Beyond the Alien itself being extremely well designed and terrifying, one of the scariest things is knowing that if it catches you, there's nothing you can do. And you're put back at the last save station you found. They're few and far between, and each time you find one it feels like a huge victory in and of itself. There are also other enemies aboard the station that are all very different. There are androids called Working Joes that it's possible to kill, albeit extremely difficult, but they're relentless. They basically look like walking mannequins, and they're really about as scary as the Alien. Then there are the other people on the station. Many of whom are hostile, And they're some of the hardest to deal with in the game. And the game throws all of these at you at different points. Making different areas of the game varied and interesting.

Probably my favorite thing about this game, though, it the atmosphere. Much of which is made so great by the amazing score, which it borrows from the original Alien film. It compliments the situations extremely well, and sometimes, it'll swell for seemingly no reason. Always keeping you on edge and not sure what's about to happen. I feel like the game affects you in a lot of ways psychologically. There's the music, for one, but everything puts you on edge. A dripping pipe makes you think it's the Alien's saliva falling from the ceiling. Or a bent pipe makes you freak out because you think it's the Alien's head. A light in the distance looks like the eyes of an android. I'm sure some of this is intentional, but most of it is just because the game gets in your head. And that's awesome.

We have to talk about the gameplay, of course, which is superb. You're in first person for the entirety of the game trying your best to be stealthy and avoid conflict as much as you can. It's a hard game and can be tedious to play. There were many times where I died repeatedly, but I never felt like anything was unbeatable. I just had to try harder and be more careful. Personally, I played as stealthily as possible, avoiding conflict whenever I could and pretty much stayed crouched all the time. Which generally allowed me to have enough ammo and supplies stored up for when I needed them. You can play in a more action oriented way if you want to, but you would find yourself in a situation eventually where fighting simply isn't an option many times. Even as hard as I was trying to avoid conflict, I still got to the end of the game with pretty much no ammo left. That being said, you probably COULD get through the game without firing a shot. It's plausible, but you'd have to be the most talented gamer I've ever met.

The game runs very smoothly as well. I encountered no glitches in my playthrough, and everything is very responsive and realistic. The AIs in the game are also incredible and sporadic. You never know what path the Alien's going to take or where it'll go next. And the thing has the best ears... ever. I have to admit that there were a few times when I feel like the Alien definitely should have seen me when it didn't. Which, in the moment, I was fine with. But looking back I wish that would have been tightened a bit. Of course, prevailing theory is that the Aliens can't see well in general. Relying on sound and smell more than anything else. Not that that makes it better, but it's worth mentioning.

All good things must come to an end, and this game does have a few problems. Even if they are
minor. You have to collect items to build different devices and weapons such as bombs and medkits, and I generally always felt like I had plenty of items. I never really ran low on them, and when I'd try to scavenge, it seemed like I was constantly maxed out on everything. I just kinda wish supplies had been harder to come by. Ammo is as difficult to find as ever, though.

This is a minor thing, but I have to mention that while looking at a computer or hacking something, you're completely committed to it. You can't check your surroundings or turn your head and it happens in real time. Meaning in the few seconds it takes to check a computer or back out of it, you could very easily be killed. For a game that feels very real, that took me out of it a bit.

Lastly, this may have been necessary, but in the third quarter of the game, the quality notably dips, I feel. For reasons I won't go into here, the Alien is removed for that part of the game, and not having that singular threat removes some of the uniqueness from the experience. I think it was necessary because it keeps things different and interesting, and keeps the Alien parts from getting stale, but things still didn't feel quite as fun. The game does a lot to keep things interesting, though. When you start to rely on your weapons, it takes them away from you. When you've come to rely on your motion tracker, it's rendered inoperable. When you learn how to fight androids, that way is no longer viable. Alien: Isolation is a long game for a survival horror title. And I love how everything keeps changing and makes you adapt to the changing situations.

Ultimately, Alien: Isolation is a fantastic survival horror game with tight gameplay, a tense atmosphere, truly terrifying moments, and a very strong lead character. And despite a few minor problems and a few lulls along the way, it's one of the best survival horror games I've ever played. Perhaps most importantly, though, it's the Alien 3 I always wanted. And it's a personal story about hope and survival once again. 

Final Score: 4.5/5

This was a pretty long review, but games have more moving parts than films. So I think that's
reasonable. That also brings to an end my Alien franchise review. I hope you liked it, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for this unique and beloved franchise. It's certainly had it's ups and downs, but it'll always be one of my favorites. Thanks for reading, everyone, and I'll see you next time right here at ComicBookMovieNerd.com.

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