Have You Played It?: Alien: Isolation

(Originally written May 7th, 2015)

Yeah I know it’s been out for about six months but if you read my “Broke Nerd Blues” post you know I am a nerd on an extremely tight budget and as such I just got around to playing Alien: Isolation the in the last couple of weeks.

Let me start by saying that it was worth the wait because I loved every frustrating and terrifying minute of it.

Full disclosure I’m just a hair past thirty and therefore grew up with all the “great” horror franchises.  I come from the time before Hollywood was saturated with rehashes, reboots and re-imaginings of “classic” slasher flicks substituting the original films’ cheesy goodness with jump scares galore and/or torture porn.

But before I had ever laid my childhood innocence slashed to ribbons by Jason Voorhees, Chucky or Freddy Kruger or had nightmares of hordes of zombies munching on my tasty brains there was Alien.

The original Alien film was the first film I can remember has being truly horrifying to me.  From the moment Kane felt the embrace of the first facehugger, to the iconic onscreen debut of the chestburster to the moment Ripley friend the titular Alien with ship’s rockets and every single moment in between had me at the edge of my seat.

This game captures that feeling and magnifies it a hundred fold.

I was constantly in a state of fear as I navigated the Sevastapol space station as young Amanda Ripley.  My fight or flight response would leave me with shaking hands as I tried to punch in door codes or slip into a locker as the Alien drew near.  I found myself physically holding my breath as the Alien “sniffed” out my hiding place, as if my exhalation would result in it tearing me out of my sanctuary and devouring my character’s face.  And when I died, which was often, it was usually accompanied by me jolting in my chair and my heart pounding like a jackhammer.

This was survival horror on a level I haven’t played in ages.  The constant fear of being spotted by a nearly unstoppable predator.  The sneaking past hostile androids and frightened survivors.  The moments where I cowered behind some crates or under a desk while the Alien tore apart some other helpless schmuck, it was all perfect.

The game nails both the feeling of isolation and helplessness.  For all intents and purposes Amanda Ripley is alone and may as well be unarmed.  There are no “tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles or RPGS” nor are there any “sonic electronic ballbreakers” to be found.  There certainly aren’t any nukes but admittedly your weapons are better than sharp sticks.  The majority of the tools at your disposal are diversionary or at least stun your enemies long enough for you to beat them senseless with what amounts to a space wrench.  The shotgun backs a bit of a punch when you finally get to it but ammo is very limited.  I didn’t even try to use the revolver or shotgun against the Alien, if I didn’t have the flamethrower or fuel for it I simply did my best to hide/evade the beast.

Graphically the game was beautiful and had very few noticeable visual hiccups.  I admittedly was playing on a last gen console (360) and can only imagine how good this game must have looked on a high end gaming rig or more current console.  Sound design was also on point, at least when I had on my gaming headset.  Through my televisions rather crappy system the sound wasn’t great, ranging from minor things like PA announcements being impossible to understand to rather important things like the Alien entering and exiting air vents going unheard.  When I slipped on my old and broken-in Turtle Beach headset though every little bang and bump was music to my ears, even if it was music that left me shaking in my proverbial boots.

Alien: Isolation was not a perfect game but it was exactly the game I had hoped it would be.  I had a blast evading or being killed again and again by my favorite movie monster.   And yes when I died I had to bite back the urge to do my best Bill Paxton imitation and scream “Game over, man, game over!”

If you like having your pants scared off of you, if you dig survival horror or if you have found memories of the Alien franchise that have been spoiled by the later films….I say this game is for you.

Now if they could make a decent game that captures the feeling of the 2nd film.

-S.Y.

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