“Alien: Isolation,” the new horror game from The Creative Assembly, is an attempt to finally make good on the “Alien” franchise. This series has been an endless pit of terrible video game releases for the past several years and has needed a serious injection of quality control.
Let’s make this clear: “Alien: Isolation” is not terrible; it is, however, heavily flawed and unnecessarily lengthy. It will scare you, infuriate you, intrigue you and bore you all the way to the end.
Horror games are a tricky business, so, in that regard, I can understand some of “Alien”’s flaws. How do you keep a player on the edge of their seat for hours on end, biting their nails, hoping to reach the conclusion? It’s all about the pacing and player empowerment. “Alien” stumbles on both aspects.
“Alien” is made up of two main gameplay elements: long stretches of walking and puzzle-solving, meant to build tension, and long sessions of horror – moments where the Alien, or other foes, are stalking you as you sneak around the ship.
The tension-building moments are generally very good. You walk the halls of the Sevestapol spacecraft, taking in the creepy scenery, while solving puzzles to progress the plot. There are many moments where you think something is going to jump out and scare you… but it never comes.
The sound design does a good job setting up the atmosphere, with subtle effects reinforcing the dark, abandoned rooms and hallways. On top of this, the other characters, whether human or android, are interesting and will keep your attention during the non-combat sections of the game. Unfortunately, the other aspects of “Alien,” the horror and combat sections, are very weak.
The main foe of the game, the Alien (called the “creature”), is initially terrifying. However, this fear quickly turns to annoyance, and this annoyance becomes infuriating.
In the first half of the game, your character has no means to defend herself against the Alien if she is spotted. On top of this, the Alien kills you instantly if it finds you. Normally, this is okay in horror titles; having a lack of power is a part of the fear factor. However, “Alien: Isolation” has no checkpoints and very rarely auto-saves; the save system is made up of manual save stations scattered across the ship. This means you will be re-doing 20- or 30-minute segments of the game over and over again if you fail a stealth section. (Trial and error + no checkpoints = frustration.) This issue is remedied later on, as you obtain weapons to fend off the Alien.
Unfortunately, this comes after a dozen hours of frustration is already done. It will absolutely grate on your nerves and it causes the game to break one major rule of horror: you have to care about your character. If you get killed over and over again, it’s going to break the immersion: you are going to stop caring and it will ultimately ruin the experience.
Punishment and challenge are two different things, and “Alien: Isolation” fails to be challenging.
The game also goes on far too long and you’ll be begging for it to end after awhile. This is a six- or seven-hour game stretched into a 20-hour experience. There is too much backtracking and needless padding. The player may start to wonder how much game they are actually playing, versus how many times they are just redoing sections. This fact, coupled with the endless reloading of save points, makes “Alien: Isolation” a chore to play.
It’s unbelievably tedious and infuriating; it outstays its welcome by about a dozen hours and is not fun to play at all. The pace becomes a crawl of rage-inducing stealth sections and one-hit deaths, all the way up to its unsatisfying conclusion.
There is some good to be had here, but it’s buried beneath an excess of filler and illogical gameplay balancing.
Final Grade: C