Alien Isolation – Sevastopol: Grand Tour of Dirty Lockers and Air-vents

Alien Isolation is an experience that really makes you appreciate two things: clean pants and good head-phones. One for really bringing the game to life with beautiful and eerie audio-design, and one because you are spending most of your time hiding in a dirty locker – made only more dirty by having you in it, with liquid terror running down your leg.

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So far everyone in the world, and known universe, and their dog, has been almost unanimously showering Alien Isolation with praise and moist underpants, bewildered that someone could squeeze a non-conformist survival-horror title out of the AAA-gaming industry. Never mind the possibility that following the embarrassing disaster of Alien: Colonial Marines, there would still be a dim hope that something Alien-related could come out and actually be good.

Alien Isolation if a product of fan-fiction much in the same way as the very late and embarrassing title Alien: Colonial Marines was, with the relevant little difference that Alien Isolation actually gets its source material. And the other additional little bonus of not being a big schizophrenic, incoherent, broken mess. Alien Isolation is loyal to the Ridley Scott classic down to the smallest detail, and for fan boys and girls one of the biggest nerdy thrills in Alien Isolation is just walking around and admiring all the Alien universe detail, in audio and visual design, from big clunky displays and leaking steam-pipes to claustrophobic corridors and discarded coffee-cups and magazines.

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To me Alien Isolation seemed almost too good to be real, being a big fan of horror, scifi, Alien-films and Ridley Scott’s classic Alien in particular. It was like the developers were working with a focus testing group of one, and had somehow remotely scanned my brain to deliver what I would personally want so bad that I couldn’t part with my money faster if it was on fire and covered in asbestos spiders. I was pretty cynical about the game before release however, thinking that becoming a hugely anticipated triple-A title would have inevitably lead to it being watered down with QTEs and turret sections, in some vague effort to make it more accessible to dirty casual gaming peasants.

But lo and behold, out it came and bloody well delivered, and kept me firmly gripping my controller with sweaty hands through 20-or-so hours of bladder-testing tension. For the most part.

Alien Isolation offers brilliant atmosphere throughout the 20+ hours of gameplay, while the difficulty and ‘scariness’ of the game isn’t big on consistency. Confusingly, the most difficult chapter of the game is very early on in the experience, while near the end the game slows down to a sight-seeing tour, before smacking the player in the face and throwing everything possible at them for a big, frantic and messy race to the finishing line.

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The biggest creator of tension of is course the phallically suggestive Creature itself. The creature is realized in a brilliant way; relentlessly pursuing the player who has no defense against it, besides distraction, hiding and rage-quitting. The creature AI is brilliantly erratic and unpredictable in the way it keeps looking for the player, angrily stomping around, cluttering around in overhead ventilation shafts and occasionally dropping down and biting your head off. For the most part the AI seems to act quite free, while at some parts the game frustratingly keeps the creature breathing down on the player’s neck, while at others it can barely be arsed making an appearance, before the player passes a scripted point. Fortunately, the AI is mostly free to teabag the player as it pleases, and the horror becomes much more real and organic for being created from the combination of the AI’s behavior and player interaction.

The second big charmer is the run-down Sevastopol station, which looks and feels absolutely gorgeous. The station’s design is beautifully retro and scifi and the same time, and there is enough variety to keep it interesting and fresh at every turn. The level designers had clearly put in a lot of effort to make the place look lived-in, and you have to admire the designer that put in the extra effort to program a bit of old gum stuck under the administrators desk. Fortunately, the place comes with vents and dirty lockers to have a little cry in.

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On the level of characters, the player character Amanda Ripley gets a big thumbs-up for being the most relatable and badass female character in gaming that I can be bothered thinking of right now. On the negative side, hopefully without spoiling anything, she must have spent the last couple years at the mirror-smashing sub-division of Weyland-Yutani, because she has the most rotten luck of any character since Lucky Lorenz in Skyrim, and the number of false endings in the game, followed by ever deepening disaster, is bordering on silly.

Either way, Alien Isolation was an intensely fun, tense and bladder-menacingly terrifying experience, and I can’t see a better bit of Alien entertainment coming out any time soon.

Holiday photo album from Sevastopol, where there only souvenier stand sells cranial venting-holes and antagonism. Medium to good chance of spoilers.

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