Alien: Isolation Review: Authentic, Terrifying and a Little Too Tedious

The first time I saw Dead Space I was fascinated by two things: the absence of a HUD and how much the art direction owed to Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi film, Alien. The mood of EA Redwood Shores’ third-person survival horror was a mash-up of dank metal coldness among trash-littered decay. Plus, player-controlled Isaac Clarke was not your typical overpowered solider—at first, anyway. Instead, he used his engineering skills to repair all those pesky doors and elevators. Eventually, Clarke would become an overpowered badass, dismembering baddies; no matter, the game exuded confidence. Recently, The Swapper impressed as a 2D-scroller that also owed a great debt to that place where no one can hear you scream. That one bleak trip on the Nostromo left quite an impression on future filmmakers and game designers.

After the disaster of Aliens: Colonial Marines, the bar was pretty low for Isolation; just okay would be a blessing. At last year’s E3, developer The Creative Assembly insisted they were making a game with the intention of being as true to the 1979 film as possible: using old cathorade tube monitors, big bubble wrap cushioned hallways, and a single xenomorph that H.R. Giger would approve of. One that could never be killed.

Related: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver

The result: Alien: Isolation ends up somewhere in-between. It’s nowhere near a mess like Marines, but all the work in rendering a game that looks like it was shot in the 70s gives way to a game experience that never finds its own inspiration the way Dead Space did. The gameplay, which includes a clunky crafting system, and some options that seem weirdly absent for a next gen title, can make the experience feel dated, just not in that cool 1979 way.

Regardless, every encounter with the Alien is terrifying.

Meet Amanda, Isolation’s protagonist. She’s the offspring of Alien’s Ellen Ripley.


Booting up with a fuzzy, VHS-interlaced 20th Century Fox logo is how the game sets the nostalgic tone for the 15 hour adventure to come. Set 15 years after the events in Alien, the story focuses on Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen. First seen welding space stuff, Amanda never gave up on her quest to find her mother, still wanting to know just what exactly happened to the crew of the Nostromo—is the welder occupation just a way to finance her dancing gig a la Flashdance circa 1982? When she gets intel that the ship’s flight recorder was found she high tails it with a small crew of the Torrens ship to space station Sevastopol to, hopefully, get some answers. What she gets is less the hard facts, more the exact psychological terror her mom experienced.

The structure of the game is pretty straightforward with Amanda eventually stranded on the Sevastopol. If it weren’t for the stunning attention to detail to the original film it would be apparent pretty early on that the space station is a bit too similar to the USG Ishimura, the one Isaac explored in Dead Space—complete with a transit system to separate levels. Along with many great callbacks to Alien, such as the ‘sipping bird’ toy that’s placed beside your hyper sleep chamber, there are propaganda posters, angry protest graffiti, and a general sense that something really terrible happened here. Thankfully, the game is devoid of unitologist cult leaders, and instead focuses on the mysterious demise of a civilization and the creature that has become somewhat of a Grim Reaper.

In theory, that’s not so bad. After all, Dead Space took inspiration from Alien so why can’t Isolation do the same to Dead Space? And as long as the levels of the game do just that, the immersion rarely falters. You really feel like you’re in the year 2137 by way of 70s sci-fi. Yet problems arise in how players interact with said environment. Example: an old vector monitor with a clicky-round keyboard is a beauty to behold. Bright green text rolls out with that signature typewriter sound. But then an instruction overlay appears over the vector monitor, one that is very videogame-like. “Hit A to read, RS to scroll up/down” effectively breaking the illusion that you’re interacting with such a device. If there was one thing I wish Isolation had borrowed from Dead Space it’s the clever way that game minimized the need for button prompts. The gameplay in it felt organic to the world. Here, the controller speak intrudes.

Another aspect that feels rustic is the interaction between Amanda and the other human characters. In an early scene, Amanda’s a discussion with a crewmate who’s sitting down at a table. Being a first person POV all you can do is stand there (or crouch which is more awkward) like a dolt. The humans are have stiff movements, and shiny beads of sweat trickle down their rubbery faces. Later, androids called “working Joes” pop up. Here the fakeness works great. The Joes have an unnerving speedy walk that never failed to creep me out.

You’ll use a motion tracker as well as some scarce supplies and weapons to survive the seemingly impossible journey.


As a character, Amanda is a great fit for the role. She really has no backstory other than her famous mom, but she still manages to deliver a great performance. She fills the proverbial space suit left by Ellen well. She’s a smart heroine that rarely makes a bad move. When she does, like running down a corridor without bothering to look up to see if there’s any open hatches occupied by the Alien, it’s entirely my fault not hers. The rest of the cast mirrors Amanda’s emotions by being scared and exhausted day and night.

The layout of the levels are less linear than expected. Each one leaves room for exploration, while still being focused enough to not be too confusing. Along the way are items to pick up, stories to piece together via vector monitors, and, of course, a variety of beings trying to kill you every step of the way. The remaining human survivors can usually be avoided. They are of the don’t-mess-with-us-and-we-won’t-mess-with-you variety. The Joes are chatty terminators once alerted to your presence.

Related: A Guide to Alien: Isolation

And then there’s The Alien.

As mentioned earlier, the xenomorph cannot be killed. A few weapons like the flamethrower can make it back away very briefly. Every encounter is cat (Alien) and mouse (you). The programming of these encounters are not scripted. They feel organic, and more importantly, frightening. Even spookier is trying to escape an area over and over and still ending up dead. Note: if you own Kinect or PlayStation Camera the Alien can hear you if you make too much noise, although you can disable the option. You can also lean back and forth using your own body. These are interesting implementations that manage to work well.

The Alien isn’t the only enemy you have to worry about.


To help Amanda, is a tracking device. This is by far the most important item in the game. It tracks anything that moves, but just like in the films it doesn’t tell you if the movement is coming from above or below. Having series of beeps guide you only to be killed is excruciating.

These moments are where Isolation shines. The stalked by the Alien scenes are balanced with quiet down time for exploration ones. Playing on Easy isn’t such a bad idea if you want to remove some of the tedium. The Alien still manages to be intelligent.

Related: Everything You Need to Know about Alien: Isolation

So, where does Isolation fumble? Well, the trial and error nature of the Alien encounters can become frustrating, because the only way to save your progress is to manually use an old school punch card. The game doesn’t even bother to auto-save after cutscenes and major events. Even arriving at an end level type situation means nothing if you die since that means going all the way back to your current save.

If this was a five to seven hour campaign I would be tempted to say it’s a great game despite some technical hiccups. Sadly, the campaign overstays its welcome. By the time I clocked out my interest in staying at Sevastopol had waned. Despite this, it delivered quality scares that I won’t soon forget. Alien: Isolation is certainly the scariest Alien game ever made, and its authenticity alone is enough to make it recommendable for those who love the franchise.

Peter Paras is a Contributor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @pajamo.

Copy provided by publisher. Alien: Isolation is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, and PS3.