The horror genre has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in recent times. Be it indie games, such as Slender and Five Nights at Freddy’s or big developer releases like Dead Space through to the classic F.E.A.R, there have been a plethora of first-person horror shooters/adventure games to shock and scare the modern day gamer. None more chilling and atmospheric as the 2014 Alien: Isolation. This game came out of nowhere for me and I found myself hooked by its bone tingling experience and engaging storyline. For me, it’s been the best modern day horror game released and we’re going to dive into exactly why this is the case. Warning; if you haven’t played this game there will be spoilers ahead.
The game takes its cues right from the iconic first film of the Alien franchise. As you explore the Sevastopol station, everything feels authentic and in-line with the established universe that’s been witnessed on the big screen. That in itself is a big achievement, as often, video games based off of a successful, known franchise usually don’t feel like they belong, more that they’re merely cashing in on a famous name. Attention to detail is key to this, the replicating of the films “80s future tech” is what makes it stand out; the bulky computers and green graphics really help you settle into the game’s environment.
Alien: Isolation is absolutely genius in the way it makes you feel so utterly alone and helpless. You go entire sections without seeing a single soul; it’s just you fumbling around in the dark, solving puzzles and jumping nervously at any unnatural sound. One of the items at your disposal that becomes integral to the game, not only for solving puzzles and avoiding enemies but adding to the overall experience of fear and trepidation is the motion tracker. The noise it emits when scanning for hostiles or friendlies is so unnerving and in a situation where you’re frantically trying to keep quiet, whipping this tool out will get you killed. That’s right, the Xenomorph can hear it as well. So if you’re crammed under a desk, whimpering and scared and you see that dreaded shiny exoskeleton tail slithers past your feet, pulling out the motion tracker is a sure way to get it over with and have the aforementioned limb rammed firmly into your chest. Game over. Not only this but sprinting and making any loud noise in general will, of course, attract its attention, so the overarching theme for the duration of the game is to remain out of sight and execute your maneuvers as silently as possible. You simply cannot bash your way through this game, it demands you take your time and appreciate all it has to offer, which again is splendid game design. As you traverse through the game, you’re able to craft various items and you find different pickups. None of it feels pointless or tedious, instead, you welcome your new equipment as it gives you another way to navigate past obstacles and distract or disable your enemies. Once again this is important as too often games are stuffed with content that’s meaningless and without purpose. Not the case here.
As you recall from my previous article about Far Cry, I get bored quickly if your avatar is just a living embodiment of war and wrath and you can scythe through entire platoons of enemies without so much as a thought, so imagine my delight when I approached one of the creepy androids and tried to bash his head in with a wrench, only to get wrecked in about five seconds. Your character is pitiful. Amanda Ripley is constantly being outmuscled by enemies and you truly feel helpless. This is a good thing, a very good thing. The game would not function if you could simply wade through the scattered enemies without a thought as you collect more goodies to build some kind of super weapon. Instead you get a visceral experience that has you placed firmly in the character’s shoes, as often, the surroundings and actions will play out a certain way that has you reacting in a very organic manner; you will run and hide in a locker, which is exactly what I would do if I was caught up in this mess of a situation. Amanda herself is a sympathetic character, as she is resourceful but also scared out of her skin, frequently commenting on how terrible everything is, which again is very relatable thanks to the dark, brooding atmosphere and stunning, realistic visuals.
Speaking of graphics, the fact that this game looks absolutely stunning is not only great for the eye and providing genuine “wow” moments, but also helps truly immerse you in its world. With everything looking so realistic, it’s another facet of the overall scheme to get you fully involved and invested in what’s going on. Graphics aren’t always everything though and indeed many older games (such as Deus Ex) have terrible graphics by today’s standards, but it’s how the world is designed that lets you look past any flaws. That said, it’s not necessary here, honestly, everything looks gorgeous, from the lighting to the fire effects, it’s so aesthetically pleasing.
The Antagonist – A Nightmare Come True
I mentioned before that the Xenomorph, who serves as your main antagonist throughout the game, is able to hear your sounds quite well. Combine this with blistering pace, random loud shrieks, and jerky, sudden movements and you’ll be quite frankly forgetting yourself and squealing in terror when it suddenly drops down from a vent in front of you. The first time I saw the creature, I froze. Both in the game and in real life. Again, I was so deeply immersed in the action, the game had lured me into its trap and all of a sudden I was faced with this nightmare that would stalk my movements from there on in. What makes things worse is that the Alien learns from you. Say, for example, you favor the flamethrower as a weapon of choice for “hurting” (you can’t kill it, just make it flee) the beast, eventually, it gets wise to this and will just walk through the fire towards you. Imagine the panic I had when this happened, that was a truly terrifying moment that I’ll not soon forget.
This game demands your focus, commands your respect and conquers your predetermined thoughts about what fear means in a game. For the best experience, grab a headset, switch the lights off and give yourself ample time to get stuck in. It is quite simply one of the greatest overall gaming experiences I’ve ever had and will remain a firm favorite for many years to come.