“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” – Ash
It’s been over a week since I completed Alien: Isolation, and the experience is still vividly fresh in my mind. It seems people are polarized on the game; many hate it for its slow pace, small emphasis on action, its ‘unpredictable’ A.I. and punishing save mechanics; but people like me however love it for the very same reasons. Speaking as a long-time gamer and a diehard fan of the franchise, that really doesn’t bother me, in fact I kind of like the niche Alien: Isolation has developed around itself. I feel like mainstream titles try too hard these days to cater to everyone. Alien: Isolation gives no such compromises. It’s unrelenting, as a TRUE Alien game should be.
That said though, I can’t help but feel it’s a little under-appreciated, especially with the effort that was done towards making the iconic creature feel like a truly powerful, cunning and adaptive predator, a feature that has been long lost since the franchise’s repetitious sequels and spin-offs.
I have been a long time player of horror games and a long time watcher of horror films since I was young, and consequently I have become quite desensitized to violence, as well as having developed a morbid sense of humor. You know those sick twisted individuals that laugh at the most grotesque and disturbing scenes in movies? Yes, I’m one of them; it’s also worth noting I am very intimate with almost every aspect of the franchise. With that said however, Alien: Isolation – to my delight – still creeped me out, made me jump, and even made me scream in a high-pitched feminine-like wail. There were many moments that I personally enjoyed, many that I was unable to include in my review of it. So I decided to share this companion piece, a list of my personal experiences encountering the creature, and other memorable things I thought were worth mentioning. Be warned: some elements do contain spoilers!
The first Encounter:
Alien: Isolation was truly a love-letter to the original film, right down to its slow, meticulous pace. It was far beyond an hour into game-play until you finally caught a full glimpse of the creature, but it was quite brief, as you were forced to hide from it before facing certain death. Although the event was scripted, it was effectively executed, as Amanda gasped in horror as its unnatural form slithered out of the ceiling of a nearby air-duct. She quickly hides behind a nearby desk, as its boney tail drapes right beside her, coiling right by her feet before sliding away from sight. It was a subtle but empowering first impression of the Alien, one that continued on until the final moments of game-play.
The Ventilation Ambush:
The Alien surely looked the part, but how adaptive and cunning was it? Well, it didn’t take me long to find out as I immediately began to die countless times by its hand. I grew to hate it through the course of the game as it constantly got the upper-hand on me. One of the best first examples was when I was thoroughly tracking it on my motion tracker, patiently waiting for my opportunity to escape as it patrolled the nearby corridors. Eventually my tracker went dead as if the creature suddenly disappeared, and I naively believed that it had given up and wandered off. Unwittingly, I walked under an open ventilation shaft in the ceiling, only to be suddenly snatched inside were it had waited ever more patiently than me, hissing satisfyingly, as its drooling inner-jaw lunched towards my face.
The Alien was patrolling the same corridor that I happened to be stranded in. My only option was to hide in a nearby locker; I sat inside and intently listened for its foot-steps, indicating me when it was safe enough to come out and make my escape. Unfortunately that never happened, it never lingered too far, and after the third time passing by the locker it suddenly stopped, turned toward it and gazed at it almost inquisitively. It slowly approached it, appearing as if it was inspecting it, then in a very brief moment shifted its body as if it was about to turn away. Instead, it lunged at the locker, screeching as it ripped open the door and pulled me into its eager clutches.
I heard the Alien moving through the ventilation ducts above, and I saw movement all over the place on my tracker, as if indicating it hadn’t pin-pointed me yet. Having stumbled upon my first save station in a while I figured it was the perfect opportunity to keep my hard-earned progress. The Alien however disagreed, having descended from the ceiling behind me, right before the save prompt appeared. I was faced with a choice: either take my unlikely chances and be stuck in an infinite loop of death, or recoup my losses, die only one agonizing death and replay only one large portion instead of the whole mission. I rationally took the latter, cursing the thing as it ripped me apart.
The Underwhelming Equalizer:
The flamethrower is probably one of the most iconic weapons in the Alien series. One character remarks that most creatures retreat from fire, which makes natural sense; so naturally when you obtain it in the game you figure it will help give you a fighting chance, or perhaps even give you the satisfying privilege of finally terminating that thing once and for all. To my dismay however the weapon proved to be even less effective than my most cynical of expectations. Initially it was effective, chasing the creature off with a few releases of flame, but later down the line the Alien managed to out-maneuver my shots or would literally psych me out, stopping dead in its tracks after charging me, just out of reach of my premature cone of flame. Another time when it spotted me close-by I held up my weapon ready to fire, and unusually it hesitated like a real creature would when threatened. It snarled in agitation as I slowly backed away, and as I slightly turned to leave the room it used that appropriate opportunity to lunge, ensnaring me once again in its clutches.
I was stuck in a large maintenance room, maneuvering between large machines, barely managing to keep out of sight while it lurked about. Both of us stood on opposite corners of one of the machines, and I quickly pulled out a flare and lobbed it to a far corner of the room. Things went unnaturally silent. I carefully peaked out and intently gazed at the intense light, expecting to see the silhouette of the creature approaching it. Instead I suddenly heard a wet crunch noise, my screen jolted then panned down as my character saw a barbed, boney appendage sticking out of her torso. She let out a weak moan as she fell to her knees, and I realized in the final moments as the creature twisted my character’s head off how foolish I had been to underestimate how perceptive it was. It had not only perceived the direction where the flare came from but also had carefully ambushed me from behind. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time the creature would successfully pull-off such a tactic.
Out of the Frying-Pan, Into the Fire:
Probably the most climatic part of the game for me was when I stumbled into its Hive. Since the beginning I wondered if they were going to incorporate such a part into the game; it had been done before countless times in previous Alien games, but I can’t recall any of them having as strong impact as the scene depicted in this one. Events hinted I was going to potentially stumble into it, as I traveled deep within the depths of the station where the environment was most humid, and as I caught first sight of their biological looking structure strewn across the walls, I felt both excitement and dread.
It was also a revelation that there was now potentially more than one creature – as if one terrorizing me wasn’t enough – as I disturbingly looked upon numerous hapless victims cocooned within this corrupted-looking biological material, with the identifiable hole blown out of their chest, along with the nearby hatched eggs.
The tracker was unfortunately useless, picking up so many nearby signals it was impossible to make any clear readings, which had meant it was down to using sight and sound to survive; but to make a situation even worse the batteries for my flash light were near in depletion, and at the time I carried no replacements. Needless to say, I was already doomed.
Staring at the hatched eggs in this vast hive, it occurred to me that I might run into the dreaded ‘Facehugger’ – the parasitic first stage life-form that implants an embryo into your chest which violently bursts out of you when matured. Sure enough as I wandered down a dark corridor, I heard a high-pitched screech, and the sound of fingers tapping against the floor. The crab-looking creature with its human-finger-like appendages emerged out of the darkness and charged towards me, eager to violate my face. I immediately spun around, screamed and headed to the nearest door. The malfunctioning door stalled, and I shouted at it in vain. The creature leaped and attached itself to my face.
Since then, I became uneasy whenever I saw something small moving on-screen, to the extent that I jumped and screamed at a tin-can rolling towards me. I was back to wandering into more natural looking areas; my struggling experience through the hive passed, I mocked myself for being so paranoid, only to stumble into a room minutes later and fall victim to an awaiting facehugger that leapt out from a cardboard box.
What’s worse than being pitted against one deadly creature? The answer is simple: many of them. I was at what I was sure had been the final area of the game, everything around me was exploding and my objective was extremely simple and straightforward as can be: to escape. Expectedly the alien showed up, forcing me to move carefully through a series of stairs to reach the floor I needed to get to, but to my shock as I snuck through the next door was another alien facing me in the room. It turned out the whole room was filled with them, all determined to violently end my life. It felt completely excessive, but having endured through so many previous situations were the odds had been stacked against me, my resolve was stronger than ever to overcome this last test of endurance.
In the end, Alien: Isolation was an immensely satisfying experience for me. It’s a shame that games like these that try to be a little different from modern tropes and conventions are so quickly criticized and lambasted. Perhaps in time people will look upon it a little more thoughtfully, and appreciate the things the creators tried to achieve when they crafted this labor of love.