As most of you already know, I don’t play computer games very often. When I do, I set a timer, play for one hour, and when the timer goes off, shut off the game and get back to work on my goals.
Yet, when I play video games, I have a lot of fun, since I go out of my way to only play games I really enjoy. If I play a game for a little bit and don’t absolutely love it, I stop playing it regardless of how much I paid for it. I’m not going to waste my precious time doing something I don’t love. My life is too full and I have too much to do.
Some of my favorite movies of all time were Alien and Aliens. The later Alien movies weren’t that great, but Alien and Aliens were masterpieces of historic proportions. I like Aliens just a little better than Alien, since Aliens is an action movie and Alien is a sci-fi horror move, but Alien is still amazing. If you haven’t seen these movies, holy shit, you’re missing out.
For the last few years, I kept hearing from Alien fans about Alien: Isolation, a game that was apparently so scary and well-done that (I believe) 20th Century Fox actually considers Alien:Isolation a de facto canon “movie” that takes place between Alien and Aliens. Fox actually assisted the game designers in creating this game, handing over mountains of secret production designs and other information to make the game look as authentic as possible.
Scary computer games aren’t really my thing; I like complex war games (like Civilization V) and complex RPGs (like Pillars of Eternity), but damn, I kept on hearing so many good things about this game from Alien fans that I decided to take the plunge.
So I played it.
And, holy crap, they were right. This game is amazing.
This is one of the few games I’ve played in my life (and I’ve been playing computer games since before most of you reading these words were born) that actually elicits a real emotional response. This game is so scary that during the entire time you’re playing it, your heart rate is elevated and your breathing is heavier than normal. Guys on YouTube have even hooked up themselves to heart rate monitors while they play the game to show what the game does to the human body during gameplay. It’s that intense.
But the fear factor isn’t why the game is cool. The environment of the game was made to mirror the movie Alien (not Aliens, since this is a horror game, not an action game) and it does so flawlessly. The environment, the sound effects, the props you use, the music, and the atmosphere make it feel like you are right in the middle of a fucking Alien movie. It’s extremely rare that a game has felt so immersive. It’s just incredible.
You play Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley (whom she talks about in the director’s cut of Aliens). You are trapped aboard a huge, damaged, malfunctioning, partially abandoned space station where the worker androids have gone insane and have started killing people. What few humans are left aboard have grouped into hostile bands fighting everyone else to survive, including you. And, of course, there’s an Alien on the loose, using the vents and killing people left and right. You’ve got to survive all this. Good fucking luck.
The fact you play a woman with no military or combat training makes the scenario even more interesting. This isn’t a first person shooter where you can shoot your way out. Nope. What few weapons you get during the game are not only weak, but essentially useless. Moreover, using them is dangerous, since any loud noises attract the Alien. So if there’s a solider or android you need to get past, and you fire your pistol at him, you’d better be prepared to die, because even if you kill your enemy (which is very hard) the Alien will pop out of a nearby vent and eat your face.
On top of that, the androids are very hard to kill. They take numerous headshots to die, if at all, or you can temporarily disable them and whack them with a large wrench eight or nine times and they’ll finally die. Maybe. Better not make too much noise though, or the Alien will come. As usual, it’s better to just sneak past them rather than take them on. They also get more impervious to harm the further you go into the game.
To make it even worse, you can’t kill the Alien. You can’t even hurt it. If you’re very clever, you can trick it or distract it. Later in the game you can temporarily scare it, but you can’t hurt it or kill it. Once again, you have to learn to survive without using combat as an option.
It’s really fun. It’s also very hard. I played the game on hard mode both times I played all the way through, since the game makes it clear that hard mode is the “way the game was meant to be played.” Yeah. It’s hard. You die a lot. You have to learn to be ridiculously quiet and careful at all times.
There are times where you have to lock yourself into a locker and the Alien is right outside the door, sniffing for you, and you have to lean back and hold your breath or else the damn thing rips off the locker door and murders you. You often have to climb through tight vents with little or no light, hoping that the Alien isn’t in there with you.
Eventually you get a motion tracker, the one prop they used from Aliens instead of Alien. You’d think it would help, and it does, but it actually makes the game even more nerve-wracking. Watching that beeping dot suddenly get closer and closer to where you are, and you have no where to hide…
One of the most enjoyable things I did was make a noisemaker (there’s a crafting system in the game, but honestly, you don’t get very much), throw it into the middle of a group of hostile humans, run and hide, then watch as the Alien arrives and slaughters them all for me. Brings a smile to my face.
This game was so damn good that it made me go back and re-watch Alien, not once but twice. I’ve seen Aliens a million times, but I’ve only seen Alien a few times. Again, the way they duplicate the look and feel of Alien in this game is impressive. I have a new appreciation for Alien that I never had before.
If you liked any of the Alien movies, you need to play Alien: Isolation. Just do it. You’ll thank me. Play it in the dark at night time if you can. Also, don’t look at a lot of screenshots or video clips of the game before you play it… go in cold like I did. So much better.
I can’t recommend this game enough. Unlike most games, even most good games, it’s a true experience you’ll never forget.