Alien: Isolation Under Test - The Game of a Thousand Deaths
Ripley looking for Ripley. No, Alien: Isolation is not a self-discovery trip, but tells about Amanda Ripley's search for her missing mother. We remember: Ellen Ripley was the last survivor of the cargo ship Nostromo, whose crew was assassinated by a bloodthirsty Xenomorph until Ripley was finally able to blow it out of the airlock into space.
But instead of bobbing through space in hypersleep well-protected to domestic climes, the heroine disappeared with the Nostromo. 15 years after the incident, Amanda Ripley finally gets the chance to shed light on the matter: The flight recorder of the Nostromo was found and brought on board the Sevastopol space station. When Amanda arrives there, however, an unknown monster has pretty much decimated the crew.
The same crap has happened to another Ripley for the second time ... and there is no Colonial Marine with Pulse Rifle in sight, who could shoot the beast into a thousand pieces. Instead, our heroine plays hide and seek with the alien monster, which she relentlessly pursues through the widely branched ventilation shafts of the space station.
Fortunately, there are scattered objects everywhere that Ripley can use with a simple crafting system to make medicits, bombs, noise makers or other gadgets at any time. The monster cannot be killed with this, but it can at least be chased away or misled. Well, you just have to take what you get - and MacGyver would be proud of Amanda.
There's an alien standing in front of the closet ...
Alone in a devastated space station, no weapons, an overpowering enemy! No question, Alien: Isolation really wants to put us in fear and terror. And the game does that very well at first. If we sneak through the dark corridors of Sevastopol, something rumbles above us through the ventilation shafts, then suddenly somewhere in front of us there is a clatter, it can be nervous. Especially since we know that the alien can come out of any opening in the ceiling at any time in front of us or behind us.
Once we stand face to face with the drooling beast, that is tantamount to immediate game over. So we have to be careful. Better to sneak than walk, use cover. And always keep an eye on the surroundings so that we know exactly where to hide in case the monster suddenly pays us a visit.
Lockers are ideally suited as hiding places - as long as the alien doesn't see us disappearing into them. We peer out through the slits in the door and keep looking at the beeping motion tracker, the display of which visualizes the movements of the alien hunter as flashing dots.
Breathing is fatal
When the green glowing point comes very close to our closet hiding place, we hold our breath. In the truest sense of the word. If the alien stands in front of our locker, it is scented. Now we have to lean back, hold our breath at the touch of a button while playing and make as little noise as possible. That moment when the metal teeth, shiny with saliva, are only a thin sheet width away from us and the alien is sucking in the air - that is pure horror!
Not only does digital sweat run down the face of the play figure, but we also have one or two beads of sweat on our foreheads. What now? The alien disappears from our field of vision, which is restricted by the viewing slit. We watch it leave the room as a green point of light on the motion tracker display. Then we hear a rumble. Aha, so it has disappeared back into the ventilation shafts. We leave the locker, duck to the open door and sneak into the corridor.
The air seems pure. Then it rumbles again, and the beast comes down from the opening in the ceiling directly in front of us. We quickly disappear into the room with the locker, switch to the inventory, where we select the noise maker. We boldly toss the noisy grenade down the aisle, the alien dashing after it like a dog behind a ball. Our chance to disappear!
Trigger-happy fellow men
However, the alien is not the only opponent that we have to deal with in the course of the game: Crazy worker androids, the so-called Hiwis, and scattered survivors with nervous trigger fingers make life difficult for us. Direct confrontation is the wrong tactic, at least in the first two thirds of the game, as we are still missing a shotgun and flamethrower, which we won't find until later. And even with these powerful weapons, the game does not turn into a classic first-person shooter, because a majority of opponents is usually synonymous with screen death.
But there are almost always alternatives to open combat: We enter service tunnels through floor hatches, through which we can bypass the opponents. Alternatively, we lure them (for example by knocking on the wall) to a remote corner and sneak around them, but we play a dangerous game, because the direction and range of our adversaries' line of sight is not always obvious.
So we quickly have a bullet in our back and bless the time. Or we can use the noise maker to lure the alien, which makes short work of our human opponents in seconds. But with this we also put ourselves in danger, because the monster then searches the surrounding area for further victims.
There are games that really kick your ass. Difficulty levels that seem to come straight from hell. Game overs non-stop, on the border between lust and frustration. Games like Dark Souls are good at that. Fans swear by the series because the level of difficulty is salted but never unfair. With Alien: Isolation, Sega follows the principle of a thousand screen deaths, and wants to push the player to his limits with an unpredictable and invincible opponent.
But it is precisely this unpredictability that makes the game incredibly demanding, but at the same time - especially in the first few hours of the game and due to the lack of tutorials - can lead to a lot of frustration. In Alien: Isolation you have to bite like a terrier. Contrary to the trend in modern games to be as accessible as possible, it's a pretty bulky monster.
There are no screen aids that explain how we should approach which situation. We're supposed to find out the rules of the game for ourselves. Namely, by first having to bite the grass again and again to understand how things are going. So we learn to survive on the Sevastopol amid lots of blood, sweat and tears. The longer we play the game, the more we become aware of at least some avoidable mistakes that we initially make.
For example, what do you do on the run from an invincible monster? Right: run! In the game, that's probably the wrong thing we can do. The alien reacts to sounds. During the test, for example, we walk through a spacious staircase several times because the beast keeps catching us in a room a minute away and there is no other storage point nearby.
"There is no danger here," we think to ourselves when we are once again at the beginning of the staircase, and we decide to run up the stairs that we have climbed a hundred times at normal slow pace in order to get the now routine internalized route behind us faster . We don't even notice the rumbling noises that had been accompanying us the whole time from the ventilation shafts above the ceiling paneling.
A mistake! The rumble is caused by the alien - and that in turn emerges suddenly from an opening in the ceiling, attracted by our sprint noise. We bite the grass and are allowed to return to the last save point. Yet again!
Retro future with a love of detail
It takes a bit of frustration resistance to hold out in this game to the end. No matter how well-versed you may be in dealing with the alien after a few hours, it always hits you. Impatient players and beginners quickly lose interest here. In addition, the last missions prove to be a real test of patience, as they unnecessarily drag out the game.
And that's a shame, because the game is damn close to the perfect alien implementation. In view of the attention to detail that has gone into the retrofuturistic design, we even like to forget the question of the alien's motivation to stick to our cheeks of all people, even though there are many more (loud) people on the space station.
In the end, alien remains: Isolation is a (if you accept the unyielding level of difficulty) a well-playable horror adventure, but if you want to venture onto the Sevastopol space station, you should bring three things with you: an affinity for the alien films, great resistance to frustration and a good gamepad. Controlling the mouse and keyboard is a bit cumbersome in Alien: Isolation.
Why is it not possible, for example, to lean steplessly out of cover with the mouse while it works perfectly with the gamepad? The less intuitive operation of the terminals via the keyboard is also a cramp, since we don't have to navigate through the screens with the mouse pointer, but have to press keys.
Even if this is supposed to be an allusion to the low-tech future, in which there is no mouse, we cannot fully understand the cumbersome solution. The rest of the attention to detail, on the other hand, is very successful: corridors lined with pipelines, glossy white wall coverings, 8-bit computer terminals and lots of flashing lights - everything here looks like Ridley Scott's movie classics.
And sounds just as fantastic: the surround sound literally puts us right in the middle of the action. So it is a bit surprising that the fun at the attraction of this amusement park, the alien, is only granted to players who really want to bite through and have the necessary amount of patience. But they finally get a real alien game for it. And it really was about time.