Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Alien Isolation: PS4 Review

Alien Isolation: PS4 Review

Released by SEGA
Platform: PS4

In space, no-one can hear you scream.

In the comfort of your front room, with the lights down, the PS4 console on and the TV up loud, well, that's another matter entirely.

And fortunately, given the survival- horror nature of Alien Isolation, a good thing too.

In this game, which is set after Alien but before the carnage of Aliens, you get to play Ripley's daughter, Amanda (a genius idea, quite why it's never been mined before is beyond me) who's trying to find her missing mother. Given the task of tracking her from a flight recorder from the Nostromo which was found on a nearby space-station, Amanda's given a place on a Weyland-Yutani ship heading that way. But, as ever, this goes slightly awry, and Amanda finds herself alone on the station....yet she's not alone for very long....

SEGA have gone back to the basics for this title which draws on the earliest elements of the first film for a true Alien experience that really does eclipse everything which has gone before it. It's even an 80s feel to the piece with the 20th Century Fox logo blasting out while VCR static strips cause it to wobble. Authenticity is the keyword for this game - from the atmospherics of rumbling low sounds to the slightest bash of the pipes around the space station, everything's fixed towards giving you the scares as you wait for the inevitable appearance of the Xenomorph.

The first part of this first person stealth game settles for exploration as you wander around the labyrinthine corridors, negotiating dangling sparking power lines, walking through vents and trying to restore the apparently abandoned station to life to get yourself to a place of safety. It's a practical game too, as you collect elements a la Tomb Raider / Last of Us to craft things to ensure you've got a cat's chance in hell of surviving what's ahead.

I'm not going to go too far into the story element of Alien: Isolation because half of the sheer pant-soilingly terrifying fun is seeing how it plays out - and how long you can survive. The game even has a survival mode where you're pitted one-on-one with the beastie and a clock counts to see how long you can make it as if to belie the perversity of what you have ahead of you. It's also slyly mocking you as in this level, you will die a lot as the elements conspire against you.

And this is the real hook for Alien: Isolation; the very fact that you can't off the Xenomorph. You have to try to survive, to pick your moments. While you get to wield the iconic flamethrower against the critter, it's little use as it delays the creature's attack on you; even taking it head on is a mistake as the creature's unpredictable thanks to the AI that's been employed for it. There's no set path, no fixed moves and no chance to predict exactly what it will do.

Which is what really adds to the wildly unpredictable atmosphere of the game, that ramps up the tension, the fear and the horror of what's going on. As well as the 80s feel (from a cassette saving icon to the computer screens within the space station), the vibe of horror and discomfort is ripped directly from the first film and it's disarmingly effective. This is a game that craves you play it in the dark and then practically laughs at you as you scream pathetically when the proverbial hits the fan.

However, there's also an element of frustration though as you keep dying and forces you to repeat sections again that really can be irritating after a while. And initially, it does take a while for you to work out exactly what you've got to do, which will thwart the most casual gamer.

Alien: Isolation is a thrilling ride, a tense claustrophobic cat and mouse game that really does elevate the genre to its highest echelons and proves to be a rewarding outing for fans of both the Alien franchise and gamers alike.


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