I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do Alien: Isolation for my second episode of Playing With Myself. Did I need that sort of stress? It wasn’t like I had a choice, though - this is a game I’ve been waiting for since long before it was ever announced. A proper bloody Alien game. So here you have it, 48 minutes of me wandering around a space station never feeling anything less than extremely nervous.
The original plan was to film the first hour, but somehow I only managed to record the audio, so this is most of the second hour instead. Not to worry, though, as the start of the game is rather slow and features neither xenomorphs nor killer androids. The second hour is where things kick off. Take a gander at the video, and my impressions, below. And don't forget to take a look at Steve's Alien: Isolation review.
Alien: Isolation just sounds right. Every creak, scratch and slithering alien noise brings me back to the first time I watched the crew of the Nostromo gets slaughtered by an eager xenomorph. But it’s not just cashing in on nostalgia - it’s transposing some of the greatest horror moments into a new medium, an interactive one that makes things, if not more horrifying, at least horrifying in a completely different way.
There have been good Alien games. The Alien vs Predator series and Alien Trilogy were great shooters, while Alien: Infestation might be my favourite Metroidvania game - and I am including both Metroid and Castlevania in that.
But never has a game properly captured the sickening intensity of the original movie. They all, with good reason, opted to mimic the more action-packed sequel. But Isolation puts Ripley, another Ripley, in space, mostly alone, pitting her against a foe she has no serious chance of defeating.
I feel sick.
I’m spinning around every minute, every time I hear a noise. It would be so much worse if I didn’t hear anything though. Noise might mean the xenomorph is close, but silence means it’s ready to pounce.
But worse, I can’t see a pattern in it all. There’s something reassuring about the way most horror games are designed - I’ve been trained to sense when something is about to leap out at me or where the developers are just trying to fuck with me. Not so in Alien: Isolation. The lack of predictability in the xenomorph and the way it learns and reacts to player tactics strips away those expectations.
The alien feels like an invader. The humans and androids can create some tense situations and, particularly with the latter, moments of horror, but they feel conventional. The xenomorph has broken into the game, gleefully demolishing any feelings of empowerment I get from killing or outsmarting a less monstrous enemy. Creative Assembly didn’t make this creature, it was simply waiting for a game to slink into.
So I’m 10 years old again, desperately wanting to go to sleep, but knowing that if I close my eyes, I’ll see the xenomorph there. It’s tattooed onto the back of my eyelids.