I don’t normally like horror games. Not for lack of nerves, or masochistic tendencies. It’s just… they’re not very scary. Oh sure, you’ll jump a few times. But after that? It’s just mowing down bad guys. Doesn’t matter if they’re Yetis in Uncharted, Divers in Bioshock or zombies in innumerable games. Alien Isolation takes a different turn, and in doing so is utterly amazing. In a trouser-changing kind of way.
Ravenholm was a masterclass in building tension. Valve have a knack for level design and they played to their strengths in the zombie-infested, saw-laden town. The distant howls and barred windows all foretell a story. But after the initial encounters, and experimentation with the gravity gun, it becomes another series of run-and-shoot corridors.
This is par for the course with horror. Each environment steps up the shock factor, the player dies, learns, kills and advances onwards.
Alien Isolation is different. For starters it features the iconic star beast, a creature aptly entitled ‘the perfect organism’ in the achievement for making first contact. And unlike previous entries in the franchise, all taking inspiration from Cameron’s Aliens, Isolation is decidedly a child of the original Alien.
And herein lies it’s greatest strength. You are not a marine. You are not facing off waves of chest-borne offspring. It is you. Against it.
There is no magic weapon to kill your enemy. Often you won’t even have a chance. Early encounters end swiftly and brutally. If you do manage to run away, it is with tail tucked firmly between your legs.
This omnipresent threat provides two key elements; you are never safe. Collecting, fixing, even saving, are all done in real-time. You’re not looking for the next enemy around the corner, you’re looking for the enemy. It becomes a personal battle of wits.
And secondly, you cannot advance. The Alien is, and always will be, the Apex predator. Where most games would push you to find bigger guns, Isolation offers new tools to open more doors. The message is clear, you can run, but you cannot hide.
Isolation is not for everyone. Waiting in a locker, holding your breath as the green dot approaches with a rhythmic beep, is not going to placate the CoD-masses. But this game deserves to be held aloft alongside the film on which it is based.