Alien: Isolation

I beat Alien: Isolation last night, and I had some thoughts on it.
 

Game was a hell of a ride from start to finish. I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing gaming sessions that intense in a very long time. Isolation had me on the edge of my fucking seat constantly, and the sense of helplessness is overwhelming. There were so many of those moments where you hear the alien come out of a vent – oh shit she’s right there – you duck into the nearest room – can’t run or I’ll attract her! – and hide under a table just in time to hear her pounding footsteps come into your room. I found myself literally holding my breath so many times, and I wouldn’t even realize it until I exhaled after she left the area. The suspense never got old. In fact, the Xenomorph is such a massive threat to your existence that she greatly overshadows pretty much all of the other enemies. Run into humans? Hello, sorry, no time to chat, I’m running from a giant FUCKING ALIEN. I wouldn’t bother hiding from humans, walking right past them in a frantic search for the next locker or box to hide in as they whirl around to stare at me confusedly, not sure if they should shoot or just let me do my thing. They usually didn’t have a chance to decide as they get split in half moments later, or have a secondary mouth shoved squarely through their skull.

A lot of reviews complained about the game being frustrating when you die to the Xeno a lot, but my response to that is: GIT GUD. No, seriously though, I didn’t really find the game frustrating, ever. I was playing on Hard. I died a bunch, but I never felt like throwing my controller, or that I had a cheap death, or that having to go back to the last save was some horrible punishment in an immersion-breaking way. I just had a really great experience with the game, and I’m finding it difficult to think of flaws in it. I suppose the typical problem with survival-type games is there: you get way too much ammo and supplies, and not enough things to use them on. I almost never used distractions. I had nearly 70 bullets for the revolver at the end of the game. I think I used it two or three times. I was constantly seeing the “ITEM MAXED” text upon finding an item, and that’s no fun. I get that they want you to use the shit they give you to defend yourself, I just didn’t find I really needed it that much.

Ever since I first played a bit of Isolation at a friend’s house last year, I’ve been wanting to talk about the way guns are handled in the game. Isolation is not a shooter, by any means, but there is shooting in it, and it feels fantastic. Every shot is satisfying, and the combat can be quite brutal (the melee, too). My favorite thing about the guns, however… is that Amanda doesn’t hold them out in front of her the entire time like a doofus! Like every other game character! What is this sorcery!?!! What a concept, holstering a gun until you’re ready to use it, then whipping it out with the aim button in a quick, fluid fashion, ready to fire. More games really, really need to use this.

My only major problem with the game was the end. I felt like it was really rushed, and especially the last 10 minutes or so seemed like they ran out of time to come up with a strong, meaningful ending, so they just slapped some bullshit QTE thing together and rolled the credits. Plus, the entire spacewalk at the end was poor design, it totally broke the pacing. Very anti-climactic to be walking slowly with nothing happening for like 10 minutes, then unscrewing bolts for 5 years when you’re trying to escape a station sinking into a gas giant.

Okay, enough criticism, now I need to talk about Amanda Ripley. I NEED TO TALK ABOUT AMANDA RIPLEY. 

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about her at the outset, but she grew on me the further into the game I got, and the more I thought about her as a character. She is generally considered by people to be literally Ellen Ripley, but in a video game as her daughter. People think she is THAT MUCH like her mother. Okay, she is like her mother in many ways, yes, the tough engineer just trying to survive, but I found Ellen has a specific difference, something we don’t see with Amanda: In Aliens, Ellen shows her maternal side with Newt, and she has that as a weakness in her character. A scrap of fragility that reminds you that Ellen Ripley is, specifically, a woman. You know, because mom stuff. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her that she never got to see her daughter again, and we’re supposed to feel joy at seeing Ellen being a “mother” again with Newt. 

Amanda blows a hole straight through this tired trope, and I absolutely love her.

Amanda is a dedicated, extremely strong-willed individual. She has damage from not having closure over losing her mother at a young age, but instead of drowning her sorrow in drugs and alcohol, her personality drives her to immerse herself in her work to forget about it. She’s a focused, motivated engineer, we get that from her the moment we meet her. We don’t see a “maternal” side to her, because she has no children of her own. She is a 100% self-focused survivor, with just her expertise and survival instincts on her mind, and at 26 years old, I think she is a great representation of the current generation. Ellen Ripley represents the old generation, get married and have kids early, “the expected way”. Twenty-somethings today don’t care about having kids; we’re selfish and dedicated to our personal lives. We’re focused on our work and being successful at what we’re passionate about. Amanda is passionate about engineering and working with her hands (despite having immaculate skin and flawless nails the entire game???). She carries emotional baggage over her mother, but you can tell although she gives in to Samuels in the beginning in order to have her “closure”, she has largely put Ellen behind her. She is stoic when it comes to what she’s good at and her own survival, but when faced with death and horror, she shows her humanity in small gasps, curses and screams. She is such a vibrant, real character in so many subtle ways, and I just really, really love the way she was written, and the voice actress does an amazing job conveying her personality. Amanda Ripley is definitely in my top favorite female characters, maybe even top 5.

Anyway, I don’t want to press this review on much longer, but I have to mention the graphics and incredible detail in the environments. All the screenshots in the post were taken by me, and Isolation is probably the most photogenic game I’ve played since Mirror’s Edge. I could go on forever about the gorgeous lighting and environment design, even the level design, but what I really wanted to talk about is how real it all feels as an alternate future. I’ve never really thought about Ridley Scott’s universes from this perspective, but Alien is basically a future where we never went digital. Everything just stayed analog from the 1980s on. Cathode ray tubes, cassettes, film, monochrome screens, bare-bones-basic computer programs. This game takes what we see of this in the movies and deeply immerses you in all of it, makes it part of the game design itself. Through this immersion, you get the sense that this is a world where, for whatever reason, manufacturing industries took precedence over advances in computer technology, effectively halting humanity’s progress towards a digital world. It’s very fascinating, and one of the more detailed takes on an alternate future in a video game.

I liked Alien: Isolation a lot more than I thought I would. Everything Creative Assembly promised about this game is here and it all works beautifully. They delivered their promises on every aspect from the graphics to the AI, and that’s really important in a time when developers are releasing broken games and showing and saying inaccurate things about their games before release. I’m so thoroughly impressed. I don’t know what else to say. If you’ve been on the fence about this game, consider this review me drop kicking you off the fence.

 

                                                                                                    TRG
 
 

See all the screenshots I took below:

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~ by The Retro Gamer on April 2, 2015.

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