Alien: Isolation & Unpredictable Alien Mod Review

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Alien: Isolation is the first review I ever did back around the time the game was released. It was just a written review because we didn’t do video reviews at the time. I never did try the DLC but always wanted to and I figured that was as good an excuse as any to replay the game and redo the review. As some of you know, I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre and that also applies to movies. But I don’t hate the genre. In fact, the 1979 film, Alien, is one of the few horror movies I really enjoy and it’s definitely one of my favorite movies. The first two films in the Alien series are interesting because they reflect two different genres. While Alien is a horror movie, the sequel, Aliens, is more of an action movie. With that said, I prefer Aliens over the first film, mainly because I prefer action to horror. I also love how James Cameron expanded on the universe. When it comes to the other movies in the series, I’m going to proudly admit I prefer Alien: Resurrection to Alien 3. I think Alien 3 is a piece of shit, it’s a disgrace to fans of Aliens, and it’s the only movie in the series I wanted to stop watching half-way through but I finished it just because. Alien: Resurrection isn’t that great of a movie either but in its defense, it had to work with the mess Alien 3 made. Prometheus was okay and I haven’t seen Alien: Covenant yet so I can’t comment on it. Developed by Creative Assembly and published by Sega, Alien: Isolation was released for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the last generation consoles in October, 2014. I originally beat the game on PlayStation 4 and wanted to jump back into this for two reasons – I wanted to play through the DLC and I also wanted to try the Unpredictable Alien Mod which will be covered in this review. Needless to say, I played the PC version.

Alien: Isolation technically includes three storylines, two of which are DLC. I guess you could call the DLC stories “missions”. In the main campaign you play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, the main character of the first four films. The story is set in the year 2137, fifteen years after the disappearance of the Nostromo spacecraft. In other words, fifteen years after the events of the first movie. Amanda is an engineer on the courier ship Torrens and learns that a flight recorder of the Nostromo was recently discovered by a ship named the Anesidora and is being held aboard Sevastopol, a remote space station. In hopes of finding closure in regards to her mother’s disappearance, she arrives at Sevastopol only to learn something has gone terribly wrong. The station is in disarray and people are dying left and right because of the dangerous Alien creature roaming around the station. If you’ve seen any of the films, you should know how the Alien operates. It lurks in the vents and shadows, killing anybody that crosses its path. It’s extremely dangerous and anybody that’s still alive on the station is extremely hostile and aggressive due to fear. In addition to the Alien are the service androids aboard the station, otherwise known as Working Joes. For some reason, they have become extremely hostile and are slaughtering crew members. Overall, the storyline here isn’t bad but it’s not amazing either. The biggest problem is the lack of character development. Even Amanda isn’t all that fleshed out which is a shame. The actual voice performances are fine but the NPC’s just feel like they’re around to guide you through the story instead of having any actual importance. People are dying one by one and due to the lack of character development, I failed to care about most of them. On the flip side, there’s a lot of things the developers could have done wrong with this story but outside of being based on a film franchise, it does feel somewhat original and I would gladly accept it as canon. The main campaign perfectly captures the theme and atmosphere of the first film without any unnecessary fan service or bullshit. It’s also a rather lengthy campaign. It took me around seventeen hours to complete. The other two storylines, Crew Expendable and Last Survivor, were originally available to those that pre-ordered the game. Both storylines are actually two scenes ripped from the first film. In Crew Expendable, you can choose to play as Ellen Ripley, Dallas, or Parker and you need to trap the alien in the Nostromo’s airlock. In Last Survivor, you play as Ellen Ripley, and need to activate the Nostromo’s self-destruct sequence. These two missions are extremely short, only seem to cater to fans of the first film, and just feel completely unnecessary. You can beat Crew Expendable in under an hour and Last Survivor in under a half-hour. The missions feel more like demos with the movie stuff painted on because without that, they’re just short lifeless missions that lack substance. The best thing about these two missions is the voice work. The actual actors reprised their roles as the characters.

I would say Alien: Isolation is both a survival horror and stealth game. Amanda can walk, crouch, sprint, lean left and right, and hide under tables, in lockers, and in containers. It’s very dark on Sevastopol so visibility can be quite low. Amanda acquires a flashlight which will drain through batteries when used so only using it when you have to is the best course of action. You can find more batteries as you progress and have to reload them manually. You can also find and use flares to light up dark areas if your flashlight is out of batteries. This is a very slow-paced game and all objectives have you going from A to B and you’re encouraged to avoid enemies and hide from the Alien. Most of the game involves you running back and forth to activate things or even find something like a keycard for example. In some ways, Alien: Isolation is reminiscent of the Metroid series. You’ll traverse through numerous areas of Sevastopol, some of which are blocked off and require specific tools to gain access. You will be backtracking but the characters, in-game map, and even the motion tracker guide you on where to go so it would be hard to get lost. You’ll come across panels that allow you to reroute power to different systems which may be required to progress. Now you will acquire different tools to help you navigate the areas. The Maintenance Jack allows you to break through locks on doors and it also serves as a melee weapon. The Motion Tracker not only detects nearby enemies but also contains a marker that points to your objective. The Gas Mask allows you to move through rooms filled with hazardous gas. The Security Access Tuner allows you to hack terminals. And the Plasma Torch allows you to cut through metal. Both the Security Access Tuner and Plasma Torch can and will need to be upgraded to access specific areas late in the game. There are going to be many doors, panels, and even terminals you’ll come across that are blocking paths and you should probably keep a mental note of these because if you don’t backtrack to these areas later for story-purposes, you’ll want to explore them anyway because they may house items like components for crafting or other goodies that could be beneficial. As you progress through the areas, your map is updated but you can find maps that fully reveal the area you’re currently in. You’ll come across numerous terminals that contain messages and audio logs of the crew. These are a great way to learn about the crew and the events that preceded the current situation. Some messages contain passcodes which may be required for progression. You can also find ID Tags of missing people lying around. All read messages, audio logs, and collected ID Tags can be accessed from the map screen. The game does auto-save every now and then but throughout each area are registration points where you can save your game manually. If you die, you’ll need restart from the last save, which is normally the last registration point. Luckily, there’s plenty of these scattered throughout so you won’t have to worry about losing large chunks of progress unless you decide not to save. I would recommend saving frequently. I would often complete and objective and run back to the last registration point to save.

The game includes a small set of weapons but engaging enemies in combat is really not in your best interest. Amanda is vulnerable to attacks and can die easily if you’re not careful but every now and then she will have to defend herself. You’ll acquire a stun baton, revolver, shotgun, flame thrower, and bolt gun which needs to charge up before being fired. Firing weapons makes noise and you want to be as quiet as possible. Also, ammo is scarce which is another reason you don’t want to resort to using weapons. Throughout the game you’ll find ammo and components used for crafting items but you can only craft items after you acquire blueprints. Both ammo and components can be found just lying around, in containers, in cabinets, and on dead bodies. You can craft medkits, pipe bombs, EMPs which will stun Working Joe’s, smoke bombs, flashbangs, noisemakers, and molotovs. You can even find blueprints to upgrade these items. Technically, there are only four enemy types in the entire game, the Alien being the highlight. The Alien is invincible. It cannot die. However, fire will scare it off, making the flame thrower and molotovs the two most useful weapons in the game. But even so, the Alien will eventually return. The flame thrower also drains fuel rapidly so you’ll want to use it sparingly. Other enemies include humans which usually carry weapons, Working Joe’s which will basically beat you to death, and Facehuggers which kill Amanda instantly if they manage to latch onto her face. The Working Joe’s are probably the second deadliest enemy types in the game. If they spot you, they will come after you, they can block your melee attacks if they’re not stunned first, and they usually throw you around, and can even choke you to death if they make contact. All enemies in the game are attracted to noise so if you make noise like sprinting, shooting, or even bringing up your motion tracker, nearby enemies will usually investigate. Out of all the enemies in the game, I really don’t like the Working Joe’s. Unlike the Alien, they are predictable, they usually have patterns you need to memorize to avoid them, and if one makes contact, fending it off can be a pain in the ass. You can hide from them but you usually have to deal with multiple at a time and if they all detect you, there’s going to be a lot of running back and forth until you lose them and get where you need to go. If multiple were after me, I just found it best to reload my last save and try again. Waiting for them to leave an area or look the other way becomes a test in patience. I find that killing them is better than sneaking past them only because you may have to traverse through these areas again and I’d rather not have to deal with them and any other threats in the area. But I would only recommend killing them if you can spare the ammo. They’re also not that scary, at least not after the first few times you encounter them. During the middle section of the campaign, you’re going to have to primarily deal with Working Joe’s, making these the worst areas in the game. It just becomes a matter of trial and error stealth with no real tension and may just become frustrating. I know some complain that the main campaign is very long. I honestly think it’s just the Working Joe’s that make progression feel slow at times. Because once you encounter the Alien and see how it hunts, it’s actually tense and exciting which exposes how generic the encounters with Working Joe’s becomes. I honestly feel the game would be better without them. The Alien and sparse encounters with humans and Facehuggers would have been enough.

Now you will want to be quiet most of the time. Walking is quieter than sprinting and crouch walking is the most silent form of navigation but also the slowest. While the game emphasizes silence and stealth, noise can be used to your advantage. All enemies can be distracted by noise whether it’s by throwing a noisemaker, running, or firing a weapon and then you can quickly move somewhere to hide. More fun, is making noise to attract the Alien when human enemies are nearby. The Alien will attack and slaughter humans which will not only allow you to navigate these areas without much of a problem but also allows you to acquire more resources like ammo and components from the dead bodies. You also won’t have to use weapons if you stay hidden and wait for the Alien to climb back up into the vents. The Alien has heightened senses and if it spots you, it will come after you. You’ll hear it crawling around in the vents and every now and then you’ll hear a loud noise due it coming out of the vents and searching for prey on foot. This is the indication you need to hide. If you’re hiding in something, the Alien may investigate in which case you can hold your breath and lean back but if it knows you’re in there, it’ll open the door and kill you. As you’re slowly traversing through an area, you need to watch out for any resin that drips down from ceiling vents as this is an indication the Alien is lying in wait. Walking under that vent will be an instant death. Sound plays a big part in this game so you need to listen and be aware of your surroundings. You can hear it in the vents and also stomping and hissing as it walks around searching hallways and rooms. If you’re not careful, you can easily enter a room, unaware the Alien is right behind the door. I’m not ashamed to say the game is terrifying at times. And that’s exactly why this has become one of my favorite horror games. Because of the Alien’s somewhat random behavior, Alien: Isolation does a phenomenal job at invoking fear and tension that I was on the edge of my seat and glued to the screen for most of the game. But this only applies to when the Alien is hunting you. When encountering the other enemy types, there’s some tension but it’s not quite the same, probably because the threats can actually be eliminated. The motion tracker will pick up enemies but the noise it makes will attract the Alien so you don’t want to have it out at all times. The best part about the Alien, itself, is that it’s unpredictable. Unless you’re making a lot of noise, you don’t know when it’s going to leave the vents and it could drop down anywhere around you at any time. Once you acquire the flame thrower, things become a lot easier because one blast of fire will send it screeching back into the vents. You might say the flame thrower makes the game too easy and it can but only when you have a lot of fuel which isn’t often. When you’re out of fuel and are in an area with not only the Alien but other enemies as well, that can be a truly tense situation and you should probably stop and think for a second before making any moves. One of the biggest problems with the Alien is that it gravitates around you. It took me a while to realize that when I first played this on PS4 years ago but when I did, it kind of took me out of the immersion. No matter where you go, the Alien will always be nearby like it knows where you are, even if it hasn’t spotted you. You’ll constantly hear it in the vents above you and it just becomes obvious that it follows you. Think of it as rubber banding. This is obviously for game design reasons and that’s where the Unpredictable Alien Mod comes in. This mod simply removes or at least extends the “leash”, as the mod description puts it. Some of you may be thinking that this would make the game too easy but it actually doesn’t. It just makes the hide and seek gameplay more immersive. I think the Alien is still always around but it’s not always obvious. You may not hear it in the vents for a little bit but then it comes out of nowhere or you may just run into it without warning. The mod is simple yet makes a significant change for the better. This truly makes the Alien feel more unpredictable as the name implies which makes it feel more believable.

Alien: Isolation is easily one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. It’s right up there with Metroid Prime. By immersive, I mean it completely absorbed me into its atmosphere and gameplay. Because the campaign primarily takes place on a single space station, you really do feel isolated and all alone. You feel like you could die at any second which is actually accurate. It captures the atmosphere of the original film perfectly but not just because of its excellent atmosphere but also because of the presentation. It follows the mold of the movie with the whole 1970’s vision of the future thing going on. There’s a lot of buttons, electrical equipment with a ton of a flashing lights, and big terminals with small screens and basic interfaces. It’s obvious the developers wanted to stay true to the source material and they absolutely nailed it and with great success. There’s an insane amount of detail. You’ll see writing on the walls, smoke or steam will come pouring out of walls and ceilings, and and dead bodies are scattered all over the place in pools of blood and some with mutilated faces. Lights will flicker, rooms and hallways will light up as you enter and papers, folders, and other items will be scattered all over the desks and floors as if there was a struggle. Structures and objects may be broken. You can see white liquid leaking from dead androids and if they’re split in half, you can see their tubes sticking out. The actual station, Sevastopol, is also very well crafted and put together. You’ll traverse through major areas like the reactor core, medical facility, communications center, and even a server hub, among other locations. The areas are contained in towers which are connected by a transit system. You’ll ride elevators, climb ladders, and even walk outside the station in a space suit a few times where you can gaze at the gas giant KG-348, the broken pieces of the station floating by, or the fiery sun in the distance. As stated before most objectives have you running from one area to another. You’ll be restoring power, pushing buttons, pulling levers, restarting generators, finding items, and interacting with terminals. While the game guides you down a linear path to progress the story, there’s nothing stopping you from exploring nearby areas and rooms off the beaten path. You will have to avoid hazards like fire, toxic gas, and electricity. You’ll primarily be traversing through Sevastopol but there are three other locations you’ll also visit during the campaign, albeit briefly. The Torrens, The Anesidora, and the planet LV-426 during a short flashback sequence as another character.

In addition to the main campaign and two DLC missions is the Survivor Mode. There is quite a bit of DLC for this mode and I would recommend acquiring them all. The idea of this mode is to complete the given objectives in a map and avoid dying all within a time limit. There are multiple sets which include various maps. You can choose to play through a single map, an entire set, or the endurance mode which has you playing through each set in a random order. You also have the option to complete bonus objectives in each map and these are timed as well. You’re scored based on your time, bonus objectives, and multipliers which are basically specific requirements you must meet. Your times are ranked on the online leaderboards.  There’s also the Lost Contact and Safe Haven sets, both of which are DLC. These consist of a series of ten main objectives, with twenty total in each, allowing you to decide what order to complete them in. Once you choose a set or map, you can then select your character. The character selection is different, depending on the set, and the characters will either be from the main campaign or the original film. But what really makes survival mode unique is that each character has their own set of equipment which can make each playthrough of a single map a different experience. After choosing your character, you’re thrown into the map, you can acquire supplies, and then the clock starts ticking. The leaderboards, scoring system, and multiple characters give this mode a lot of replay value.

Visually, I would say Alien: Isolation looks great. The lighting is excellent, everything has a sleek and futuristic look to it, and the little details make everything come to life. From the blood splatter to the warped reflection on the edges of your space helmet, there’s always something interesting to admire. Hell, you can even see sweat on character’s faces. It’s also worth noting that the source material is well represented here ranging from the look and feel of everything to the design of the Alien, itself. I think the biggest eye sore of the visual presentation is the incredibly stiff character animations. It’s most noticeable with the humans and Working Joe’s but even the Alien suffers from stiff movement every now and again. On the other hand, the reload animations look fantastic. When it comes to the audio, the music and sound effects are amazing. The music uses the motifs of the film’s soundtrack but most of the time it’s quiet or you’ll hear soft ambient tunes but the music really ramps up and gets intense when enemies get near. Audio plays a big role here and the music compliments the gameplay nicely. Gunfire is loud and powerful which makes the combat feel deadly and intense. You may not see the Alien but know its nearby because you can hear it stomping around and hissing. Sometimes you’ll hear the echo of the Alien screeching somewhere in the distance. Performance-wise, the game ran fine. I did notice some clipping but it wasn’t often and it was an overall smooth experience from beginning to end. I do think the keyboard and mouse controls could use some more love. I played through the early parts of the game with a keyboard and mouse before switching to a controller. For some reason you can’t slowly walk, or creep, with a keyboard so you’re forced to sprint or crouch walk everywhere. Using a controller rectifies this but it seems like a significant oversight.

I may not be the biggest fan of the horror genre but every now and then, a horror game catches my interest. Alien: Isolation caught my eye just because I’m a fan of the film series. And, ultimately, it turned out to be one of my favorite horror games of all time. I have never played a game that invokes a feeling of tension quite like this and it’s all due to the Alien and audiovisual presentation. Playing through this again was just as terrifying as it was the first time, and the Unpredictable Alien Mod makes it even more immersive. I had a ton of fun playing through it and my biggest complaint has to be the Working Joe’s. The Alien’s behavior really exposes the weakness and flaws of all the other enemy types in the game and the Working Joe encounters in particular can cross over into frustration territory, only making me wish the Alien would appear and rip them all to shreds which, sadly, never happens. But when you’re being hunted by the Alien, you always need to be alert. You should always move carefully and quietly. There’s nothing more terrifying than trying to get something accomplished while listening to the Alien move about the vents above your head, only hoping for a few more seconds to accomplish your goal so you can run and hide before the creature emerges. It’s this sense of fear and artificial anxiety that makes Alien: Isolation a very unique and fun experience.

I would absolutely recommend Alien: Isolation to fans of horror and stealth games and to fans of the Alien series. While the storyline may be a bit lackluster, it’s also not obnoxious with in-your-face references to the film. It can actually hold its own within the Alien universe. If you’re looking to scratch that Alien itch, Alien: Isolation should suffice. If you were hoping for an action-packed experience look elsewhere, like the Aliens versus Predator games. Aliens: Infestation for DS is also pretty good. If you’re looking for something that’s more along the lines of the Aliens film… Yeah, so am I. You may be asking “what about Aliens: Colonial Marines?”. What about it? It’s a sub-par shooter with an Aliens coat of paint. I would know, I’ve beaten it but that’s a topic for another discussion. Definitely check out Alien: Isolation if you enjoy the film series or horror genre. You will not be disappointed.

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