The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Alien Isolation: Final Review and Reflection

“I’d like to say I got this part figured out, but I know the moment I say that, I’m going to get killed. Fucking Facehuggers, man.” —TheRadBrad on Alien Isolation

After two months and eighteen days, over the course of around nineteen hours, I’ve finally crossed the finish line for Alien: Isolation. When I left off last time back in late June, I’d just acquired the flamethrower and was getting ready to lure the Xenomorph into a trap such that it could be ejected from the station. That part of the game was quite tense, and I succeeded without too much difficulty. With the Xenomorph gone for a bit, there’s a respite in Alien: Isolation; the Working Joes and other human hostiles are not particularly scary, so I was able to enjoy the relative peace and quiet on Sevastopol station as I made my way to the Apollo core to try and reset the androids so they’d cease their hostilities. However, this is unsuccessful, leading to the single most tense mission in all of Alien: Isolation: Ripley learns that there is a vast Xenomorph hive in the bowels of the reactor and must overload it, all the while contending with Facehuggers and multiple Xenomorphs. Despite succeeding, several Xenomporhs escape, and Ripley must board the Anesidora to rescue Taylor. She learns her mother’s fate but only narrowly escapes the Anesidora’s destruction. With Sevastopol critically damaged, Ripley makes her way off the station after detaching it and back on board the Torrens, she finds herself confronted by yet another Xenomorph. She escapes through an airlock and drifts in space before being awakened by some searchlights.

While Alien: Isolation may be named after the Xenomorphs, having completed the game now, I conclude that the Xenomorph is, surprisingly, not the most frightening aspect of Alien: Isolation. Instead, the title for this covetted spot goes to the Facehuggers. These chelicerate arthropod-like sorganisms are the second stage of a Xenomorph’s life cycle: resembling spiders with bony appendages and a tail, they propel themselves at high speeds towards their victims’ faces. After they wrap their appendeges around the victim, they implant the Xenomorph embryo that matures into a Xenomporh. Small in size, capable of moving quickly and announcing their presence with a shriek, the Facehuggers are downright terrifying and can result deaths out of the blue. They are easily dispatched with any ordinance that Ripley carries (a single revolver bullet or a well-placed hit from the maintenance jack will kill them), but the unexpectedness that they can appear and hop onto the screen makes them the ideal means of inducing jump scares even in someone as stoic as myself. Nowhere in the game do I startle or even cry out in response to a death at the Xenomorph’s hands; that the Facehuggers can do this is a sure sign of how well-designed they are as enemies. Unlike the Poison Headcrabs of Half-Life 2, who similarly announced their presence audibly, the Facehuggers can send players back a long way, further increasing their ability to frighten players even compared to the Poison Headcrabs. So effective were the Facehuggers that it took me a week to muster the courage to continue playing the reactor basement mission, and ultimately, were it not for this opponent, Alien: Isolation might have lost its magic. Instead, the inclusion of Facehuggers capable of causing such effective jump scares adds to the enjoyment factor of Alien: Isolation substantially.

Stepping away from the Facehuggers and the fact that they gave me nightmares, the main theme in Alien: Isolation appears to revolve around Ripley’s resourcefulness, determination and adaptability as a character. Although the odds are stacked against Ripley the moment she sets foot on Sevastopol Station, she capitalises on her engineering knowledge and patience to make her way through areas, both to survive and to do what she’d set out to do. It was remarkably fun to be playing a character who is forced to use cunning, rather than firepower, to overwhelm an enemy, and similarly, it was a refreshing experience to capitalise on an unkillable enemy to further one’s goals and survival. Despite being highly linear in nature, almost to that of a kinetic novel, Alien: Isolation is a fantastic experience. This is because the atmosphere in Alien: Isolation is superbly designed, allowing players to vividly experience what Ripley herself is experiencing. Players have some sway over how Ripley’s adventure proceeds, offering a set of tools that can dramatically alter the outcome of an encounter with Working Joes, other humans or the Xenomorph itself. For instance, when encountered with a group of humans in a room, Ripley can sneak past them by triggering a smoke grenade, find a vent and use a different path, or even toss a noisemaker into the mix and have the Xenomorph do the dirty work. These highly immersive approach allows Alien: Isolation to succeed by giving players enough options to allow them a means of matching wits with their environment and enemies. In conjunction with a more linear story, Alien: Isolation provides a fine balance between openness and clearly telling its story about Ripley’s journey to figure out what happened to her mother.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The flamethrower is possibly the single most useful weapon in Alien: Isolation, and although it is not capable of causing any serious harm to the Xenomorph, a short burst causes it to retreat. Fuel can be quite scarce, and overuse of the flamethrower can cause the Xenomorph to ignore the flames, resulting in death. Besides its utility in creating an opening in which to hide or escape, the flamethrower is highly effective against Facehuggers and can even be used to light the interiors of vents. The page quote is taken from TheRadBrad and his experiences with Facehuggers.

  • If it were not for the fact that Working Joes and a Xenomorph were chasing Ripley through Sevastopol Station, there might actually be some time to take in just how intricately designed the levels’ interiors are. The computers are pleasantly quaint, featuring large CRT displays and buttons from the 70s. Ripley must occasionally interact with these systems through mini-games, and these can be quite fun to complete.

  • Ripley can occasionally encounter other survivors on the Sevastopol Station. Most of them are hostile, but may occasionally give Ripley a chance to retreat into the shadows. Others are benign and so, should be left alone: during one mission, I assumed a group of people were hostile, planted a pipe bomb and lured them towards the device. When it detonated, the game ended and informed me that I’d just whacked civilians. From there on out, I decided to be more careful and assessed people based on their conversational tone.

  • Sneaking through one area of the station, the Xenomorph appeared and was impeding my progress, so I proceeded to unload the flamethrower on it. Lacking the range of a military flamethrower, the flamethrower Ripley has access to is limited by its short range. Firing it too early may result in the Xenomorph charging in, ignoring the fire and possibly result in the player’s death. Despite its efficacy, its still better to hide, since the Xenomorph will adapt to the player’s use of the flamethrower over time.

  • Because the Xenomorph is said to have sophisticated AI, eventually adapting to the players’ patterns, I decided I would respond to this knowledge ahead of time. To ensure that any particular method of escaping the Xenomporh remained viable, I chose to hide in lockers, cabinets, under desks, toss noisemakers or utilise my flamethrower. The Xenomporh’s learner would therefore register that since the player had a relatively even distribution of actions, the Xenomorph would therefore have a similar probability of executing any one particular countermeasure.

  • As such, I never was pulled out of a locker or was caught hiding underneath a desk, and the flamethrower remained effective well into the game. Here, I make my way out of an area after successfully luring the Xenomorph into the lab module and escaped. With the Xenomorph gone for the present, Alien: Isolation became uncharacteristically relaxed, allowing me to move through areas more quickly and with reduced caution. Some individuals consider the Working Joes and humans to be scarier opponents than the Xenomorph, but I digress.

  • One section of Alien: Isolation involves fending off six Working Joes. The most effective way of taking the conventional type out is to make use of the stun baton to temporarily disable it, and then strike it repeatedly with the maintenance jack until it goes down. Against a group, the EMP devices become more useful, disabling several and allowing for each to be dispatched in turn. Here, I’ve got the Henjin-Garcia Model 37-12 Gauge Pump Action shotgun, which is quite effective against humans and basic Working Joes. Ammunition is scarce, so I reserve the weapons only for the most dire of situations.

  • After missing the Molotov cocktail blueprints in the San Cristobal Medical Bay, I would find another set of blueprints for an updated Molotov, which burns for longer. The Molotov makes use of the ethanol bottles found scattered around Sevastopol Station and appears to be composed of a rye whiskey. Some of my friends are fond of rye and coke, but for better or worse, it seems that my liquor of choice now has become rum.

  • I found that distracting the Xenomorph was always somewhat of a gamble, as an improperly utilised flare or noisemaker could easily result in my death. One of my more amusing stories with Alien: Isolation is that until more than halfway through the game, I never did figure out how to replace the flashlight batteries and so, went through most of the game with two-thirds of my flashlight still available. Fortunately, there are only a few places in Alien: Isolation where the flashlight is really necessary, and it turns out that holding down the flashlight button will reload the batteries.

  • Despite the presence of Working Joes, the trek through Seegson Synthetics was surprisingly relaxing and easygoing compared to the rest of Alien: Isolation, and I spent a nontrivial amount of time getting lost en route to Apollo’s core. It turns out that Apollo is under directives to secure a Xenomorph specimen for Weyland-Yutani, hence the Working Joes being instructed to deal with all humans. Ripley is forced to relinquish all of her weapons here, leaving only the stun baton behind. After reaching Apollo’s core and learning about the Xenomorph hive in the reactor basement, she’ll thankfully recover all of her munitions just in time for the most nerve-wracking experience in the whole of Alien: Isolation.

  • The bolt gun becomes an essential tool for dispatching the hazardous environment Working Joes, who can resist EMP devices and the stun baton. Conversely, the bolt gun is capable of taking out the hazardous environment Joes in a single shot (they do require charging in order to be effective). These pneumatically-powered devices are improvised weapons and under normal circumstances, resemble nail guns, being used to drive anchor bolts into a surface.

  • The reactor basement is a dark, moist and downright terrifying environment. With walls covered in organic matter and a clear half-foot of water covering the floor, this area is silent save for the sounds of dripping water and distant echoes. The organic matter obfuscates the motion tracker, and the difficult environment is where the Facehuggers are first encountered. For the first time in my experiences, I became too frightened to continue and took a week of playing Alien: Isolation, even suffering from a nightmare where I found myself in the reactor core. However, I returned, and summoned the courage to overload the alpha and beta cores, finally completing the most challenging mission I’ve seen in a game.

  • It was a relief to take the elevator back to the reactor deck, where the only enemies are the hazardous environment Working Joes. A combination of steady aim and plentiful bolt gun ammunition meant it was reasonably straightforwards to dispatch the Joes, and then follow the procedure required to initiate the reactor purge. While the reactor basement was remarkably unsettling, the reactor itself is a neat location, being held in a room so large the walls surrounding it aren’t visible.

  • Once all of the steps have been taken to trigger the purge, it is shown that there are multiple Xenomorphs hanging about on Sevastopol Station. Several escape into the station, and now, Ripley must contend with multiple Xenomorphs. Fortunately, the strategies that have applied earlier remain effectual now, and so, Ripley must now revisit the San Cristobal Medical Bay in order to reach the Anesidora.

  • There are no enemies on board the Anesidora, save for one Facehugger, and on my first attempt here, I died instantly to one, listening to the gurgling sounds resulting from such a death. Regardless of whether or not I was expecting to die to a Facehugger, seeing the bony appendages and gaping maw. On my second attempt, I failed to equip my flamethrower, and instead, whipped out my revolver. My aim was true enough, and a single shot later, the Facehugger exploded into a puddle of acidic sludge.

  • Upon reaching the Anesidora’s reactor, Ripley finds a computer carrying the flight recorder log she’d been seeking. She gains closure with her mother’s fate, although Alien: Isolation does not end here: Marlowe has set the Anesidora’s reactor to explode with the aim of taking out Sevastopol Station and the other Xenomorphs. Even with Ripley walking Taylor through the shutdown procedure, the reactor explodes, forcing Ripley to beat a hasty retreat. While Alien: Isolation is generally a fantastic game, the voice acting is a little weaker, and Ripley’s scream here in response to Taylor’s death might perhaps be one instance of weaker voice acting.

  • Back on board Sevastopol Station, I use a flamethrower to roast two hostile guards. The flamethrower and Molotov cocktails are highly effective against human opponents, but ignited hostiles will scream, possibly attracting the Xenomorphs’ attention. Note the apostrophe placement: by this point in Alien: Isolation, Xenomorphs are referred to in plural now because there is definitely more than one.

  • The Anesidora’s destruction also damages stabilising structures onboard Sevastopol Station, causing its orbit to decay and spiral slowly into KG-348’s atmosphere. Ripley must escape, but finds that there’s no way to contact the Torrens. This necessitates an EVA out to the transmission dishes, and for the moment, this becomes one of the more easy-going sections of Alien: Isolation. Although the station might be falling apart and there’s a communications dish to get set up, there are no Xenomorphs or Facehuggers out here, so it’s possible to take in the scenery in peace.

  • Once the Torrens is hailed, Ripley must make her way to the Torrens. Ricardo, one of the deputies to Chief Marshall Waits, was the only survivor after the Working Joes killed the other humans, and assists Ripley in her journeys through the bowels of Sevastopol Station. She plans to at least bring him on board the Torrens, but upon returning from her EVA, she finds him taken down by a Facehugger.

  • Expanding this screenshot to 1080p reveals a Xenomorph in the centre of the screen. On several occasions, I’ve escaped the Xenomorph’s attention simply by losing line of sight with it, hiding behind a sign or chair. As soon as the Xenomorph grows bored and leaves, it’s time to push forwards. This late in the game, most of Ripley’s inventory becomes of limited use. Recalling my use of items, I found the flamethrower, stun baton and bolt gun to be the most useful of the weapons. Similarly, for tools, the medical kit, noise maker and Molotov see frequent use.

  • The penultimate chapter returns Ripley to a familiar hallway, and now armed with the ion torch, she’s able to cut through the door and conclude this mission. While Ripley boards Sevastopol Station poorly equipped to make her way through the numerous locked doors and the like, she’ll find the tools necessary (upgrades to the security access tuner and the cutting torches) as they become necessary. There’s no way to miss the essentials, although players who do not explore might miss crafting blueprints.

  • The final mission in Alien: Isolation is to manually detach the Torrens, which has become stuck to Sevastopol Station. The flamethrower becomes an indispensable tool here, marking the first time where Ripley will certainly encounter multiple Xenomorphs at once. Short, controlled bursts will send the Xenomorphs on their way. Once they’re dealt with, Ripley will need to reach the airlock and head back into the void of space, but she’s ambushed by a Xenomorph on the way.

  • When Ripley comes to, she finds herself stuck to the walls of a Xenomorph hive. Facehuggers are common here, and with few upcoming direct confrontations with Xenomorphs in Alien: Isolation‘s final sections, the flamethrower becomes a powerful tool for destroying the Facehuggers (and their eggs). This region appears to be in the process of being transformed into a new hive, and the spread of organic Xenomorph biomass into the area is perfectly disgusting. I failed to mention this earlier, but the eggs can be burned before the Facehuggers come out of them: the resulting effect is quite satisfying to watch.

  • Readers might have noticed that the frequency of screenshots with flames in them increases as the bottom of the post is reached, corresponding with the increasing damage that Sevastopol Station has suffered. After crawling through the damaged areas, I reached some train tracks and carefully made my way across. By the time I got here, I knew I was quite close to the end of Alien: Isolation. With the end so near, I resolved that I would finish the game before the weekend had ended.

  • Last Sunday, I had taken the morning to work on a journal publication, and I spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine, riding the C-trains around town, reaching the southern edge of the city and returning to the downtown core to enjoy a double-cheese bacon poutine. The weather was fantastic for a summer characterised by an excess of rain and thunderstorms, and thankfully, this year, there were no major floods. After an adventure-filled day, I took the evening and went through the last parts of Alien: Isolation.

  • This narrow crawl-space stands between Ripley and the airlock: there are no fewer than three Facehuggers in here, and I died no fewer than three times here alone trying to clear the area out. At this point in Alien: Isolation, the game automatically saves, so one does not lose substantial progress, and at long last, after dispatching all of the Facehuggers in hear, I finally reached the airlock.

  • I have a little more than fifty deaths in Alien: Isolation in total; this is not quite enough to unlock the achievement for accumulating a hundred deaths in the game. The final objective here is to blow the bolts keeping the Torrens docked to Sevastopol Station, and once that’s done, a long cutscene is triggered, where multiple Xenomorphs are visible. Fortunately, a blast pushes Ripley back into the Torrens, while the station succumbs to gravity and is destroyed in KG-348’s atmosphere. The remains of the station explodes spectacularly, bringing to mind the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts; the largest impact hit with the force of six million MT of energy.

  • Being a survival-horror game, Ripley is most certainly not safe even though she’s back on the Torrens. There is no opportunity to rest in the quiet of the Torrens and actually make one’s way to the bridge, since a Xenomorph will have boarded. The quick-time event to end the game is a mercifully straightforwards one, and I finished it on my first try, sending the Xenomorph flying out of the airlock into the voids of space. I’m generally not fond of quick-time events, recalling those of Battlefield 3 where I missed one button and proceeded to die, forcing me to restart a scene.

  • While Alien: Isolation appears to leave Ripley’s fate ambiguous, she’s picked up by another vessel and rescued. She later becomes married, taking on the name of McClaren, and dies at the age of sixty-six. Playing through Alien: Isolation, I’m now interested to watch Alien (the original, as well as Aliens), so if the game also had the aim of piquing interest in the Alien franchise, it succeeded somewhat. With this post over, I’m looking to write about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and DOOM in the near future. As well, I neglected to mention that I definitely will be watching and reviewing Kimi no na wa (Your Name), a Makoto Shinkai film that will release in two days. I’ve been waiting for this movie since February of last year, and the post will probably be a larger one, featuring some sixty images.

Altogether, Alien: Isolation is a remarkable game that now joins the ranks of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Valkyria Chronicles as the best games I’ve experienced. With solid atmosphere conferred by the amount of attention put into level design, artwork and soundtrack, Alien: Isolation masterfully creates a truly frightening environment that surprises at every turn. A suspenseful and tense journey, Alien: Isolation‘s joys come in leaving the players guessing what comes next. With that being said, while I did enjoy Alien: Isolation tremendously, I do not imagine that I will be replaying the game in the near future: the single experience is sufficient for me to grasp the game’s strong points, and for the near future, I do not intend on putting myself through such a harrowing simulated experience again. My intererst in the Alien franchise has also been piqued, so I might check out the original Alien movie at some point in the future. For now, with what might be one of my most storied gaming adventures complete, I can turn my attention to DOOM and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided; apparently, the latter is so graphically demanding that it requires a pair of GTX 1080 cards in SLI to run at ultra settings on 4K. I’ll be playing at 1080p, so I imagine that my new GPU should be more than up for the job at high settings.

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