Saturday, February 2, 2019

Alien Isolation

By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

Hey everybody welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. This is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the video game industry as a whole. You can find everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at Now this week we're going to be discussing Alien Isolation so as usual now is the time when I issue the official spoiler warning. If you don’t want this game from five years ago spoiled for you stop watching right now…there are multiple aliens, now that that band-aid has been ripped off lets begin. 

The Alien franchise is one that I was introduced to at a very young age and while the first movie scared the hell out of me and left me thirsty for more the follow-up's left something to be desired. Unpopular opinion alert: not only is Aliens not nearly as good as Alien but I actually consider it to be a mediocre action movie at best. Alien 3 was a hodgepodge mess that to this day is a black mark on David Fincher's otherwise stellar career. Alien: Resurrection was an ok slasher movie that was simple stupid fun. And the AVP movies were lacking in the heart that made either of its respective franchises solo outings so good. I eventually gave up on the series after seeing Prometheus in 2012 and feeling what I can only describe as overwhelming disappointment. Now I do understand that my attachment and love for the first Alien movie has caused me to be overly critical of almost everything that has come from the series since but I couldn’t help but long for a sequel that took the series back to the roots established in the original movie. Then on that fateful day in January of 2014 Sega announced a new game in the Alien franchise.

Upon it's announcement Alien Isolation immediately looked as though it was going to be a return to form for the series in how nearly every aspect of game was being handled. Gone were the days of loud action scenes leaving dozens if not hundreds of Xenomorph's dead; Alien Isolation takes the audience back to a claustrophobic monster movie type horror experience and utilizes the medium of video games to produce the most memorable and well polished end result the franchise has ever seen full stop. Not only is Alien Isolation better than all the sequels and spin-offs that have been made since the series' conception in 1979 but it outpaces the original in ways that only a video game can. Alien Isolation is the Alien sequel I had waited almost 20 years for.

Of everything that Alien Isolation does right the stand out is without a doubt atmosphere. Creative Assembly put on a masterclass of building an environment that felt so incredibly real that it was able to function as a foundation for the entire game. Space's felt lived in, every console, room, corridor, and hatch felt purposeful as though it was meant to be used for more than just game mechanics, and the color pallet makes the player feel the cold of space as they play. The game perfectly mimics the aesthetic of the first Alien movie. As the series has continued the newer entries like Prometheus and the AVP movies haven't been able to resist the urge to implement more advanced looking technology in an effort to enhance the sci-fi feel. While this temptation is obvious it does, in a way, break continuity and abandons any feeling of consistency from one entry to the next. Alien Isolation bucks this trend by committing to putting a 70's looking aesthetic on all technology within the game. Computers are encased in off white plastic, keyboards are large dark gray and sound very mechanical, thick monochromatic displays are everywhere, and the lighting is unapologetically fluorescent. Moving around the Sevastopol station allows players to feel like they are moving around the cramped hallways of the Nostromo from the first movie, everything looks spectacular but where Creative Assembly took their biggest risk was in the dark.

Lighting in games is a tricky balance between revealing to much to the player all at once and allowing them enough light to be able to move around and accomplish their objective. Alien Isolation takes the dark, a key element of horror in any medium, and completely covers the entire experience in it. By designing a large majority of the game to be played in the dark then limiting not only what the player can see but also how long they can see it with the flashlight Creative Assembly was able to draw out a specific type of fear that I haven't felt since I was a kid. Throughout the game being aware of ones surroundings becomes a knowledge that is no longer taken for granted; the flashlight becomes a weapon to reveal information and the batteries are it's ammunition.

Sound design and dynamic music also stand out as a means of contributing to what is arguably a perfect atmosphere. The game utilizes not only music to build tension but environmental sound effects. Some of the scariest moments throughout my two play throughs of the game were moments in which I didn’t even see the alien but I heard it. Hearing a cup fall off a counter two hundred feet down an empty silent hallway, or the metal of the ventilation system buckle under the weight of the alien as it crawled around overhead, Isolation embraces and utilizes simple sounds making them just as important as sight. And in a fairly unpopular feature the game utilizes either the microphone built into the PlayStation camera and Kinect, or the microphone in any standard headset to detect real world noise and alert NPC's to your presence. Many people hated this feature but for me the added tension of literally holding my breath as I watched the alien walk past through the slats in the locker I was hidden in made for a unique and extremely memorable experience.

After establishing such a strong foundation Creative Assembly then move onto story and once again knock it right out of the park. Like that of the first movie the story of Alien Isolation is small in scale and well contained. The writers don’t concern themselves with meaningless things like the origins of the xenomorph species or how the colonies function, they simply take a premise build justification for why it's enacted and execute on that premise in an almost flawless way. Now I wasn’t in the room when the idea for the original Alien movie was pitched but somehow I don’t think it was any more complex than "a crew of people are adrift in space trapped on a ship with a vicious alien" and when that was pitched I don’t think studio executives were raising questions about xenomorph society and how that can be expanded upon to make money.

Isolation feels like the perfect sequel to Alien because there was reasonable justification for Amanda to get on the Sevastopol station and once she's there the writers seal the doors (for the most part) and let the entire story play out on board the space station. No sub plots about government coverups or big business pursuit of wealth just a woman looking for her long lost mother locked in a room with a monster.

One of the primary complaints that I hear leveled against the game is the length. Many people are of the opinion that Isolation overstays it's welcome by about six hours. I don’t want to discredit anyone's opinion because everyone is entitled to their own but I think that the length only contributed to the horror. Just like movies horror games are a series of sprints. There will be extremely intense and terrifying moments that leave the audience sweaty and out of breath followed by a moment to of tranquility to regain their composure. The length of Isolation leads to pure exhaustion in the best possible way. Every time I caught myself thinking that I was surely nearing the end I would be given a new objective and would have to get ready for another four or five sprint moments of absolute terror. By the time I actually did finish the game I had become so accustomed to the routine that when it was over all I wanted was more. Alien Isolation is a marathon of sprints and if you're anything like me then by the end you'll want to keep sprinting but will have no where else to run.

And finally the gameplay. Some genres of video games naturally lend themselves to good gameplay while others do the complete opposite. Last week on the channel we discussed Detroit Become Human which is a good game with a good story but gameplay clearly took a back seat during development. Horror games usually strike a similar balance to choose your own adventure games in that story and scares are the priority while gameplay can easily fall by the wayside. This cannot be said about Isolation. The game controls beautifully! Movement is tight and fluid and Amanda always does exactly what I intend. The player spends the vast majority of the game completely underpowered and when they finally acquire the flame thrower even the power to repel the alien long enough to die another day feels downright powerful. A complete lack of power combined with an AI controlled Alien that learns from my previous attempts and very few scripted sequences emulates the original movie and adapts it into a video game perfectly.

For the first half of this console generation Alien Isolation was legitimately a contender to be my game of the generation. It's a game so good that I don’t even consider it when thinking of movie tie in games because it stands out so well on its own as an entirely separate experience. Alien and Alien Isolation function perfectly as a two part story without a need for a third. The game bucks the trends of the industry and its own franchise and is without a doubt a must play. As soon as the game was over I was on google checking to see if there was a sequel in development but after letting it sit with me for four years I can safely say I don’t even want a sequel, to the game or the movies. Isolation is the perfect bookend to wrap up the entire franchise and as far as I'm concerned that's what it did. Alien is over for me and Isolation was the perfect experience to go out on.

Which Alien or Predator movie or game is your favorite and what would you want to see come out of this series in the future? Let me know in the comments down below.

If you liked what you heard don’t forget to hit that subscribe button for a new video every week. And if you want to check out our gaming podcast HardReset or our movies podcast NoRefunds you can find those on most major podcast services and right here on YouTube. If you don’t want to scrounge around the internet for our content you can find everything we do all in one spot over at I'll be back next week talking about expectations so until then just go play some games.

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