The original Alien movie managed to create a tense, creepy atmosphere that cleverly merged the best element of both the Horror and Sci-fi genres. In 2014 developer Creative Assembly somehow managed to re-capture this in their game.
Even today Alien: Isolation manages to shine, despite 5 years passing since release and this is why it’s such a pleasant surprise to see it ported to Switch to terrify a new set of gamers.
Set 15 years after the events of Alien, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, learns that the flight recorder from her mother’s ship has been recovered and this leads her to visit the Sevastopol space station to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Cue dimly lit corridors, faulty electrics and one xenomorph.
Thankfully, the team behind the game decided not to go for the usual shooter dynamic used for the disappointing Aliens: Colonial Marines and instead took all their influences from the claustrophobic stealthy horror of the original movie and the then growing trend for horror games. It pays out in spades, with a terrifying alien hunting you and the other crew-mates throughout the station.
Every tunnel, service duct and dimly lit corridor presents a deadly threat while lights flicker, machines malfunction and the decomposing pipes and cables provide dangers of their own. Even without a deadly predator running around the place it would be a scary enough scenario to be stuck in. It looks so much like the film’s 1970s vision of the future and that’s to the credit of both the original creative team and Feral themselves for an excellent port. As such, the game manages to draw you in to its world.
The Alien is the star of the show here, sulking around in the shadows like a moody teen with a deathwish. It feels like it’s always there just round the corner and most of the time it is. In a refreshing change from the norm, you’ll find it almost impossible to kill this Xenomorph, it’s more a case of getting as far away from it as possible or finding a good place to hide (and, yes, there are some bad places to hide). The AI is as good today as it was 5 years ago and one face to face encounter with it is one too many. If it spots you, you’re dead. If it smells you, you’re dead. With odds like that, this is one tough ride.
It’s not just aliens on board, though. Survivors wonder around, as panicked as you are, which sometimes pits them at odds with your own survival, especially when they start stomping around making a noise. Androids are also found on the station, often just as deadly as the alien with their their deeply disturbing glowing eyes and ability to pummel you to death for no reason.
Developer and publisher Feral Interactive have done a fantastic job to re-create the original game on Switch. There are very few signs of compromise to get this running smoothly (which it does, very much so) on Switch and the atmosphere is perfectly captured even when handheld. It looks and sounds as good as it does on the other platforms.
In spite of the fact that this is a five year old game, Alien: Isolation remains an essential purchase for Switch owners who are fans of the franchise or of the horror and stealth genres.