Edit: Updated with Crew Expendable and Last Survivor DLC thoughts. DLC at the very bottom.
Barring something amazing coming within the next 2 months, I have no hesitation in naming Alien: Isolation as my game of the year right now. It's an incredible experience that I will remember for a long time to come and it very much deserves to be included in the "Alien" canon. Every single survivor horror game will be compared to this until its bested. While I have a lot of love for the great games in the Resident Evil franchise and some other survival horror classics, this game is a totally different experience than all of them.
I want to preface this review by stating that before playing this game, you owe it to yourself and the creators of this wonderful game to watch the Ridley Scott directed 1979 classic, "Alien" that this game is inspired by and is essentially, a sequel to. I had seen the film multiple times, but watched it again 2 days before this game launched. I am glad that I did. There is a lot of fantastic detail that you will miss and may not even get if you don't have the film at least a little fresh in your mind. I can't understand why anyone would play this before watching it really. From minor things such as musical cues to much larger things that I won't mention. Watch the film, then play the game. You'll be glad you did and it will greatly enhance your experience.
To sum it up simply, Alien Isolation is in my view the greatest survival horror game of its ilk ever created. It's extremely challenging on low difficulties and it creates a feeling of tension that I have never experienced before in a game. Creative Assembly have created their magnum opus. You feel as Amanda Ripley feels. You feel the sense of dread and foreboding. That said, this is not a game that everyone will enjoy. Many people play games to have fun and don't take things too seriously. That's perfectly fine. The biggest standout of this game is how it takes the gamer to places they don't get to go too often in games. A very dark and scary place that tests your skill in every respect. It really is a "different kind" of fun.
Technologically, the game shines. The graphics are tip top with great use of particle effects and some of the best fire I've ever seen in a game. I have what I would consider to be a "mid-range" rig and I was able to Ultra everything and not once experienced any sort of dip in performance. Level design makes you feel that you're in this place that you have no idea how to get out of. Vents are terrifyingly claustrophobic at times. The sound is insane in respect to how much it adds to the game. "Thump, thump, thump". You will hear this. You will fear this. The attention to detail is borderline masochistic in how everything from a label to the Alien itself will have you shaking your head in awe. Even the music is composed and constructed in a way to help add to the tension.
If I have one tip for this game: SAVE IT EVERY TIME YOU SEE A SAVE POINT. Autosaves are only at the beginning of missions and missions tend to be long.
Here's a TL:DR Pros/cons list and some basic stats.
At the time of this review, I have logged 15.1 hours at about 40% on normal difficulty and 60% on easy. I have played and completed only the main story. I have played none of the DLC or challenge maps at all....yet.
+ This game is the "Alien" story's "Batman Begins". Great writing/storytelling and voice acting.
+ Exceptionally challenging. Easy difficulty is not easy. The game does not hold your hand at all.
+ The attention to detail at literally every single point in the game world is astonishing. The art direction is Oscar-worthy.
+ This game has the best sound in video game history. The sound of the Alien hunting you is a sound you won't forget.
+ The score borrows aspects from the film and also has its own flavor. It works incredibly well. The musical cues that you recognize from the film fit perfectly.
+ A very nice length to the story mode. 15 hours for a game like this is not something that you see often these days.
+ Creates a feeling of tension and helplessness that I have never experienced playing a video game before.
+ The Alien's AI is unpredictable and constantly changes. Forces you to vary how you approach a situation. If he gets you once, be sure to change your tactic.
- As outstanding as it looks, facial animations rendered in-game are poor.
- There are some mechanics that are more frustrating than fun.
- Some cheap jump scares, mostly near the end of the game.
- A few immersion killing enemy placements that will cause immediate deaths.
- Many false endings. You'll think you're done, but you're not.
- Story mode does not have a lot of replayability. There are 3 skill levels. Its absolutely not the kind of game I want to jump back in and play again immediately though.
- The difficulty lets up a bit in the middle third of the game and while I was relieved a bit, I found the best parts to be when they were the most tension filled. Endgame (last 2-3 hours) are non-stop.
- The map is horrible. Probably by design. It encourages you to find the path without the map.
Needless to say, I am blown away by this game. It also has added to my appreciation of the film and I am extremely excited to play the "Crew Expendable" DLC soon, which is probably going to feel like a whole new game. I will review that and append this review once I have completed it.
Rating: 10/10 - No hyperbole. This game is pitch perfect and exactly the type of game I was hoping it would be.
CREW EXPENDABLE & LAST SURVIVOR DLC
Both of these DLCs allow you to play two key scenes of the original film in a game form. As with Isolation, the attention to detail is tantamount to perfection. The digital re-creation of both the actors (+ they recorded new dialogue) as well as the Nostromo itself is astonishing and really the big star of the DLC. This is a bit unfortunate.
I was initially excited upon the announcement that we'd get to play this as the original film is a long-time favorite. However, rather than provide the gamer with a chance to "change" something from the original film (aside from a character selection in Crew Expendable), the gameplay depth is a bit shallow. Basically both DLCs allow you to play through two key scenes from the film. Crew Expendable allows you to make a minor change in choosing between Ripley, Dallas or Parker, (Last Survivor is only Ripley) but the end is always the same. The objectives are always the same. My feeling on this DLC is that if the 1979 film was a game, these two slices would serve as perfect demos to the gameplay. However, knowing the story and film so well, they didnt do much for me as they're basically just scenes from the film with Isolation gameplay mechanics. I was also disappointed that "Last Survivor" felt unfinished, as the final showdown with the Alien on board the escape shuttle was not included yet the dramatic intent would lead someone whose not seen the film to think the end provided was the real ending. No Jonesy either.
Kudos to the designers and programmers for the stellar work. Kudos to the actors too. However, if this DLC is your main reason for buying the game, I cant suggest it at all. Isolation should be the reason.
Total gametime with 3 playthroughs of the DLC on normal difficulty (2 different characters on Crew Expendable + 1 play of Last Survivor) totaled around an hour or so. Its short, but definitely worth a look if you enjoy the film and an interesting way to re-live a film but no surprises.
Let me be clear as well, that my feelings on the DLCs gameplay depth have absolutely no bearing on my feelings towards Isolation.