This review was written after finishing the game on Hard difficulty:
There's a part at the very early stages of the game, just after my first "encounter" with the Alien (through a cinematic) where I was waiting for a transit to take me to another section of the station. I was sitting next to the transit gate, all crouched up, just like the pre-release videos and inteviews taught me to do, waiting in a big dark room for my transit to arrive.
I knew that there's no way the Alien will suddenly drop down and attack me there. "It's too soon", I told myeself, but then the music kicks in, the transit takes its sweet time and Ripley starts whispering "Come on", so I started feeling doubt; Maybe the Alien will come anyway? Maybe I'm not as safe as I thought? The transit did eventually come, the Alien didn't appear and I moved on to ♥♥♥♥ting my pants in a whole new section of the game.
This is where Alien Isolation truly shines: it makes you feel like you're being hunted even when you aren't.
This game was all that was promised - and more. It is the most fun (in quite the terrifying sense) I had with an Alien related game since Rebellion's AvP from back in 1999, and the best survival horror experience since System Shock 2 (we'll get back to that game later). This game is so good in so many ways it made me forgive it for not having any type of multiplayer.
So what makes this game earn this much praise out of me right off the bat?
Let's start with the visuals: The game is gorgeous. I'm not a big graphics guy and usually the aesthetic aspect of games takes a back seat for me, but the effort that was put into the environments is part of what makes this game amazing. It plays very well with light and darkness and makes great use of the low tech Sci-Fi feel of the original Alien from 1979.
Add to that the amazing sound effects of the game, and you get a sense of total immersion: The station looks very believable with trash, magazinges and games laying around the place, completely selling the notion that people lived here not too long ago. The random pipes that can be frequently found around the station resemble the Alien's dome head in dark areas, while the ventilation shaft and air leak sounds resembe its hisses, adding even more to the scare factor.
The design of the Working Joes is also good and fits into a horror game perfectly. Them being an inferior synthetic design by a failing corporation sells their looks quite well.
As for the gameplay itself: It seems as though the developers of Creative Assemby took everything that was great in System Shock 2 and implemented it in the Alien universe. You arrive on a station where something has gone horribly wrong and are now trying to figure out what is going on. You learn about the characters and the events that took place on the Sevastopol through notes and Audio Logs, which add a lot of depth to the storyline. Creative Assemby invested a lot of effort in creating the Seegson corporation and making it fit as a part of the Alien universe alongside Weyland-Yutani, and it shows. To the point where by the end of the game you can't even remember what the Alien universe was like without Seegson.
The progression of the game is quite linear, but the game does give you many options for exploration (not an easy thing to do with a homicidal Alien on your tail). It even features backtracking elements that were prominent in in System Shock 2, making you feel like you're truly running around on a space station and not just moving from one scene to the next.
You have three main enemies to watch out for during the game: Humans, Working Joes and the Alien itself. There's a fourth enemy as well that reveals itself to you in the late game, which I will not discuss due to spoilers. Humans and Working Joes are quite dumb and are usually easy to deal with. Some of them will attack you, while others will leave you be. It will be up to you to discover their intentions, which adds to the sense of fear during the game.
The Alien, being the main star of the game, is quite fearsome. Once it finally reveals itself to you, it does not disappoint. It is big, fast, clever and can spot you from a good distance if you cross its line of sight. If the Alien sees (and sometimes hears) you - you're dead. No way to outrun it. While being extra big and extra loud in this game compared to its past incarnations, do not understimate the Alien's ability to sneak up on you. It has killed me from behind, dragged me into vents and even flat out dropped down right on my face more times than I could count. This makes the Alien a menace even when you finally get a Flamethrower.
The hacking ability - another element that seems as if it was taken right out of System Shock 2 - is a rather simple test of mental and reactionary challenges. The trick is that you're never safe while performing them. You'll be surprised how hard (and dangerous) it becomes to complete something as simple as a shape matching challenge while hearing the Alien's footsteps thumping in the background.
The save system of the game is quite nice as well. You can only save the game in special checkpoints that look like payphones. Those checkpoints take time to save and also warn you when hostiles are nearby. The game will have you praying to reach an area with one of those payphones around and to be able to save safely. Yes, you can die while saving. Yes, the Alien managed to get me this way as well.
Every other action you take - opening doors; cutting through barriers; accessing terminals; activating generators - are all designed to slow you down and make you feel vulnerable. Instead of just interacting with a door by pressing E, for example, you'll be required to hit a series of key combinations. Different doors and levers require different key combinations.
In short, the gameplay goes through a lot of trouble to convey that every action you take, even as trivial as opening a door, comes with a cost.
As good as this game is, it does have a few issues that, while minor, can't be ignored:
The first is the Human/Working Joe AI. While their AI is not horrible, the huge difference between their AI and the Alien's impressive AI breaks immersion at times.
The second is the Working Joes during the late game. Missions 11-13 in particular. The Working Joes are scary and interesting in the early game, when you're low on weapons and supplies, but in the late game they become nothing more than a hassle. During missions 11-13 the Alien threat is temporarily removed and the game lets you know it, so the missions turn into Joe hunting missions where you can just go to town on them with the strongest guns in your arsenal.
The third is the lip sync in this game. While the voice acting is, at the most part, impressive, it doesn't seem to sync very well with the lip movements of the characters.
The fourth is the controls option in the menu. For some reason, it shows gamepad keys to me while I use keyboard/mouse.
Overall though, this game is a must in any Alien fan's game library. If you're looking for a game that brings back honor (and horror) to the Alien franchise; if you're looking for a survival horror experience that's based more on atmosphere, immersion and a sense of helplessnes than on jump-scares and scripted events; if the idea of playing a game of cat and mouse with an unkillable foe equipped with an impressive AI speaks to you - you will love Alien: Isolation.