Introduction: a hodge-podge of critique and thoughts regarding gameplay and presentation
Heedful traversing of, much like system shock 2's corridors with gray-white walls, sci-fi degradation of a rundown ship, with red and blue wires strewn ubiquitously about the levels, levels that with sterility and dim, fluorescent, lighting in accordance with a keen sense of loneliness and helplessness, makes up the initial presentation and subsequent response to the constellation that is Alien: Isolation.
Immediately a sort of discrepancy appears, story-wise, which appears in the form of the following elucidation of these player/game, cliché/creativity dualities:
We all know it's an alien that is this “monster”, so the story feigning ignorance makes for a weird discrepancy between the player and game-world. And why would a futuristic crew of people – along with the illiterate attempts at wall-messages scribbled in blood – attribute “random” deaths to a monster, but when we come across a corpse, there is seemingly no reason to assume this event to be the work of an otherworldly being, a monster, apart from what the title suggests. It's like the people in the game knows that this is the
alien, but instead alludes to it for the sake of horror-mystery in a context where everybody, in part, already knows what is really going on. This could have been done a different way, where things weren't so clichéd as to try to obfuscate a truth which the player already knows, a truth that is the basis of this whole game. It seems like an unnecessary veil to put on something so conspicuous.
Being strongly reminiscent of Metro: Last Light, the Axel sections early on in the game, serves as an introduction into the games' world, a world where you're alone; you feel despair and fear, but you find – as close to as you could on this ship – a friend that guides you through the basic functions of stealth mechanics. It's a clever way of supplementing a laborious tutorial system with engaging story-progression. It also corresponds to Ripley being in the dark of what is going on on the ship, since she hasn't been on it and experienced the social conditions being torn apart in the Alien's ravaging ways, thus giving Ripley a sort of passable reason for trusting this random person pointing a gun at her.
When Axel is promptly stripped away from us, in a shattering of the little sense of confidence and security we have, the game gets back to the deep sense of fright and even more so the deep sense of loneliness pertaining to both the claustrophobic hallways and the vacuous space that surrounds it – the fear is poignantly all-encompassing, enveloping and leaving you stranded in open space, like a three-dimensional desert.
Deep bassy whale sounds echoing throughout endless space, even though that space would have no reverberation that would otherwise a priori prove this depth – in the endless space metaphor – of sound as it pertains to location, in a weird interaction between diagetic and non-diagetic sound, that otherwise would be clear-cut. Musically, it interacts with gameplay and what is going on in front of the player, when in a tense situation, the music reflects that, when in a chase-scene or dangerous situation, the music reflects that as well. So musically, Alien: Isolation, organically fits the different pieces of music to the overall presentation of visuals, kinaesthetics and game-mechanics.
The visuals of this game are truly stunning, awe-inspiring and simply wonderful. Every window of opportunity to look out through a window into space, and the nearby gas giant, is one you should take. The lighting is deeply integrated into the environments, with red lights blasting from the alarms being set off, or creepily neon-blues from electric sparks or other dimmed lights of vibrant color. There is also a particular scene, a sort of like a flashback playing-the-story-being-told type moment in the game, where we follow a crew first discovering this alien ship. At this point you don't really feel like the gameplay is necessary, and it gives you a weird signal detector that at first has no real use, but the scenery is just brilliant. It was like walking through the inside of a metallic spinal chord, with spines integrated into the flooded floor and walls, with the same dampness and slickness you see in the alien's saliva when it's dripping from the ventilation ducts in the ceiling of the hallways in certain sections of the game. ♥♥♥♥♥♥l openings at the basis of this spine are mirrored in a naturalistic paradigm on the inner and outer walls of this alien ship, something like the hexagonal cells of bees, the patterns of flowers or general adumbration of different tree species and so on. . . these futuristic organically calcified egg/cystic-fossils buried in the hardened, seemingly former flesh-walls, are another example of wonderful imagery in this particular set of scenes. Storytelling and environmental interplay with game-mechanics
The transition from cutscene to gameplay was an interesting one. Alien: Isolation didn't suffer from what a lot of games do, whereby the whereabouts of your character in a cutscene differentiates itself from where your actual position is. This made for an interesting seamlessness, where the end of the cutscene put you directly in the frightened, panicked, shoes of Ripley, just as disoriented, just as struck by what was just witnessed. Although, the beginning of the cutscene sometimes teleported you where you needed to be once in the cutscene, which was rather silly, but I suppose an understandable compromise to make for the latter half of the cutscene.
Ripley also trembles when she points her gun, signifying the pungent fear-nervousness constantly running through her, which is also reflected in her aim taking a long time to stabilize gameplay-wise, even though with this constant tremble that would never happen – the stabilization, that is – it is still an interesting touch of creativity to gameplay as it displays an emotional reaction and connection between game and character, mechanics and player emotion.
The terminals, conveniently enough, doll out the information – and acts like an agent of environmental exposition, and exploration! – we need to progress, in that generic System Shock/Bioshock type way, where you just happen to find just the text with the code written on it, even though the place – not only the place, but the network and computers are often out of order – is a wreck and most other things are readily destroyed, burned or sabotaged in different manners, increasing the silliness and unlikelihood of these expository beacons being readily available.
Slight environmental touches add some charm to the game, like the lockers that are littered with artifacts of presumably dead crew-members. The imagery of these, pictures of families, personalized lockers with pictures of vacation spots, pornographic images and other things to make these lockers not only a game mechanic, but a storyteller and an attempt to connect the player to the otherwise blank faces we see die throughout the game. We see hints of the lives of these people as family members, and subsequently the empathetically saddening that comes with realizing their supposed fate. It's a cute addition to an otherwise gray wall; it gives you something to reflect on during these long periods of fearful hiding from an overly aggressive foe.*
*Upon further research it turns out these personalized messages were just generic copies of the same post-it note. It's almost like this is a game, made by people who wanted to save time on certain things. It's always an unfortunate event, when the realization of the game being, in truth, a game – instead of this beautiful immersion into a world omitted by our own. This is seemingly thematic to Alien: Isolations.
Continuation in the comments due to character restrictions. . .