Review: ‘Alien: Isolation’

Alien fans don’t catch a lot of breaks with the Alien: Isolation video series as another continuation on this ongoing theme. Recent Alien movies have failed to capture what made the original so great. Even the much-anticipated 2013 game ‘Aliens: Colonial Marines’ made a mockery of the much beloved and feared titular creature. So, when fans heard the later “Alien: Isolation” game was being expanded into a digital series, most couldn’t help but be both excited and worried.

Where Colonial Marines had been a disaster, Isolation stood out – not just from other recent media productions of “Aliens”, but also against the sea of sub-par horror games that have flooded the market in the last five years. The slow yet steady pacing of the game was complemented by some of the best level design and tension built seen in years.

Having personally experienced the first time the Alien caught me in Isolation, I had managed to evade it for almost an hour, only hearing or catching glimpses or the horror. Its tail snake round the table, where I was hiding under, similar to how it is usually depicted in the movies. After a moment of terrified stillness, I naively took a peek, only to have the Xenomorph’s lovingly rendered jaws, drooling menacingly, lunge for my face with its cute little mouth-tongue chomping away in anticipation of its next meal. I simultaneously almost wet myself in terror and squealed in delight.

Moments like these, for any fan of Alien: Isolation, stand out as the game’s crowning achievement. But these moments are such personal experiences to the players that they become impossible to transfer to the screen. And there lies the biggest challenge for anyone looking to translate a highly immersive and personal experience, like a horror game, into a video series. Something must, by necessity, be lost in translation between the two media.

It should’ve been a good sign then, when director Fabien DuBois expressed this sentiment to IGN when saying “a game and series do not share the same way of telling a story”. However, the reality is somewhat disappointing. The Alien: Isolation digital series lovingly recounts the story of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, as her search for her missing mother brings her into contact with the Alien. While, at some point, this project had a lot of potential, the series is devoid of any real tension up until the end. By then, the viewer has had to endure an erratic plot and poor character development which has been squeezed down from a 12-hour game to an hour and a half mini-series. Couple this with drops in animation quality, so severe that serious conversations between survivors become embarrassing, and uncanny puppet shows, the scariest thing about ‘Alien: Isolation The Series’ is the budgeting crisis they must’ve had cobbling it all together.

Matthew Jeffery

Image: SEGA