Alien: Isolation – When Will It End?

{This opinion piece contains very minor spoilers for Alien: Isolation.}

I’ve been urging myself through Alien: Isolation recently after beginning the game several months ago. While its brooding atmosphere, constant sense of peril and lack of comfort, as well as its brilliant unpredictable enemy AI component deem it a very successful survival horror experience — let alone a worthy successor to the film franchise — it often feels bloated and excessive while lacking development.

When one purchases a game, they expect the experience to reflect the price point. Some reference the challenge the game poses as a selling point; others, the emphatic level of its narrative. But a specific concept seems to divide the gaming community when positing the question of a game’s true worth: the length of such game. How much can time can one invest into it? How much content does it deliver to the player, and will its appeal last?

Some games are just too long. A game’s length can directly counteract against its gameplay mechanics and storytelling strengths if the game in question fails to evolve beyond obtaining simple upgrades and/or forgets to push its arguments forward. As much a MetroidVania title as it is a first-person survival horror experience — with welcome emphasis on the “survival” element — Alien: Isolation suffers from a lack of spacial variety, which in theory works tremendously but in its execution fails to take the player very far, despite its narrative’s oppressive runtime.

While plumbing through the depths of the Sevastopol, the player rarely feels the confines of safety, as the titular Xenomorph stalks the ships innards relentlessly, appearing whenever Ripley acts careless and proceeds without caution. Not only does this limit the player to slow movement as they travel between objective points, but the alien’s one-hit kills send them back to the previous save point, causing them to constantly find themselves face-to-face with the loading screen. Which, of course, sends them right back to the start where they are forced to trek through the same instance again (and often again and again, depending on the difficulty level).

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And it’s a relentless experience; depending on whether one plays on Easy, Normal, or Hard modes, the Xenomorph only appears more often and for longer stretches, and valuable resources — used to construct tools to enhance survival — become moreso limited. And this isn’t even to mention the blood-lustful androids and humans which also stand between the player’s goodwill and doom. This all culminates into what can at times be a frustrating test of patience which I have found myself turning off too many times after dying at the same point too many times.

So no, I have not yet finished the main game; and while it sits on my shelf staring me down, hounding me for becoming yet another addition to my giant backlog of uncompleted games, I question whether it would even be worth the trouble? At this point, when I play I am compelled because I feel it necessary to complete the journey, to see it through to the end. But what is a game’s worth if I’m simply beating it to say I’ve beaten it?

Well, perhaps there’s more to it. In the back of my mind, I want to believe that something new and exciting is awaiting just around the corner. Another setpiece moment or military upgrade is sure to come along and rekindle my interest in the narrative. But as of this writing, I am thirteen chapters in and the game seems to have become stagnant, lacking efficient evolution in regards to gameplay, a pivotal element to ensuring consistency. Ripley is given a task which involves journeying to a new section of the station, encounters menacing androids — which at this point have just become annoying with their grab-attacks and lessened lack of surprise — or Xenomorphs, acquires upgrades to her tech which both enhance survival odds and allow puzzle progression, and then moves on to the next cutscene. Overall, it’s becoming stale, and I still have around seven lengthy chapters to complete.

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This all brings the discussion back to the most important question regarding any work in an artistic medium: why should one care? What is compelling me to return to A:I besides the internal compulsion to just see it through to the end? Little of the narrative at this point is promising anything new or exciting, both in terms of gameplay and storytelling. The same tricks are bing pulled throughout with little intrigue to add to its effectiveness. I find little interest in its backstory or even its predictable main questline.

Well, perhaps the answer lies in the specifics; perhaps it’s because despite its lack of stimulating progression, Alien: Isolation is a competent experience to be had. It’s AI system works wonders and every Xenomorph encounter continues to thrill throughout thanks to its ferocious atmosphere and complete lack of comfort. It’s a game that truly understands the definition behind “survival horror,” ushering in an innovative approach to sound and enemy design, world-building, adventure-game puzzle-solving, and oppressive mood. The game just too often works, and I always find it compelling when it does.

Works of art need not function “perfectly.” Some offer extraordinary overall experiences while others merely provide the blueprint for what could branch out into a phenomenal piece. Alien: Isolation serves as a blueprint for the quintessential survival horror game, one that with any fortune may finally exist thanks to taking influence from this game’s competent first draft. It’s mechanics work wonders, and that is why I push through, moreso than to just complete it; because I would never feel compelled to beat a mediocre game, one that fails to innovate or offer anything interesting in regards to development. I will never finish Duke Nukem: Forever or any of the recent Call of Duty titles, despite playing them, because neither offer anything I haven’t seen. Isolation does and it does it convincingly enough for me to feel that it should be finished, that the developers and even the game itself deserve it.

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Andrew Gerdes

Gamer, musician, writer, film buff, 'foodie,' aspiring baker, critic, intellectual self-reliant, optimist, health-obsessed kid who only wants to explore the infinite possibilities of artistic expression. Also, people tend to think I'm an all-around awesome guy

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