This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on August 10th.
Summer is a great time to waste away whole days playing on your Xbox, PC, Wii, Playstation, or whatever you happen to own. Well, it is if you don’t have anything else to do. Which I don’t. Anyway I digress; I like to play games a lot over the summer. It’s a perfect time for completionists to tick every little box in a massive open-world RPG, or for shooter fans to climb their way to the top of the online leaderboards.
But I personally have a special place in my heart for survival-horror. Unlike with cinema, where we get big budget releases like The Conjuring in the summer season, horror games tend to be released in the autumn/winter period. And due to their fairly linear nature, they get completed over that period and then aren’t really touched again, as there’s little replay value in most of them.
So why is it that I’ve spent so time these last few weeks playing Alien: Isolation, a game that I finished back in Christmas? There’s no real incentive to go back. Once it’s done, it’s done. Yes there are the collectables, the audio logs, the ID Tags, but they’re hardly a compelling reason to go back. There are no choices that set the story on different narrative branches. There’s no multiplayer (thank god), there’s not even been any (substantial) add on content.
No, my reason for returning to the game is much simpler. I went back to Alien:Isolation because it’s a damn good game. And because I can’t afford to buy Arkham Knight yet.
Alien: Isolation is a rarity in modern gaming, in that it prioritises actual gameplay over graphics, or any technical showing off. It thus emerges as one of the few AAA releases of the last year to work as a game, rather than as a glorified tech-demo. With such a disconcerting amount of high-profile failures these past few years, in the form of games that over-promised and under-delivered, it’s nice to have one that came out of nowhere as a legitimate surprise.
Smartly avoiding the modern tendency to assume that every game has to be bigger, and more expensive looking than the last, Alien: Isolation instead adopts the personality of a small indie-horror game, like Amnesia: Dark Descent. So there aren’t really any huge, scripted set-pieces, instead there’s more of an emphasis on atmosphere and foreboding. For those who don’t know, the game has you stranded on a space-station with the titular creature. Yes, creature. As in singular. For the majority of the game it’s just you and it. It’s unkillable. It’s faster than you. It seems to adapt to your strategies. And it’s capable of killing you in one hit. Your only course of action is to hide and play it smart, like the final survivor in a slasher movie.
The reason that this makes for such an infinitely re-playable experience, is that nothing is scripted. The alien behaves differently each time, and the scares are never preordained. You therefore can never prepare yourself for the jump scares and can never resort to trial and error tactics. And for someone like me, someone who misses horror-games which legitimately tried to scare you and make you feel vulnerable, this is a truly special thing. No matter how many times I die, no matter how frustrated I get, I always want to come back because it’s never going to be exactly the same.
So there you have it. That’s why I’ve spent so much of my summer hiding in a virtual locker from a virtual alien. I have no regrets.
Alien: Isolation is available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.