This is a game that is definitely designed for the fans of the original Alien and Aliens. Not the later ones with the Ripley clones, or Prometheus, or anything else in between. If you hated the clumsy FPS gameplay of Aliens: Colonial Marines, then Alien Isolation is your chance at something better. This is a game that tries to put itself near the root and heart of the movies, and it shows. The camera angles, the use of grain, static, and other visual effects adds heavily to the environment and provides a very optical link to trigger nostalgia and fear to fans. But what about the gameplay, how do you actually make a game with the Aliens as the big bad scary thing that forces you to lurk and hide under a bed?
What is Alien Isolation?
This is the current game system generation's answer to the lasting complaint that there are no really good Alien-centric games (aside from the 2D action platformers with Ripley, or the AVP FPS games). First off, Isolation is a survival horror game, so the name of the game is not about fighting against the Alien or burning the facehugger eggs, this is about making out to the end without the Alien killing you in the myriad of ways that it can.
The FPS controls are simple enough to get used to, and you will eventually be able to lurk behind tables, hide under them, and slowly make you way around the labyrinthine passages of the game. It is full of shadows, hard contrasting light sources, and steam, and you must get used to this environment if you have any hope of surviving against the acid-filled threat that could be anyway, anytime.
The Alien moves independently of what you are doing. While making noise will certainly attract it, staying completely hidden means that the Alien will be prowling and making its way through the many halls and ducts of the stage, ready to pop out when you least expect it. There is a pretty handy motion detector that lets you know if the threat is nearby, but being forewarned makes the experience all the more scarier as you deal with the anticipation. And as you hear the odd pacing of steps mark the approach of the hunter, you constantly question if your hiding place is enough to keep you alive.
It Gets Old, Eventually
Sadly, the Alien is the only real threat in the game, and while you do face off against other hostiles, you do not get to experience anything much outside the whole "hide away from the Alien" routine. This feels downright scary and nervewracking at first, and you can expect a lot of game over screens whenever you make a mistake while starting out. But as you progress through the game, the exploration part of mechanics starts feeling choresome, and each encounter with the Alien feels all the more random.
This is made worse by the fact that the Alien is literally random. When it is not alerted to you, it will move about on its own. But sadly the script it follows to move seems to generate too many random commands. One moment it is walking out of the room, then one moment later, it will suddenly decide to make a complete 180 and go back inside a room, for no reason. Instead of looking like it is following a killer's instinct, we get a self-doubting, half-guessing antagonist instead. This movement makes the hunter feel like it is suffering from some form of space Alzheimer's, dementia, or OCD –which is somewhat frightening in its own way.
For the Fans
If you are wondering if you will eventually fall out of love for the game, then sadly, the answer is yes. Even if you are a superfan of the films. Even if the ability to control Ripley's daughter is pretty cool. Even if the game looks astoundingly superb. At one point or another, it gets old, repetitive, and tiresome, and you will either soldier on until the ending, or just put the controller down for good. But before all that, before you get jaded, this game is nothing but awesome. It is thrilling to hide from the Alien, you will genuinely be afraid of being found, you will feel relief when it walks away, and you will jump out of your shoes when it suddenly turns back. Despite all the cons of the game, Alien Isolation's initial gameplay is so good that it justifies whatever stuff comes next. And that is pretty much the same thing you can say about the film series too.