Alien: Isolation and patient gaming

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

Alien: Isolation asks quite a lot from the player. It asks that you consistently pay attention to your surroundings, that you strongly consider every single move, and that you be aware of the Alien’s location at any given moment. It asks that you remember things; passcodes to doors, the minute details of a floor’s layout, and even potential hiding places should things go south for you. It even asks that you look past your own anxiety and stress in order to move forward, one step at a time while under extreme and constant duress from all manner of forces more powerful than you. All of this takes a toll that is both emotional and mental, and, over time, this tension drastically alters the way you perceive the game itself as well as the challenges that it places in front of you. But perhaps the thing Alien: Isolation requires most from the player is something that is often in short supply: Patience.

There is a lot of waiting in Alien: Isolation. In the very beginning this is a good thing. Your brain is on full alert and you can feel your insides twisting at the mere prospect of that first sighting of your hulking Xenomorph nemesis. You know it’s coming. As a fan of Ridley Scott’s original film, those inevitable first deaths at the hands of the Alien are as tantalizing as they are dreadful. Smartly, the game holds back for roughly two hours of walking, exploration, and exposition about just what the hell is going on in Sevastopol station. The tension is sky high by the time you first glimpse the Alien in a clumsy, pre-rendered reference to the film that is really only missing a cat. This tosses away a lot of the good will that the game has been building so carefully but is certainly not even close to a killing blow. Soon enough you’re attempting to avoid a group of trigger happy humans, as well as the Alien, without even the motion tracker to assist you, in order to escape to another floor via an elevator.

This early sequence represents the game at its best. A clearly defined objective and some obstacles to be avoided with careful observation and a tiny bit of self assured forward progress. I slowly crept toward the objective in question, a door that needed to be hacked, with my heart pounding in my ears almost as loudly as the Alien scurrying in the vents above and the horns from the soundtrack blaring in my headphones. The Xenomorph clambered down from the vent in front of me with that shuddering vocal noise so strange that I couldn’t even begin to classify it. My first actual, unscripted Alien sighting. It was as awe inspiring as it was horrifying, easily making up for the earlier scripted missteps. All nine feet of it truly dwarfs the player character’s huddled form, startling me into an inability to move. Thankfully, it hadn’t yet spotted me so I began my painfully slow crawl back the way I came from, and huddled behind some cover where I waited for my situation to improve. I didn’t mind waiting because it was partially instinctual and, in my mind, it served a purpose: survival.