Straight off the back of a fantastic port of Grid Autosport on Switch, Feral Interactive is back with Creative Assembly’s survival horror masterpiece, Alien: Isolation. The game’s been out and receiving rave reviews since 2014 so we guess the first thing you’ll want to know is have they managed to squeeze all of this delicious space-based terror onto Nintendo’s console in decent working order? Well, the short answer is a resounding yes, and then some.
This is super solid stuff, a genuinely impressive showing from Feral that runs at a flawless 30fps/720p in handheld and 1080p/30fps – with some very occasional and minor stutter – in docked, with graphics that seem to sit somewhere in between the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game. There’s been the expected downgrading of some textures here and there, but all of the incredible lighting and volumetric effects have made it to Switch so the terrifying atmosphere remains 100% intact here. Add in beautifully implemented motion controls for aiming weapons and using your motion tracker, HD Rumble and all previously-released DLC content, and this is more than we could possibly have hoped for in terms of a Switch port.
And what a game it is. Creative Assembly created one of the great horror games of all time with this one. Every facet of Alien: Isolation is superbly detailed and its this slavish attention to detail that sees it successfully transfer the fundamental spirit of Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece to video game form for the very first time. There’s no Aliens: Colonial Marines daftness here; this is cold, hard horror, an ordeal to suffer through – it’s legit squeaky-bum time against the galaxy’s most ruthless and efficient killer. The superb 1970s Sci-fi stylings from the classic movie are intact here; it’s all leather-clad walls, swishing automated doors, CRT screens, blinking lights, smoke and flickering light-filled corridors, as well as the constant plinking and plonking of retro-futuristic technology. It’s an Alien theme park, and you just happen to thrown into it on the day a real-life Xenomorph has been let loose.
The alien here really is a terrifying creation propelled by a dynamic AI that, outside of a handful of scripted sequences, sees it stalk you – using its very own set of heightened senses – through the twisted metal guts of Sevastopol station. This thing can hear every move you make and the smallest of mistakes will see you end up dragged into an airshaft, pulled by your ankles from a vent or ripped to pieces where you stand by its multi-jawed mouth.
Creative Assembly refers to the alien’s AI as “psychopathic serendipity”, by which it means this Xenomorph always finds itself in the right place at the right time, ready to strike the moment you give it a reason. It’s nerve-jangling stuff and the studio has managed to draw it out over the course of this game without it ever really growing old. A combination of well-paced missions and a few variations to the gameplay over the course of proceedings keep things fresh. Indeed, there’s a period mid-game where the primary threat switches from alien to android before the bitch returns for the final third; it helps give you a break and let you blow off some steam before the tension gets ratcheted right back up for the home straight. Creative Assembly has created an amazing foe here, but let’s not forget the other star of this show: Sevastopol itself.
The space station in which the majority of the action in Alien: Isolation takes place is one of the great video game locations and easily as important a character here as central protagonist Amanda Ripley, or even the Xenomorph itself. It’s a great big hulking metal maze of a thing; a dizzying mishmash of twisting, smoke-filled corridors, busted-up rooms, broken circuitry, jammed doors and vents… oh so many vents. There’s so much attention to detail in how Sevastapol has been brought to life here, with amazingly atmospheric graphics and absolutely top-notch sound design. From the slicing metallic sound of one of those vents as it unpuckers itself to let you in, to the messages relayed across the station’s warped tannoy system and those great big lens-flared vistas you’re occasionally treated to as you sneak your way through corridor after corridor, fixing and patching and hiding and trembling in absolute fear.
Everything about how Alien: Isolation is designed serves to ground you entirely in this superbly-crafted world. Amanda moves slowly and methodically, with a real feeling of weight to her movements and interactions. The way in which she opens doors or manipulates machinery and levers (you need to hold on to things by squeezing the trigger on your controller to grab then turn your hands using the analogue sticks) and how she fires up her ion torch and directs its molten flow as it cuts ever-so-slowly through sheet metal to open up locked passageways and airshafts. The way in which you can focus her eyes on the motion tracker – blurring everything in the background – or hit the left trigger to retrain your eyes on what’s down the corridor instead makes you feel completely involved and consumed in your environment. Everything feels laborious and heavy; quick movements are noisy and dangerous and the time you spend doing any of these things can see you leave yourself exposed just long enough to give the game away.
Adding further to all of this is the ramshackle nature of the various noisemakers, smoke bombs, EMP grenades, pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails you’ll use to keep the Xenomorph at bay. The crafting system here is simple, but it feels perfectly at home in the circumstances, with Amanda needing to scrape together whatever components she can find – and there’s rarely enough to feel comfortable – in order to give herself the slimmest of fighting chances using this handful of distractions in order to temporarily throw the alien off her scent. You’ve never truly known actual sweaty-palmed fear until you’ve attempted to sneak right past the back of a towering, sleek black death machine as it’s turned momentarily to investigate the squeaking and squealing of one of your cobbled-together toys. It really is peerless stuff.
Of course, there’s not just an alien to worry about here. Sevastapol is home to Seegson Synthetics’ delightful ‘Working Joe’ cyborgs. These guys are far from top-of-the-range AI, and their horrible grey rubber faces and glowing orange eyes may never be anyway convincing as humans, but they do a fantastic line in killing anything that moves; powerful, smart enemies who’ll spot you just as quickly as any alien and aren’t shy about pummelling your fragile head into the side of a wall or door. There are groups of human survivors patrolling the space station as well; desperate rag-tag gangs, terrified and holed up in various areas, you can choose to engage them or sneak around them, using one of the small arsenal of guns you’ll pick up on your travels to take them down – immediately alerting a certain apex predator to your exact co-ordinates, of course – or perhaps fling a noisemaker in their direction and climb into a vent to sit in darkness and listen as they get torn violently to pieces by her highness.
Over the course of your time on Sevastapol, you do pick up quite a number of weapons, from a delightfully loud revolver and shotgun – which we fired off once and never again – to a quieter but still extremely effective boltgun, perfect for putting a hole right through the milky head of a Working Joe. There’s also that iconic flamethrower, easily the most useful of the traditional weapons at your disposal; a quick blast from this will send the Xenomorph scuttling off up an airshaft giving you a few moments to get yourself hidden. It’s also quite handy at melting those cyborgs down in a pinch.
If there is a weak point in all of this horror goodness, it’s most certainly the story. Alien: Isolation’s setup is simple and somewhat predictable for the most part – we won’t spoil any of it here, however – and really this is a game that sees you running fetch and repair quests more than anything else. There’s always some barrier blocking your way, some system that needs rebooting or a vital piece of machinery in need of manipulation as you attempt to make your way off Sevastopol to safety. You could also argue that it could have done with a slight bit of trimming towards the end; there’s maybe just one too many drawn-out encounters, and just as you start to think you’ve finally managed to make it out, the alien returns for a little bit more. However, at the same time, the drawn-out nature of proceedings also serves to make the whole ordeal all the more fittingly traumatic; it’s a nerve-shredding ordeal and by the time you’re done you’ll feel like you just survived an actual encounter with a real-life Internecivus Raptus.
As we mentioned already, Feral Interactive has done a really solid job with this Switch port. Besides those very minor wobbles with regards to the framerate in docked mode, some slightly longer loading times between levels and a little bit of waiting for doors to open here and there as parts of the station load in sneakily behind them, this version of Alien: Isolation is closely in-line with the PS4 edition of the game. It also easily surpasses the somewhat blurred nature of the original PS3 release, and, with those delightful motion controls, HD Rumble and all the DLC thrown in to boost the overall package, is a stellar addition to the Switch’s library – and for our money, one of the best horror titles available on any platform.
Alien: Isolation is a survival horror masterpiece and straight-up one of the very best horror video games ever released. It’s a nerve-wracking affair – a slow, methodical game of cat and mouse against a brilliantly clever recreation of one of cinema’s most infamous killers – but if you’re up to the task you’ll find one of the most satisfying gameplay experiences in the genre; a brilliant and beautiful homage to one of the greatest Sci-Fi movies of all time. Feral Interactive has done a stellar job with this Switch port and the excellent motion controls and inclusion of all previously-released DLC only go to sweeten the deal. This is essential stuff for survival horror fans.