After five entries of this diary, it’s coming to a point where Alien: Isolation is arguably wearing out it’s welcome. While the game continues to prove enjoyable, there are issues with pacing and a general lack of progression – in some respects – that is beginning to impact upon what is an otherwise welcome experience. In order to really summarise why this has come about, it’s best that I go back and discuss the last few hours of gameplay. After all, this is not exactly a reflection of our previous opinions as were working through the game.
Continuing on from part 5, we had recently acquired the flamethrower and with it, a new-found agency in being able to knock back the xenomorph by effectively scaring it off. This proved rather interesting if not also disappointing, given that the systems governing the alien did not prove particulalry versatile or retain any sense of memory. My interest was that in the event of scorching the alien with the flamethrower, would it remember where this encounter last occurred? Would it return back to the scene of our last interaction, hoping to decipher from there where I had progressed. Sadly none of these things come to light. Though my issues with the games are more of a reflection of the design and pacing decisions that have been made throughout the last couple hours of gameplay.
The next chapter or two was aimed at continuing our efforts to box the alien into a corner of the station, with the intent to either leave it isolated (there’s potential for a terrible pun there) or find a way to eject it through an air lock. In order to do so, we pick up on failed efforts in the previous chapters and move towards a detachable research wing that can be jettisoned into space. This requires much of the same as before: navigate through environments, enable switches/turn on terminals, don’t get eaten by the alien. However, the level design seemed to suffer, with so many areas seeming to lack the appropriate space for both alien and player to maneuver without continually tripping over one-another. Not to mention the fact that the alien itself is proving remarkably persistent in its attempts to hunt me down. We had discussed in previous videos my hypothesis that the alien operates with a director system overseeing the behaviour, largely shepherding the creature into my proximity. However, this seems to be happening with an alarming frequency, to the point that it seems the only way to avoid certain death is to use the flamethrower. I can’t help but feel the system is pushing for me to use it and force me to strain my otherwise limited resources.
Though much of this discussion is rendered moot as this series of events comes to a close, with the player trapped in the research wing after it has been jettisoned into space by an outside party, thus forcing the player to find means to escape. This was without a doubt the best sequence the game has had in some time, with a real sense of urgency and terror as we scurry around to reach and eventually open the escape hatch, allowing us to escape.
Whle this most certainly proved engaging, it left the game and its narrative in an awkward position: the alien is gone and for all intents and purposes, dead. So why does the game continue on? It seems glaringly obvious that the alien would return in some form or another, but instead the focus shifts once more on the Working Joe’s who have run amock on the station, again. This feels rather tired at this stage, given that there are no further innovations or advances in terms of mechanics or agency, be it for the player or the AI. It’s interesting to note I have failed to really talk about the AI for much of this diary, but in truth its because there is little new to discuss. The players have taken stage at this point and we are now fully aware and comfortable with what they might achieve.
However, the game is beginning to exhaust the content it has previously established to the point that we are now seeing the same things all over again. This is compounded by the subsequent decision to inject a subplot which requires Ellen to visit the (fictional) AI core of the Sevastapol station which – as a security precaution – requires the player to submit their weapons for storage and thus forcing players to be tackle the Joe’s with limitations in what feels like a poor effort to maintain interest or challenge in the game. All the while knowing that the alien will eventually return in some form.
We conclude this diary (and the accompanying video) as the proverbial shoe finally drops, with Ellen entering what looks like the alien hive. Hopefully this proves more engaging and reminds us of what makes this game prove so engaging to begin with.