Alien: Isolation Switch review – on Switch everyone can hear you scream
One of the most authentic movie adaptations ever made comes to Nintendo Switch, as Ridley Scott’s xenomorph goes portable.
Alien: Isolation is one of the most frustrating games we’ve ever reviewed. It somehow manages to be both near perfect and horribly flawed, but the latter for an unusual reason: it’s just too long. Although there are many movies and TV shows that overstay their welcome it’s a relatively uncommon problem for video games, where more is almost always considered better. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 are obvious recent examples of games that never know when to stop, but this is even worse.
Alien: Isolation is the quintessential example of the problem because the length and aimlessness of the story actively drags the game down from would-be classic status to diamond in the rough. At around 20 hours, the running time is abnormally long for a survival horror, but what really makes this a problem is two-fold: the inevitable lack of variety and the complete absence of any compelling narrative or characters.
You play as Ellen Ripley’s daughter, who is semi-willingly dragged to an out-of-the-way space station with a xenomorph problem. And… that’s it really. There’s some stuff about corporations being evil, as there always is in Alien spin-off media, but despite being so long the game has nothing original to say and no interesting or memorable characters to say it. It’s thematically barren and doesn’t even have a proper ending, but instead one of the saddest, especially in hindsight, examples of sequel begging ever seen.
The reason the game is so frustrating is that every other aspect is absolutely perfect. As we mentioned recently in our review of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Alien: Isolation is hands down the most successful attempt to recreate the look and feel of a specific movie as a video game. Whereas things like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order tend towards generic sci-fi as soon as they start inventing anything new, Alien: Isolation almost feels like deleted (and interactive) scenes from the original 1979 movie.
Everything from the sound effects and minimalist music to the set design and fantastic use of light and darkness is exactly like the original movie and that means, just as you would expect, it’s absolutely terrifying. Rather than diluting the experience, the fact that we knew what was going to happen most of the time, because we’d played the game before, almost made it more frightening than the first time around, since you know for a fact that there’s no defence against the alien and it really can appear at any moment.
Despite its flaws, Alien: Isolation is one of the scariest video games ever made and that’s especially impressive given how overexposed the alien has become over the last few decades, to the point where it should now be so familiar that it’s no longer scary. Or at least that’s the impression you get from watching the last several movies. As you sit crouched behind a bench, listening with horror as the alien’s footsteps come closer, too terrified to even try and look and see where it is, you wonder how Hollywood and Ridley Scott have got everything so wrong for so long.
Alien: Isolation is still a game we’d recommend to any fan of the franchise or of survival horror in general (although we’d imagine the audience overlap there is almost 100%). Of particular interest in the Switch version is the inclusion of all the DLC, which adds the likenesses and voiceovers of all the surviving actors except Ian Holm (whose soundalike is very good). These are used in a couple of special challenge modes that are very short but recreate scenes from the original movie so exactly that it almost feels like an out of body experience for fans that already know every millimetre of the original film.
And it feels that way because this is a superb Switch port, and one of the very best the system has ever seen. The original release was cross-generational, but this looks better than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. It’s not quite as good as the current gen editions, and there’s some very occasional slowdown in docked mode (but not at all in handheld), but overall the game looks magnificent. It’s an excellent job by developer Feral, who also did the recent Grid Autosport, and they’ve even added in optional motion controls and HD Rumble support.
The only downside is that, unlike many other games, Alien: Isolation doesn’t really gain anything by being portable and the best way to play it is in pitch darkness on the big screen, with good quality speakers or headphones. The original versions can also be picked up for considerably cheaper than the asking price here, but those are unavoidable problems.
However you play it, Alien: Isolation is a must-have for horror fans, even if it is infuriating to see it squander its full potential as the hours tick by and you realise the story is still not going anywhere. There are many lessons to learn from Alien: Isolation, from how to honour the source material when making a tie-in to the fact that sometimes less really is more, but you won’t be thinking about any of that while you’re actually playing; you’ll just be praying the alien hasn’t heard you and that that noise in the air ducts isn’t what you think it is…
CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL FULL REVIEW OF ALIEN: ISOLATION
Alien: Isolation Switch review summary
In Short: A masterclass in terms of cinematic adaptation and slow burn survival horror, but the overly long running time and lack of compelling storytelling prevents it from being a classic.
Pros: The recreation of the original movie’s visuals, audio, and terrifying atmosphere is perfect. Incredibly tense survival horror gameplay and an excellent Switch port. Memorable DLC.
Cons: The banal story and forgettable characters do nothing to justify the ruinously long length of the game, which eventually runs out of new ideas and has no real ending.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Feral and The Creative Assembly
Release Date: 5th December 2019
Age Rating: 16
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