One of the most terrifying horror games released in the past decade has come out on Switch today, and the good news for Nintendo fans is that Alien: Isolation has aged like fine wine. Despite originally releasing in 2014, Creative Assembly’s first-person adventure doesn’t feel like it was designed five years ago. The Alien: Isolation Switch port is still just as terrifying as when players first tried to avoid the Xenomorph, and it is the iconic foe’s inability to be killed that has made the game hold up so well.
While there are many games that have been inspired by the Alien franchise, Isolation is the first to really do Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror film justice. Understandably, most of the game adaptations have taken inspiration from the more action-oriented sequels, such as James Cameron’s also excellent Aliens and the mediocre fan service Aliens vs. Predator spin-offs. It’s far easier to recreate action scenes and battles than to create a tense atmosphere full of terror that revolves the idea of being hunted by a singular Xenomorph.
However, Creative Assembly was up to the tall task and they made a horror game that will stand the test of time as a result. Unlike many horror games where the player is unable to fight back against their foes, this isn’t a totally pacifist experience. Protagonist Amanda Ripley manages to get a wide array of weapons ranging from a shotgun to a flamethrower during its story, but limited ammunition makes it best to avoid conflict. Even though higher difficulties can make you even weaker, the key is that she isn’t powerless; she just doesn’t have enough in her arsenal to kill the Xenomorph stalking her.
The Xenomorph is Alien: Isolation‘s greatest creation
Encounters with the Xenomorph are sparse within Alien: Isolation, but they happen often enough that the player are always on edge. It’s a beautiful balance where the player is always creeped out, and some of the most terrifying moments within the game are just from the player’s own fears. There’s a great series of checks and balances in Isolation as the tools that the player use to check for the Xenomorph can also attract it. The noise emitted by the motion tracker as well as the movement of the player’s flashlight can call the beast’s attention and adds some risk to these essential tools. The player is never safe, and even just trying to be careful preemptively can cause mayhem to occur.
The Xenomorph isn’t the only issue that Amanda faces as she tries to learn about her mother’s disappearances, which adds a welcome bit of variety. The station’s service androids have gone haywire and will attempt to attack anyone they see, and there’s the occasional human survivor that is hostile as well. These are all surmountable challenges that can be defeated, though, which differentiates them from the unkillable Xenomorph. They also serve as one of the reasons why ammo is so scarce, as players will be tempted to use their guns to take out these temporary roadblocks rather than the threat that looms but isn’t currently present.
Every aspect of Isolation is a give and take where the player has to examine the ramifications of their actions. So, the best plan is to ultimately try to sneak by the creature and be evasive, although its ability to quickly climb within air vents makes it much better at moving around the ship quickly than you are. No matter how good you are at the game, you’ll meet a terrifying end at some point. Nobody can escape an encounter with the Xenomorph unscathed. Even the almighty flamethrower that can cause the monster to briefly retreat is less effective the more you use it. It’s still incredibly powerful but you still have to use caution.
Alien: Isolation Switch comes packed with seven DLCs
One of the awesome things about the new Switch release is that it comes with all seven pieces of the original game’s downloadable content. Two of these star the cast of the original film (except the soundalike used for Ian Holm’s Ash) and are a real treat for fans of the series. Last Survivor, which was originally a pre-order bonus, stars Ellen Ripley as she attempts to activate the Nostromo’s self-destruct sequence and escape. It’s a playable version of the segment from the film’s finale, making it one of the best implementations of fan service in the medium. Meanwhile, Crew Expendable is playable from three different perspectives and has the original crew trying to flush the alien out of the air vents and into the ship’s airlocks. Both of these story-based DLCs treat Scott’s film with the respect it deserves, even if some of the actors are quite old now and not as lively as a result.
The rest of the DLC focused on making the game’s survivor mode more replayable. There are plenty of challenge maps to played and new characters to perform the missions as, so there’s a good bit of variety. While it’s a fun mode for anyone that wants to spend more time with Isolation‘s gameplay, it isn’t why anyone is picking up the game. It’s still nice to have, though, and it’s not like Switch players have to pay extra to access it. And you don’t have to worry about the game running poorly, as a recent Digital Foundry analysis found that the port runs remarkably well, sometimes even besting the other console versions.
While the DLC is worth checking out, the main draw is the excellent campaign and getting to go face-to-face against one of the scariest foes imaginable. Alien: Isolation manages to do one thing fantastically and that’s making the Xenomorph feel like a living creature that is out to kill you. Its ability to feel alive ensures that no two runs are the same since the A.I. adapts and forces you to improvise. That improvisation is not only great for creating unscripted tension but also keeps the game fresh and is why it is worth revisiting even on the Switch. Creative Assembly outdid itself with this horror classic, and it’s great that a whole new batch of players will get to be scared witless by Alien‘s deadly antagonist once again. After all, there’s no way to kill the monster and win in Isolation, only the hope to survive its hunt and escape.