Out of all of the ports that have made their way to the Nintendo Switch, Alien: Isolation is the one that I’ve felt the most excitement for. Besides the fact that it comes with all of the previously released DLC, it’s also still one of the most intense horror games that I have ever played – the thought of going through it again on the go just gets me really excited (and, in honesty, a little terrified).
Of course, ports to the Nintendo Switch have been a little bit hit-and-miss, so I wondered whether it’d be the Xenormorph or some awful visuals and a terrible frame rate that would frighten me the most this time around. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that Alien: Isolation is one of the best ports I’ve seen brought over to the Nintendo Switch, and yes, it’s STILL as scary as ever.
Players take on the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of movie protagonist Ellen Ripley, as she looks to explore a space station known as the Sevastopol to uncover the flight recorder of the doomed Nostromo and uncover the fate of her mother. Of course, things have gone wrong on the Sevastopol, with Amanda about to encounter a similar experience to her mother by facing off against the deadliest threat mankind has ever known. Of course, there are plenty of twists-and-turns to be witnessed along the way as well as secrets to uncover, but ultimately this becomes a battle for Amanda’s survival.
Alien: Isolation’s gameplay revolves around working across the Sevastopol, solving basic puzzles and gathering items, and then evading the threat of the foreboding Xenomorph that can seemingly drop in on you from anywhere. There is some basic crafting thrown in the mix along the way, additional human and synthetic enemies to either avoid or take out, and plenty of computers to interact with or hack as you unravel each clue behind what’s going on. Exploration is very satisfying thanks to the abundance of things you have to do to simply get around safely, whilst doing so when being pursued by one of the most vicious threats across ALL popular media is satisfyingly terrifying. It’s one of those games where you’ll sporadically play the role of the action hero by killing some of your foes, but for the most part are the survivor that has to use her wits (and a bit of patience) to live on.
Whilst the synthetics and humans aboard the Sevastopol can be dangerous, the deadliest threat is the Xenomorph – you wouldn’t expect anything different though, right? Throughout the game you’ll be pursued by the Xenomorph and will have to either hide from it or sneak through the environment to survive unscathed. This means hiding under tables, crawling through vents, hiding in lockers (and then holding your breath as it lingers nearby), or even sprinting as fast as you can to safety when you KNOW the coast is clear. Of course, the Xenomorph can hear your every move, so that last option isn’t always the best course of action to take…
Fortunately, you do have some things to help you out. Your Motion Tracker can help you keep an eye on the Xenomorph’s location, whilst the flamethrower you find can be used to quickly frighten it away if it gets too close. Of course, you can also use your own intuition, with the Xenomorph making plenty of noises of its own as it stalks the hallways of the Sevastopol, so you can often track its movements by simply listening out for them. Be warned though: the AI of the Xenomorph is pretty impressive and not only will it pursue you relentlessly, but it’ll also LEARN the tactics you use and begin to exploit them. It’s alarming stuff, but the tension that you’ll feel when being hunted helps make Alien: Isolation one of the most impressive horror games I’ve played.
I love horror games too so this was great for me – however, there were some annoyances to be found with the Xenormoprh too. For one, there’ll be moments where you need to reach a certain area only to have it blocking your path. It’d linger in some rooms for a little bit too long, which would then see you stuck to one spot and waiting it out for a few minutes. Sure, it adds to the suspense, but it could also drag the game out a little. Then there’s the fact that the game has manual saving, so if you do get a little impatient whilst waiting and risk the Xenomorph’s wrath by trying to outrun it to your goal, an untimely death can set you back quite a bit. The manual saving is an old-school design mechanic that does add to the tension, but in a game where it’s easy to instantly die by just running around a corner without looking, it made for one too many frustrating moments during my time playing.
What’s most impressive about Alien: Isolation is how it manages to capture the vibe of the movies perfectly. Besides the fact that you’re being pursued by an unrelenting and terrifying foe, you’ve also got an impressive sci-fi environment to explore that’s brought to life by sound design that makes even the slightest of noises give you the heebie-jeebies. There were times when I couldn’t see anything at all, but could hear the scurrying of the Xenomorph or the footsteps on a synthetic in the distance… it’d leave me curling up like a wimp. It’s a credit to the game’s design that the environment is just as frightening as the monstrous beast that’s hunting you down.
It’ll take players around fourteen hours to beat Alien: Isolation, so it’s a pretty lengthy experience. I’d probably argue that it’s a little bit too long, especially since the gameplay mechanics don’t really change up too much as you progress. It takes a few hours for the Xenomorph to even make an appearance too, so the pacing could be a little off at times too. Still, it never loses its tension throughout and there are some twists introduced later on that do spice up the experience a bit – it just might’ve been better if a few hours were trimmed off in-between.
Of course, Alien: Isolation is a five-year old game now, so most gamers will know how it plays – the important thing is how it runs on the Nintendo Switch. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that it’s one of the best ports I’ve seen on the system so far.
The visuals look sharp throughout, with not only plenty of detail to be seen in the environment itself but also some impressive lighting effect on show that really help bring each locale to life. The character models are absolutely on point too, whilst the Xenomorph still looks as terrifying as ever. There’s a real clarity to just about everything in the game, with it managing to look great on both the Switch’s handheld and docked modes – it also plays at a constant 30fps throughout, so those hoping to crap themselves whilst hiding from the Xenomorph on the go will be happy to hear that it runs as good as it looks. The only problem I had when playing in the handheld mode was that the darkness of the game could make it hard to make some things out, but it’s nothing an increase in brightness won’t fix. It’s just a very impressive port and one that really allows Nintendo Switch gamers to have a brilliantly terrifying experience with the game.
Alien: Isolation is a blast to play on the Nintendo Switch, with its frightening gameplay mechanics and incredibly atmospheric setting helping it establish itself as one of the best horror titles to release on the system.
Sure, it has its flaws and I do think the game is a little longer than it needs to be, but being pursued by the Xenomorph is still as intense and daunting now as it was when the game first released five years ago – plus, you can do it all on the go now… what more could you want? Nintendo Switch gamers that are eager for some intense and utterly terrifying action won’t be disappointed by Alien: Isolation.
Developer: Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive
Publisher: SEGA, Feral Interactive
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC