Alien Isolation Switch Review – Authentic Alien Adventure
Alien IsolationDecember 5th, 2019
I was doubtful that the kind of atmospheric, rich horror on display in Alien Isolation could be adequately ported to a handheld device. It seems almost counterintuitive, going from a big-screen display, surround sound speakers and a darkened room, to a tiny handheld screen while sitting in bed. This doesn't seem like the way to evoke fear in players, but despite my reservations, Alien Isolation on Nintendo Switch ended up being every bit as intense and terrifying as the original game was my first time through.
In Alien Isolation you explore the ruined Sevastopol station, floating in deep space, which has undergone a horrific turn of events. Much like in the original Alien movie, a monster is loose on the ship and is comfortably picking off human survivors so it may feed. This has caused chaos on the station, everything is in shut down, multiple systems are malfunctioning, the populace has gone mad and started killing one another in order to survive, all while scrawling questionable graffiti on the walls. Sevastapol station now has few people aboard which you can trust, and just to make things worse, the ship's AI has also gone AWOL, and is having the android force aboard the ship, the faceless Working Joes, are now for some reason incredibly threatening, and also very willing to kill humans.
Under these circumstances your protagonist Ripley has no choice but to hide and stealth her way through the ship while gathering the supplies she needs and accessing the systems she requires to make her escape. You will be hiding away from enemies for a vast majority of the game, but surprisingly, the alien itself isn't a constant threat. You will have several sections of the game where you're sneaking past the alien in order to accomplish tasks, but outside of these sections, the alien isn't a massive concern. It might jump out at you if you're running around too much, but the entire game discourages that, so it likely won't be a problem.
The main star of Alien Isolation is the atmosphere. The only horror game which manages to incite this amount of fear when you take just a few footsteps is PT, Hideo Kojima's Silent Hills playable teaser. The sound design is absolutely incredible, and use classic intense string effects, just like in the original movies, to truly incite fear. Add to that the sounds of the alien crawling through the vents above you, or Working Joes mumbling threatening nonsense to themselves, and you have a recipe which will get your heart beating. Hiding in a locker when your radar indicates an alien is just around the corner is an intense moment that permeates through the whole game.
You can fight back against the alien and the Working Joes - you get a gun fairly early on, and there are a few other weapons to use - but the alien can't be killed, only scared off, and combat with the Working Joes will always attract attention. While you have the option to fight your way through Sevastapol, it never feels like a viable choice. This is a stealth horror game, not an action horror game.
Another outstanding feature present in Alien Isolation is the excellent aesthetic design. Everything feels like it was designed in the 80s, their vision of the future. Monochrome green monitors, CRTs, outdated technology - it's all frankly incredible. This is the retro-futuristic feel that the original movies accidentally achieved, and this game captures that aesthetic perfectly. Even the pause menu has bars at the top and bottom which resemble the artifacts you would see on a VHS video recording of the original movies. It achieves a sense of nostalgia and authenticity you would never even know you wanted.
Though I can't praise the game forever. The game is incredibly slow-paced (this is a stealth horror after all) and as a result, things can become tedious. There are multiple moments in the game where music will swell as if to indicate enemies are nearby, but nothing is there, it does so just to unnerve you. While works the first time around, the second time it just feels annoying. There's so much slow movement, so much caution, and sometimes the game is just fooling you into thinking it is actually necessary. Every now and then I wanted a relaxed moment to catch my breath, but the game almost always forced me to move slow, stay alert, stay on edge, and that meant I would grow tired of it, start moving more quickly, making mistakes, dying, and getting kicked back to the last save point. Alien Isolation is great, but there's a good chance your patience will hit a wall.
Whether it's in handheld mode or on the big screen, Alien Isolation is a great experience on Nintendo Switch, as long as you have either surround-sound speakers or really good headphones - audio clarity is essential to get the true experience. Anti-aliasing and v-sync ensure that the picture quality is very good, with a stable framerate that I never saw falter. In fact, the work done here by Feral Interactive is so great that Digital Foundry said the game looks better on the Nintendo Switch than it does on Sony's and Microsoft's more powerful PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, making it the best version of Alien Isolation on console platforms.
Though, this comes with a big caveat: input lag. Anyone used to fast-paced first-person games will feel the input lag immediately, and although twitch movement is never required, it feels weird and is especially noticeable when navigating menus. This is by no means game-breaking, and I enjoyed my time with it regardless, but it definitely felt distracting at times.
Once you've finished the main game, Alien Isolation includes all of the DLC which was previously on sale, giving you several hours of more gameplay to enjoy - and much more if you enjoy the Survivor Mode. These are nice bonuses which flesh out the experience, and might even warrant those who have already played the game to pick up the Switch version.
Review code provided by the publisher.
Alien Isolation is an essential horror game, and the Nintendo Switch version might even be the very best place to play it, as long as you can ignore the caveats mentioned above. With excellent picture and audio quality, thick atmosphere, and a beautiful aesthetic, it is one of the most interesting licensed games ever released, and a great stealth horror title to enjoy.
- Amazing aesthetics
- Incredibly tense and atmospheric
- Looks great on Nintendo Switch, handheld or docked
- Input lag is distracting
- Can feel tedious at times