Alien: Isolation (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 01.12.2019 1

Review for Alien: Isolation on Nintendo Switch

Alien: Isolation, on other platforms, cemented itself as a serious contender for best survival horror game of all time. It had a tremendous atmosphere, and was finally a truly faithful depiction in video game form of the universe created by Ridley Scott that was first unveiled on the silver screen in 1979. The least allusions made to Aliens: Colonial Marines made, the better, so there won't be another for the rest of this review. Back in 2014 however, when it was first released on last-gen and current-gen consoles as well as the PC, things were not so rosy in terms of technical prowess. So this Switch release sets out with a lot to prove. Developer Feral Interactive, however, has already showed that they know how to handle a Switch port, delivering the outstanding Grid Autosport earlier this year, which had the nerve to be the best console version yet. Can a port of a less than optimised current and last gen console game deliver on Switch in the capable hands of a talented studio? Read on to find out.

Set 15 years after the events of Ridley Scott's Alien, and therefore 42 years before the events of James Cameron's Aliens, Alien: Isolation opens with the series star Ellen Ripley's daughter, Amanda Ripley, who was only alluded to by name in the Extended Cut of Aliens. She's now an adult who had to grow tough on her own, deprived of her mother, in this dystopian future, and the events that lead to her mother's disappearance have never left her. She, like her mother before her, works for "The Company", Weyland-Yutani. The flight recorder of the Freight-Carrier Nostromo that her mother served on has just been found by a bunch of salvagers, and is currently waiting to be retrieved by company personnel, aboard a space station called Sevastopol, orbiting the gas giant KG348. She's offered a spot on board the Torrens and naturally joins to finally get closure with her past. Upon arrival however, Sevastopol station, which was being decommissioned when the Nostromo's flight recorder turned up, is experiencing problems. The docking station is damaged, so Amanda, a legal officer named Taylor and a Synthetic called Samuels, will have to board the station by way of an airlock usually used for freight.

Their trip in spacesuits is short lived, however, after an explosion sends debris flying their way and severs the wire that prevented them from drifting away into the vast and cold vacuum of space. Amanda still manages to make it across safely, but gets separated from the other two. As it soon turns out, the situation aboard Sevastopol is even worse than the damaged look of the outside suggested. Everyone on board is watching out for their own selves, hiding from a... thing, a never before seen alien creature that kills everyone. Not only does the story of Alien: Isolation build well on the events of the first film and other Alien facts that the rest of the series established subsequently, but it manages to capture the original film's deep atmosphere. Every actor involved delivers their lines convincingly, and every sound effect, as well as the screeches and ragged breath of the creature, contribute to building up a truly gripping virtual space where the action unfolds before the player's eyes.

It all plays from a first-person perspective as Amanda explores her environment, scavenging for supplies to keep herself alive, but also blueprints for defensive mechanisms like EMP mines, noise makers, pipe bombs, and so on, that her engineering background allows her to craft from basic but scarce ingredients that her exploration will lead her to. Progression is mostly linear and directed by the plot, through successive objectives. However, exploring thoroughly the environments, off the beaten track, can lead to more blueprints and story-telling through audio recordings and emails found on terminals that flesh out the plot further. Those help make Sevastopol an even more convincing dump on its way out, lost in a corner of space that nobody cares about. Through the story, lots of doors will appear locked, only to be opened much later with upgraded tools like an Ion Cutter or a more advanced Security Tuner. It is not quite a Metroid game, which would be ironic since the latter took a lot of inspiration from the Alien series, but the exploration element is pleasing and feels rewarding in just the same way as it does in Nintendo's own franchise.

Screenshot for Alien: Isolation on Nintendo Switch

It all controls well too, and the Switch version even adds motion controls for aiming, including on the Pro Controller. This feels responsive enough, and is actually really useful when using the Bolt Gun, which requires a long charging moment, to keep the reticle carefully centred on the target's head as it charges. That is not to say that joystick aiming is not accurate enough in its own right, though, although the default sensitivity setting did feel a bit too high to this writer's taste. Nothing that a quick look through the options menu couldn't fix though. One thing that was noticeable, however, was a small touch of input lag. It was never an issue during normal gameplay, but some people will be more sensitive to it than others. In fact, it was neither noticed or even felt for hours during testing until a hacking sequence came up with a cursor moving from left to right that had to be stopped in the middle of a small area. There, stopping the cursor at the right moment proved to be a challenge unless the button press was anticipated, but such hacking only occurred two or maybe three times in the whole game.

The main thing to be said about Alien: Isolation, however, is how scary and tense it is. Some games which get the Survival Horror moniker undeservedly, like Resident Evil 5, can be really tense through their situation, but not necessarily scary. This one really is both. At times even progression is rendered really tough when the creature is around, moving in and out of airshafts, looking for Amanda, hampering progression through mission objectives. This tension can really get emotionally tiring, which in any other universe would feel like a bad thing, but here, it feels part of the immersion. The story brings its own quiet moments and tense ones too, like the films it is based on, so there are some times of relief, but because the jump scares are handled so well, even in quiet moments, a flicker of lights turning on at Amanda's approach, or a jet of steam suddenly coming out of a pipe can give a good jolt. It is a game best enjoyed, if possible, with a good pair of headphones, for a complete immersion.

This Switch version comes with all previously released DLC already packed in. This includes the Crew Expendable content, which places the player in the shoes of one of three characters from the original Alien movie as they prepare to go into the ventilation system to try to trap the Alien in the Nostromo's airlock to blast it out into space. All actors from the first film reprised their roles for the recording of new dialogue for this short scenario, with the exceptions of John Hurt's "Kane," because he's already dead in the scene, and Ian Holm's "Ash" who is replaced by a convincing Dave B. Mitchell's impression of the actor. That scenario is very short, but going down the airshafts as Veronica Cartwright's hysterical voice shouts at you over the radio is a trip that any Alien die-hard fan must experience once, and, here, it is included at no extra cost with the main game.

Screenshot for Alien: Isolation on Nintendo Switch

The Last Survivor DLC is similar, but lets the player only play as Sigourney Weaver's "Ellen Ripley," as she has to start the Nostromo's self-destruct sequence and escape the ship. Again, an essential moment of Alien fandom. Lastly, for good measure, a selection of challenge scenarios taking place aboard Sevastopol are also included which put the player in the role of various characters either seen in the main story mode, or referred to in recordings, as their story is this time not simply alluded to, but experienced first-hand. DLC in Alien: Isolation was handled pretty well, as it all expanded on the scenario to bring one big cohesive story together and, here at least, everything is included from day one, which turns an already great game into an incredibly valuable package.

The most impressive of all, beyond this being an incredible experience to behold, is how good it looks and runs on the Switch. Alien: Isolation is, admittedly, an intergenerational game at its core, made to run even on last-gen hardware. However it ran, well... a bit crappy, to be blunt, on last-gen systems - sporting 720p visuals, yes, but sacrificing, even some of the horizontal resolution to even run and, despite that, the experience practically never met its 30 FPS target, and both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions had screen-tearing issues. Even on the Xbox One, where this targeted 1080p and 30FPS, it suffered from constant frame-rate drops and tearing. The best running version, on console anyway, was the PS4, which also saw occasional dips in frame-rate, but was mostly locked to 30FPS and had a perfect VSync engaged. All console versions however exhibited stutter during pre-rendered cut-scenes playback, due to the game loading the next playable segment in the background at the same time as it read those video files. Here comes this Switch version which, by all accounts, had no right to target those same settings as found on other current gen systems, and which we could only hope would run with last-gen settings, but without any of the downfalls.

Yet... it runs, it seems, at 1080p30 when docked, and 720p30 in portable mode and, for the most part, sacrifices little compared to current-gen systems in terms of visuals. Chromatic aberration and the same film grain effect as found elsewhere are present and in effect, but can be toggled off or dialled back in the case of the latter. A solid implementation of anti-aliasing is in place as well, which does a remarkable job of getting rid of practically all jaggies, and, it seems, does an even better job of it than what was achieved on PS4! Pre-rendered cut-scenes are still present, but while stutter still seems to be an issue during their playback, the issue seems, to the eye anyway, reduced compared to all previous versions. Then, while the 30FPS target is not met perfectly at all times, it is still maintained almost at all times in docked mode, and then drops felt ever so slightly more pronounced in handheld mode, but never reaching the extent of those found in all but the PS4 version. It is definitely one of the most stable versions released so far in that regard.

Screenshot for Alien: Isolation on Nintendo Switch

What's the catch then? Surely something had to be dialled back somewhere to make this happen. Well, obviously some compromises have been made, but by and large, side-by-side comparisons, with even the PS4 version, make those hard to spot, at least during actual gameplay. Texture quality for example looks largely on par with the PS4 and Xbox One. The most obvious cut-back is the quality of pre-rendered cut-scenes. They look noticeably more compressed on Switch. Not that the Switch could not render better quality video, but that reduction is probably a matter of lower bit-rate, which perhaps has been applied to help those videos not stutter quite as much as they do on other systems, while the system is still loading other things in the background at the same time. On a system like the Switch where memory bandwidth is so limited to begin with, this was perhaps a sensible decision indeed. On the topic of loading, load times can feel quite a bit long as well. When reloading the same area after a death scene, they are not too long, thankfully, but when travelling between two completely different areas, separated by a loading screen, the wait can, and will be felt.

Normal gameplay only calls for this change of areas a few times, and the rest of the time, while staying in the same section of Sevastopol, new chunks are separated by doors that make a beeping sound for a few seconds before opening. Those take a few more seconds than on other platforms to open, and with an aim to keep the quality of textures and geometry on par with current gen systems, this was also something that would have been hard to avoid. However, in a mostly slow-paced game where running is ill-advised because it can alert surrounding hostiles, this thankfully does not affect gameplay too much. Some effects are dialled back as well, like the resolution of reflections in pools of water, and the quality of shadow maps where those are dynamic. Alien: Isolation relies, thankfully for the Switch, a lot on pre-baked shadows which are nothing more than permanent shadow textures that the dynamic ones just blend with in a convincing manner to deliver the incredible atmosphere that this game has.

An incredible showing then, that goes above and beyond any expectations that fans could have had for this version. That's not to say that everything is absolutely perfect, and as is sometimes the case with games using the Havok physics engine, there is the occasional instance of an object wiggling on its own if it's disturbed from its initial idle position, and yours truly can count at least two instances in total over the course of a full blind play-through (roughly 20 hours) where there was one object floating in mid-air in a hallway, with no collision data whatsoever. Those things happen even in the best of modern games, sadly, but in this case they are so few and far between that they do nothing to make this port seem less impressive... or perhaps it's just that previous releases were simply botched, but with a wonderful game like this, both cases only mean that the Switch version is highly recommended, even more so if this is the first time it is experienced. The one downside in all of this is that, at time of writing, no physical release is in the works. For a port of this level of quality, this seems like a crime.

Screenshot for Alien: Isolation on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Without any of the technical issues that plagued it on other systems it got released on, Alien: Isolation was, and remains, one of the best survival horror games ever made. It's a top notch addition to the Alien franchise as a whole, which has seen its fair share of missteps over the years. Then, adding to all of this, Feral Interactive's port of Alien: Isolation to the Switch is a defining example of a port to Switch done right. On Switch, the game runs smoothly 95% of the time, unlike even the powerful Xbox One, without sacrificing too much in the way of visual fidelity, making it mostly on par with the best console version yet - the PS4 one - but with the audacity of blessing it with better anti-aliasing and even smoother pre-rendered cut-scenes... albeit more compressed looking, sadly. This release is an indispensable addition to any Switch fan's collection of masterpieces, only really let-down by the absence of any plans for a physical release, at least at the time of writing.

Developer

Feral Interactive

Publisher

SEGA

Genre

Horror

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date 05.12.2019   North America release date 05.12.2019   Japan release date 05.12.2019   Australian release date 05.12.2019   

Comments

Exceptional review 

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