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Published 20.12.2021 00:00
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Alien: Isolation review

Feral Interactive have made a name for themselves porting console and PC titles to iOS. Games usually thought too ambitious or technically demanding to live on the App Store end up there most often by way of these developers, with Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation being their latest release. As you can tell by our detailed breakdown of the game in action, Feral have once again found a way to push the boundaries of what iOS games can look and feel like. The only problem is, I'm not sure Alien: Isolation as a game is particularly enjoyable in this format.

Otherworldly port

I am not going to devote much of this review describing the particulars of Alien: Isolation's gameplay or content. This is an extremely high-profile game from 2014, so there is plenty of footage, commentary, and critical analysis detailing what this game is and how it works already. It should be easy to find. Go there for that kind of thing. Here, I will talk about how it works specifically on mobile through the lens of someone who hasn't played through Alien: Isolation elsewhere already.

At the outset of the game, it's hard not to be impressed by Alien: Isolation's production values. It's clear a ton of time went into nailing the look and feel of the Alien film franchise for the original release, and Feral's port work on the iOS version makes sure all of the audio and visual design looks as crisp and detailed as possible on the small screen. It's frankly amazing the game looks and performs as well as it does, making it an unquestionable showpiece for those with high-end Apple devices.

Trapped in small spaces

On top of looking and running well, the iOS version of the game has a ton of customization options for controls, visual effects, and even audio dynamic range settings to make the experience feel as comfortable and tuned to your specific setup as possible. There is such attention to detail on these customization options that I sure would love to see in all mobile titles, even though they unfortunately don't do enough to make the prospect of playing a dark, 20 hour, stealth-based, first-person survival horror game feel like a fun experience on a mobile device.

This isn't to say Alien: Isolation is a bad game, nor is this some retrospective suggesting it has aged poorly since it's release. The problem is really the scope and ambition of this game and how it directly clashes with the strengths of mobile play. Alien: Isolation isn't a game you can whip out on the go and have a good time. It takes dedication and isolation to set up your device, headphones, external controllers, etc. to make a play session feel worthwhile and satisfying, but at that point it feels like you may as well be playing it on a device capable of rendering the game in higher fidelity and in a format for more dedicated play.

Crawling along

I spent the vast majority of my time using the default touch controls in the iOS version of Alien: Isolation and they were mostly fine. There were a few instances where I died from missing a virtual button, but way more often than that I just wasn't being sneaky enough, got unlucky with the alien's patrolling route, or died cheap deaths from face-huggers that get increasingly jammed into the back-end of the game to create challenge.

If I moved slowly and deliberately, I'd still die, but though less often and make more progress between reloads. I was fine with this set up for the first 10 hours or so with Alien: Isolation, but then the game just kept going. Perhaps it's the years I've spent playing almost exclusively mobile titles, but Alien: Isolation's action and storytelling just don't feel equipped to carry a 20 hour campaign, to the point that I was just completely over the tension and world about midway through the game. I didn't really care about the characters and the ultimate end was predictable from miles away.

As a result, I spent most of my time with the back-half of this game dreaming of a mobile games landscape that has titles as ambitious as Alien: Isolation and as mobile-tuned and polished like Alien: Blackout, but are actually original titles, not just console ports or clones of other mobile formulas. I would have loved a more condensed version of Isolation that maybe told its own original story over a shorter period of time as opposed to this full-on port, but making games like that specifically for iOS is an increasingly hard sell.

The bottom line

This is all to say that if you want a way to play Alien: Isolation on a phone or tablet, it's hard to imagine a better end product than Feral Interactive's port of the title. I'm just not so sure this was a great kind of game to try and bring to the platform, as almost everything about it runs counter to how many folks (myself included) tend to engage in mobile play.

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