Alien Isolation: The Digital Series (2019) — Nuke it in orbit

“It was a life force. Now it’s our property. Salvage rights.”

Justin’s rating: You just had to egg them on, didn’t you?

Justin’s review: For those who bemoan the odd and often disappointing journey that the Alien franchise went on after James Cameron’s 1986 classic, there is a terrific sequel that emerged from the most unlikely of places: video games.

Coming out in 2014, Alien Isolation brought players back to the tension and tech of the original film while taking a different narrative approach by focusing on Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda. Dead before the events of Aliens and only mentioned by name in a deleted scene from that film, Amanda Ripley was taken out of obscurity and placed right into the center of a gripping tale of space horror and suspense. The only problem was that you had to be a gamer with a high tolerance for jump scares to discover it.

That is, until Alien Isolation become one of the most acclaimed Alien video games ever made and Fox decided to give it additional legitimacy in the franchise canon. So the movie company worked with the game studio to create a “digital series” using cutscenes, new scenes, and in-game footage (along with the original voice acting). In effect, the project whipped up a new 70-minute Alien movie. And you best believe I was going to see and review it, being the Alien nut that I am.

Fifteen years after the original film, Weyland-Yutani engineer Amanda Ripley (Andrea Deck) accepts a trip out to a remote space station, the Sevastopol, after hearing that the flight recorder from the Nostromo was retrieved in the region. However, this isn’t going to be as routine as opening up a computer file. The station’s smashed up for some reason, rogue androids are roaming around, and there’s a lethal creature playing hide-and-go-seek with everyone remaining.

What made the game so beloved was that instead of giving players high-powered weapons (as was common in most Aliens titles), Amanda had no weapons capable of fighting the xenomorph. It took the franchise back to the nearly defenseless scrabble for survival that the initial (and maybe third) film had. In other words, this movie isn’t going to feature colonial marines running around with pulse rifles and shotguns. Instead, we get to see Amanda try to make it using her engineering know-how and sheer determination.

Easily the worst part of this digital series is the lip syncing. Oh, the voice acting is decent, but absolutely zero effort was made to have the characters’ mouths match what was being said. Considering all of the posturing that Fox and the game studio made about doing a whole lot of extra work to fashion this into a film, I’m shocked nobody cared to correct this. And while I’m griping, I could’ve done without Amanda’s clunky narration. This always took me out of the atmosphere of the film and into the presence of someone who really liked to tell, not show.

This viewing experience does require some audience leniency in how they portray the action, as the gameplay was first-person. That viewpoint gets interjected into this a fair bit, but the director obviously tried to use as much of the cutscenes and other perspectives as possible.

On the plus side, I certainly like the setting. Alien Isolation nails the chunky tech aesthetic of the original film, and it’s a lot of fun to see the devs expand this into a full-fledged space station. Alien was a haunted house in space, after all — and so is this. Just a slightly bigger one.

While this might’ve been a very engrossing game to play, I unfortunately have to report that it isn’t quite as thrilling to watch. Other than Amanda as our protagonist — an inspired choice — there isn’t anything here that we haven’t seen time and again in the films. The xenomorph in particular makes its debut pretty early on, robbing future appearances of tension and mystery.

So I’ll say that if you’re a big Alien fan who feels that you must see and experience everything in this universe, then, sure, give this a watch. It’s not going to add a lot to your excitement — but it won’t take much away, either.

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