Monster Mania: Alien: Isolation’s Xenomorph Humbles Man as Prey

Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.

“In space no one can hear you scream,” but in my apartment, my neighbors certainly can when I play Alien: Isolation.

Few films are as influential as Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien. Space truckers accidentally bring aboard an alien parasite that bursts onto the silver screen and introduces the world to one of the most terrifying monsters ever created; the Xenomorph. The brainchild of otherworldly artist H.R. Giger, and 40+ years later, the creature remains an incomparable nightmare. The Xeno is a towering monstrosity with sleek black biomechanical-looking skin that stalks its prey with whisper-quiet efficiency from the shadows. Acid for blood, a retractable mouth of razor-sharp teeth, and a tail primed for shish kebabing prey that would make a grill master jealous make the Xenomorph the ultimate predator.

Naturally, the popularity and success of the Alien film franchise would spawn countless video game adaptations. And while several adaptations would successfully blend horror and action, no Alien game has captured the true terror of being hunted, like Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation

Set 15 years after the events of Scott’s film, Alien: Isolation puts the player in the work boots of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, whose search for her missing mother leads her to the Sevastopol station. A capitalist cautionary tale, as the space race has resulted in companies’ rapidly expanding into the cosmos, leading to the station (and others like it) falling into disrepair. The station’s dilapidation makes it an ideal hunting ground for the Xenos, who use the general chaos as a camouflage for their hunt to go largely unnoticed.

Unlike most Alien games, in Alien: Isolation, the player’s most effective means of survival is relying on the shadows rather than combat. This has been a facet that previously Alien games have never gotten right. The power trip fantasy of playing as a colonial marine is an obvious route, but this never allowed the Xenomorph’s true, terrifying nature to shine.

True to the film, In Alien: Isolation, the Xenomorph is a cunning hunter that stalks the station’s halls, striking with deadly efficiency. Should the player’s actions draw their attention, the monster will make a B-line for them, grabbing them before unleashing their signature “kiss.” And by a kiss, I mean sinking their teeth into their flesh. Given Xeno’s acute awareness, the players must pay close attention to the monster’s patrol patterns while monitoring their own noise discipline.

Should the Xenomorph be alerted, the player should strive to find the numerous footlockers to hide in and desks to cower under, granting them temporary shelter. Be careful not to be seen entering these havens because if you are, the Xeno has no problem tearing open a locker or pulling the player from underneath a desk to devour them. Players are also encouraged to utilize the various vent systems scattered around the Sevastopol station. These vents can be used as shelter and bypass any environmental blockage and enemy patrol paths. Another replicated facet of the film is frighteningly brought to life in its pristine details and its potential for nail-biting tension. 

In what is, without question, one of the terrifying moments I experienced in Alien: Isolation, ducking into a vent only to turn around to see a Xenomorph’s sickening grin staring back at me before pouncing—unadulterated nightmare fuel. I had essentially recreated Dallas’ demise without even meaning to. It shows the potential of games adapted from movies that can recreate moments from their source material without a scripted sequence.

Adding even more skin-crawling tension, Xenomorph’s habit of sneaking up on the player rewards them with a terrifying death animation. The first time you see its claws wrapping around Amanda’s POV elicited genuine shock, given how casually and quickly the player’s demise occurs.

There is also the sobering reality that the Xenomorph is indestructible. Players have been conditioned to be empowered by finding weapons; however, in Alien: Isolation, they might as well be pellet guns for all their usefulness. Explosives and flame weapons are the most useful items in their arsenal, but these are deterrents rather than a permanent means of stopping the Xeno’s hunt. A direct hit of a Molotov or flamethrower blast will cause the creature to retreat momentarily to lick its wounds, but only long enough for the player to temporarily seek shelter.

While an unkillable threat may perturb some, this conscious design decision from Creative Assembly ensures that the Xenomorph NEVER loses its scare power. It is a threat that is as terrifying from the game’s opening moments as it is within its final ones. Given the routine action-oriented nature of Alien games, Xenomorphs were previously portrayed as little more than fodder, which makes sense for those types of experiences. But they also fundamentally missed the point and power of this legendary monster, something that Creative Assembly nailed every step of the way. 

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