Alien: Isolation may be the hardest game of 2014. It's certainly the tensest. As Amanda Ripley, daughter of Alien protagonist Ellen Ripley, the odds are stacked badly against you.
After all, you're just a mechanic trying to find her missing mother; what hope do you have against a space station ruled over by human marauders, homicidal robots, and the most terrifying alien life form the galaxy has ever seen?
Alien: Isolation may seem like a fool's venture, but the game can be survived with smart, cautious play. If you're planning to see the journey through to its thrilling finale, you'll definitely want to prepare yourself with these essential survival tips.
It's a stealth game, not a horror game
Remember how the movie Alien was a horror movie masquerading as a sci-fi flick? Alien: Isolation is kind of like the inverse. It looks like a sci-fi horror adventure, but really it's a stealth game.
You should approach it not like you would a Resident Evil or Fatal Frame title, where you can poke around blithely until you need to fight or flee.
Think of it more like classic Splinter Cell or Metal Gear, where your best chance of survival comes from not being seen. It's not an action game; in fact, your goal should be to avoid action altogether.
Use your ears
Don't even bother to play Alien: Isolation without a decent sound setup. Whether that's a surround sound system or a good pair of headphones, it doesn't matter. The important thing is that you can hear what's happening around you. Every hazard in the station makes a distinct sound based on context. For example, the sound of the Alien roaming around in the ducts — meaning it can't see you, only hear the loud noises you make — is very different than the sound it creates while it's walking around in the parts of the game world Amanda Ripley can explore, where it can spot you if you move around. Equally important are reactive soundtrack cues; when enemies come near, the score becomes more tense (with different kinds of music representing different kinds of dangers), and Amanda herself begins to vocalize her fear. Even if you never use the motion tracker, you can get a good sense of the current threat level based entirely on the sounds you hear.
Learn to love the motion tracker, but don't rely on it
That being said, you should absolutely use the motion tracker once you acquire it. Use it often; unlike your absolutely pathetic excuse for a flashlight, it has no battery to manage. As in the Alien films, the motion tracker gives you a sense of what hazards are moving about nearby (and friendlies, as well). It'll chirp when something comes into range, and as targets move closer to Ripley its radar pings will become faster and more urgent.
However, the motion tracker has limitations. It doesn't read hostiles that don't move, so you can wander right into a room full of synthetics who are standing stationary the way artificial life forms tend to do. The sound it makes is diegetic, which means enemies near enough to you can hear it. So you definitely don't want to use the motion tracker while someone is standing right outside the locker you're hiding in. And finally, it suffers from interference: It's nearly useless inside vents, thanks to their close-in metallic surfaces (they essentially work like a Faraday cage), and certain areas of the station will sometimes cause the tracker signal display to blank out — something that seems most likely to happen as you're following multiple targets. In short, the motion tracker is a helpful tool, but it works best in combination with other observation tactics.
The biggest advantage the motion tracker offers is the ability to keep track on what the Alien is doing. It moves different depending on where in the station it is. While it's on the prowl on the ground, it moves slowly and jerkily, changing direction unpredictably as it methodically paces the floor. In the vents, however, it tends to dart forward at high speeds. If you can't hear the Alien's movements, the motion tracker can still give you a sense of whether or not it's in the same environmental space as Amanda — if the motion dot is moving quickly across the screen, you have a few moments to move around without having to worry about it noticing you, provided you keep quiet.
Take your time
Alien: Isolation is not a race; it's a stealth game, and you're not going to get a Big Boss ranking if you beat it under a certain time limit. The game's world has a significant element of dynamism, with the Alien and other enemies behaving differently each time you play. Even material you collect for crafting appears to be generated at random each time you load the game. You can use this to your advantage: If you're looking for specific materials you can reload a save point near an uncollected cache of collectibles until the items you're looking for spawns. But the randomness can also work against you, and the free-roaming hazards in Sevastopol station will act unpredictably. That means they could well decide to hang out right next to one of your hiding places for a while. But that's OK; they can't find you if you don't let them know you're there. Lay low and wait until the coast is clear before you make a move. Save points are few and far between in this game, and it's still a more efficient use of your time to wait for a safe opportunity to act than to rush, die, and have to reload again and again.
Case the joint
It's hard to get about the station once an area goes into lockdown or the Alien appears, but you're not always in a crisis situation. Take those moments of peace, while enemies are passive or absent, to explore the environment thoroughly. Certain key elements (like the all-important save stations) are marked on the in-game map, but there's no guide for safe hiding spots. Poke your head into every possible room and explore side paths while the coast is clear to figure out optimal paths from one hiding place to another. The more you can lower the amount of time you're exposed and in the open, the safer you'll be. Keep an eye open not only for lockers but for furniture like desks and beds that you can hide under. Enemies won't notice you under furniture unless they see you climb beneath it, and sliding out from beneath a low spot is faster, less cumbersome, and less disorienting than stepping out of a locker.
Learn the lean
If you do decide to hide in a locker or storage bin, remember that you still have some control over Amanda even in those tight quarters. You can press forward or back on the left stick to lean closer to the ventilation slits or hug the back wall, and you can also move left and right with both sticks to get a better view through the slits. Most lockers offer a clear view of a room's doors, so you can more easily time your escape with an enemy walking to another area. The most important locker skill, however, is pressing back against the wall: It allows you to bring up your motion tracker and get a glimpse of the full screen. More importantly, if the alien decides to peer into the locker you're hiding in, it won't spot you if you're leaning all the way back. Just remember that you still make noise while in a locker — if you activate your motion tracker or move too quickly, you'll create a ruckus that will attract unwanted attention.
Peek in moderation
You can also lean while outside a locker by holding the L1/LB button and moving the left stick. The button will effectively lock Amanda into place, causing her to shift her body in the direction you're pressing without moving. You can use this ability to peer around corners or look over barriers and get a sense of what's around. But you don't want to abuse this skill — the longer you peek at enemies, the more likely they are to spot you. If you take a quick glance, you'll go unnoticed. But if you sit and stare at an enemy over the top of a crate or something, they'll eventually spot you and bring all kinds of awfulness raining down on you. Like the motion tracker, peeking works best if you use it in quick bursts to orient yourself.
Know your foes
Generally speaking, you need to deal with three kinds of threats aboard Sevastopol Station: Humans, synthetics, and the Alien. Each behaves differently and poses a different kind of threat.
Humans tend to have the sharpest vision. They also move in groups and usually carry firearms. This makes them extremely dangerous, as their collective movements give them a great overview of most areas they patrol, and once they spot Amanda — even from across a room — they'll open fire. You can only take a couple of bullets before you're down. That being said, humans are the easiest enemies to kill: A couple hits with a blunt object or a shot to the head will put them down quickly (not that it's usually a good idea to use a gun). You can sneak up on a human for a super-effective melee kill. And the Alien is every bit as hostile to human NPCs as it is to Amanda, so you can use noisemakers or other devices to draw the Alien into a throng of humans while you hide, allowing it to tear through them like meat paper. Humans tend to call their actions to their companions, and prefer to avoid ranging from the area they've staked as their turf.
Synthetics are far hardier than humans, sometimes attacking even after they appear to be completely deactivated; be very cautious around a seemingly "dead" android. Guns have very little effect on synthetics, and unless you use an EMP device to stun them first, they will block all melee strikes and counterattack. Also, the Alien will almost always ignore synthetics, and they'll pay no attention to it. If one synthetic spots you, it will broadcast to all its peers in the area to converge silently on you and attack. The upside to synthetics is that they prefer melee attacks, which are far less dangerous than humans' guns, and they never run. If a synthetic spots you, you can still escape by booking it to another zone or finding a hiding place out of their sight. Despite their claims of infinite machine patience, synthetics give up pretty quickly if they can't see you and will return to their normal routine.
The Alien is effectively indestructible. You can't outfight it — if it spots Amanda, it will kill her instantly — and you can't outrun it. There will be many sequences where the Alien is the primary threat you need to contend with, but more often it's a sort of background threat that you have to worry about while dealing with more immediate dangers. Your only advantages against the Alien are its fairly poor senses (as long as it's not facing you directly it probably won't see you as you creep around) and the fact that it tends to leap up into the ceiling ductwork to get about an area quickly. It also makes a lot of noise thanks to its size and mass, and it rarely stands motionless, so it's easy to keep tabs on. It also tends not to see you even at fairly close range if you remain motionless, kind of like the T-rex from Jurassic Park. If the Alien gets up close and personal, it's best to hunker down and hope it doesn't spot you.
Darkness is your friend, so rewire strategically
While plunging the station into darkness may seem to put you at disadvantage — those dark areas are pitch-black, and if you shine your flashlight outside of a vent you will be spotted — the shadows are just as limiting for your foes as they are to you. A completely dark area of the station can work to your benefit, allowing you to creep around or hide in plain sight from enemies. Humans and the Alien tend to be fairly vocal, while synthetics have glowing red eyes, so you can spot them more easily than they can see you.
So, any time you come across a rewire point, it's a good idea to switch off the lights for a given area. Not only will this free up energy for other applications (like the air purifiers, which generate a sort of obscuring fog), it provides you with cover in areas where cover can be hard to come by. You'll often find an advantage in using the rewire junctions to close down door access as well — doing so can bar enemies from stumbling into you. On the other hand, you can effectively screw yourself over this way as well... you never know when you'll need to retrace your footsteps.
Know when to use your tools
Being a mechanic by trade, Amanda can create some pretty handy makeshift tools to use to survive. However, the materials for these devices tend to be incredibly hard to come by, so you'll want to use them sparingly. The tools use a shared pool of resources, too, so making one device will limit the number of others you can create, especially when you start dealing with items that require six, eight, or even 10 items to create. Tools come with downsides, too, most significantly the fact that they're not really usable in a crisis situation — everything from medkits to EMP detonators take time and concentration to use (and cause Amanda to remain briefly motionless), which means that healing up while under fire is actually most likely to just get you killed. Similarly, you're helpless while crafting, so you really need to find shelter before assembling your items. But used properly, and sparingly, they can give you a vital edge... and in this game, every minor advantage helps.