By Marshall Garvey
Welcome all to the first installment of my Alien: Isolation DLC reviews! As you may know, I’ve vouched heavily for Sega and Creative Assembly’s crack at interstellar survival horror here at LTG. Even as someone who notoriously doesn’t buy new games often (if ever), I chose to treat myself to it on my 25th birthday when I selected it at the last minute over The Evil Within walking out of Dimple Records. I no doubt made the right choice, as it proved to be not only a visceral and innovatively terrifying experience, but also arguably one of the best movie licensed games ever made. And hopefully, along with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, a trendsetter in that field after so many years of underwhelming tie-in games.
Naturally, I’ve been salivating for a sequel, but the recent news of Sega’s dramatic downsize might put that in jeopardy. (Unless Creative Assembly chooses to soldier forward without Sega, which I fully support.) Whether or not we get a sequel, the game has an ample DLC selection that will wrap up in March. Thus, I’ll be doing a review of every single one on a fairly regular basis. Today we start with the heavily touted Crew Expendable mode, which was one of the reasons I bought the game. So, grab your motion tracker and hold onto your stomach, as we’re going to party like it’s 1979!
Crew Expendable opens perfectly. The camera slowly travels through the halls of the Nostromo, shortly after the now fully grown Xenomorph has killed engineer Brett and slithered off into the ship’s ventilator shafts. The remaining members of the crew (Captain Dallas, Parker, Ripley, Lambert, and Ash) sit huddled around a table, grimly discussing the situation at hand. A plan is devised: Close down the ventilators to box the creature in, and then lure it to the ship’s airlock to jettison it into space.
The only decision left is: Who’s going to go into the shafts with the most terrifying creature in space to flush it out? Here, the player can select between three characters: Dallas (as per the movie), Parker, or Ripley. Once a volunteer is selected, the crew moves to carry out their risky but necessary plan. After the four of them have closed down the vents to trap the alien, the main volunteer must crawl into the air ducts and blast it with a flamethrower into the main air shaft. There, it has to be lured into the airlock, where Ash will blast the phallic beast into space. Needless to say, however, all of this is far easier said than done…for multiple reasons.
Gameplay in this mode is virtually the same as the main game. You have your motion tracker in your left hand, flamethrower in your right, and can melee with a maintenance jack. However, the save game mechanism is scrapped in favor of a traditional checkpoint system, and the mode’s shorter length means you don’t have to survive on scrounged resources. Basically, if you detested having to desperately search for a phone to save your game, you’ll love being able to move from objective to objective without that hassle.
Like the rest of Alien: Isolation, the detail and atmosphere are top-notch. The feeling of being hopelessly trapped with the stalking xenomorph is just as palpable as the main campaign, if not more so. The best moment comes when you find yourself crawling through the vents, putting you in the POV of one of the best scenes from the actual movie (complete with a panicky Lambert giving you bad directions). Thanks to the upgrade that added Novice mode, you can really take the time to explore every nook and cranny of Creative Assembly’s recreation of the Nostromo. It’s something any and every fan of the film needs to experience.
The greatest strength of Crew Expendable is easily its most poignant: the reunion of the original actors from Ridley Scott’s Alien. (Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, and Harry Dean Stanton.) The first time I played this mode, the feeling I got hearing the legendary cast together again made my hairs stand on end. While the age of some of the actors (particularly Skerritt, Stanton and Kotto) is evident, that’s hardly a flaw, and in my view only adds to the importance of the experience. Rather than phone it in like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, each actor returns to their role with genuine engagement. Skerritt’s Dallas is as cool and assertive as ever, Kotto’s Parker is tough and flippant, and Cartwright’s Lambert is frail and nervous. Easily the best is Sigourney Weaver’s reprisal of Ellen Ripley, imbuing her character with the same courage that made her perhaps the seminal heroine in movie history. (Note: Sir Ian Holm wasn’t available to reprise his role as Ash, but allowed his likeness to be used, and the actor who voices him sounds exactly like Holm. While Harry Dean Stanton’s hapless Brett isn’t a playable character or NPC, the actor did return to record new dialogue that can be found in a recording right before you find his body.)
Sadly, Crew Expendable is hampered by two major flaws that the main campaign features as well. OK, only one real flaw impacts this mode’s overall quality. The first flaw is pretty minor, and is probably more of a nitpick on my part, but I might as well gripe about it. As some have noted, the dead bodies lying around Sevastopol in Alien: Isolation look positively atrocious. The detail on them is grimey, and they almost always have cartoonishly bugged out eyes. Sadly, that flaw is present in Crew Expendable. Early into this mode, you actually come across the body of Samuel Brett, in an engine room reminiscent of the one where he met his fate in the actual movie. But the body, rather than a fairly precise recreation of a well-known character, looks as fake as the nameless corpses littered throughout the main game. How Creative Assembly could capture the detail on the fully animated crew members, but not a still corpse, is beyond me. (Worth noting: Stanton is my favorite actor of all-time, so you can rightly point out this is a problem blown out of proportion by my obscure movie biases.)
(Alright, before reading ahead, I might as well throw up a customary: Spoiler Alert!!! I figure by now just about anyone and everyone has seen Alien, especially those who’d take interest in this game and particular DLC. But if you haven’t seen the movie somehow, you really shouldn’t read on as it gives away a key component of its story.)
However, what really stunts the potential of this DLC is its ending. Having not known the ending beforehand and wanting to experience everything anew, my impression was understandably that this would provide fans with a tantalizing “what if?” scenario, and one that wouldn’t need to fit canon. (The fact that you can have Parker or Ripley go into the vents instead of Dallas alone breaks canon.) My first playthrough as Captain Dallas had my heart racing at the prospect of rewriting movie history. I literally said to myself, “This time, Captain Dallas survives!” Surely, considering the effort you put into the game overall, you’ll get to see the rare event where an Alien story could have a happy ending.
Except….you don’t. The moment you press the button to seal the airlock, the door malfunctions, allowing the creature to escape and knocking you unconscious. When you come to, Ash stands in the doorway, pitifully observing the situation and promising to consult Mother about it. (Of course, it’s but another sabotage to carry out his scheme of preserving the alien.) This dutiful loyalty to the film’s canon is all the more frustrating because this specific scenario with the airlock obviously doesn’t happen in the movie. Why not give players a chance to create an alternate path, a playable fantasy of these beloved characters actually beating the odds and making it out alive? The deaths of the Nostromo crew have haunted me for the better part of a decade since my first viewing of the movie, and to guide them to survival would have been extremely gratifying. Instead, Crew Expendable merely ends with a panning shot of the medical room as Ash recites his famous “perfect organism” monologue.
Ultimately, of all the DLC packages for Alien: Isolation, I figure this is the one that least requires a “yay or nay” review. It comes free with the Nostromo Edition of the game, which I bought at Dimple. If you didn’t get it with the game or download it yet, it’s worth acquiring for the prestige of hearing most of the original cast again. Plus, it’ll give you an extra 30 minutes or so of strong gameplay. But sadly, like the main campaign’s disappointing cliffhanger ending, it doesn’t provide the payoff you deserve for your efforts.