Despite being released in late 2014 – and still, despite a few pacing issues and difficulty spikes, being one of my favourite games of all time – it took until 2019 for Alien: Isolation to be adapted as a novel.
Fifteen years after her mother’s disappearance, Amanda Ripley, now in her mid-20s, is informed by Weyland-Yutani employee Samuels that the black box from the Nostromo – the missing ship her mother was aboard – has been recovered. Having searched for information on her mother’s whereabouts and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her disappearance, Ripley is keen to accompany Samuels and a small team to Sevastopol Station, a rundown facility owned and operated by the corner-cutting Seegson corporation. However, upon arrival the team encounters a Station not just in disrepair or disarray, but with a terrified, dangerously defensive populace, a legion of cheap, lethally malfunctioning androids and perhaps worst of all, a deadly alien creature on the loose.
The book follows the events of the game pretty closely, though entire sections are removed or simplified, most likely to deal with the odd pacing and backtracking that hinders the game at a few points. There are a few stranger changes though, with the production line-produced Working Joe androids described as having purple skin, rather than the pale, white plastic complexion they’re depicted with in-game, for example.
To the book’s detriment, it does feel a little too much like a video game at times too, with Ripley finding loot and gadget blueprints on her fetch quests from A to B to C and so on. Though the narrative works well in its original interactive form – for the most part – it makes for thin and fairly unengaging material as the basis of a novel.
There’s also the sense at times that the writer either didn’t play the game or he played a very different one, because the Ripley of the book comes across as much more of a gun-toting badass than the Ripley that we play as for much of the game’s duration. Not only does she happily blast away enemies with her shotgun repeatedly, she also does this while the Alien is loose and not far away – which anyone who’s played the game will know is a recipe for immediately attracting the beast to Ripley’s exact location. The game goes to great lengths to make players feel Ripley’s vulnerability and ensure that they’re careful about everything they do, every movement they make and noise they create. The novel’s Ripley, hurtling through the slightly truncated events of the game at lightning speed, doesn’t feel anywhere near as fragile – even going as far as incinerating an Alien at one point, which is impossible in-game.
The emails that can be found in-game are reproduced in the book, often to close out a chapter, though their inclusion isn’t particularly necessary and feels a little odd out of the context of discovering them on terminals during the course of play.
Where Keith R. A. Candido’s book works well is in the frequent and welcome flashbacks to Amanda Ripley’s earlier years, her childhood and teens fleshed out with a somewhat tragic history, especially after her mother fails to return from her routine, if lengthy, mining expedition. It adds a great deal to Amanda’s character and it would have been much more interesting and satisfying to have an entire, Alien-free book devoted to Amanda Ripley’s pre-Sevastopol life, including her friendship with injured Weyland-Yutani Colonial Marine, Zula Hendricks – a popular and now fairly prominent character originally introduced in Aliens: Defiance, a comic series written by Brian Wood – which is touched upon fairly briefly here.
The intimate relationship between Amanda’s mother – Ellen Ripley – and the Nostromo’s captain, Dallas, is once more hinted at in the pages of Alien: Isolation through one of Amanda’s flashbacks, though it feels a lot more organic and believable than it did in the throwaway reference first raised in Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows.
It’s not a bad book by any means, as the flashback sequences are excellent, but Alien: Isolation does betray its origins as a game a little too obviously and even deviates from the action of the game in such a way that it weakens the horror entirely. Fleshing out Amanda Ripley’s past – and, by extension, Ellen Ripley’s too, in a way that doesn’t feel like the almost fan fiction-esque Alien: Out of the Shadows – is really well done and well worth the price of admission alone. For the ‘present day’ events, however, you’d be much better off experiencing those in the format they were created for – in the video game itself.
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