Alien Isolation: The Definitive Alien Design

Alien Isolation: The Definitive Alien Design
Bipedal terror in space, or better known as the Xenomorph from Alien. Source: Sega / Creative Assembly

It's taken me eight years, but I've finally started to play through Alien Isolation.

You might be wondering why I've waited that long, and that's completely fair. The reason is simple. Very straightforward actually.

Designed to induce fear, the game mechanics and the alien work together to create an experience much too intense for my relaxed (and easily scared) sensibilities.

I genuinely believe it's one of the most terrifying game experiences ever designed.

I've even gone on record multiple times, stating on Twitter that the Xenomorph is just about the most horrific creature I can think of. But the thing is, it's personal too.

The game's commitment to H.R. Giger's original Alien design, with matching hands, biomechanical details, and the iconic skull beneath the dome, links it seamlessly to the original film.

After watching Alien (1979) at far too young an age, the titular creature frequently haunted me in my dreams. In that dream, I was trapped aboard the Nostromo, and sat around the table laughing at unintelligible jokes while my chest got tighter.

"Oh no, not again!"

I'd often wake dripping in lashings of sweat, clutching my chest to make sure my nightmarish doom didn't bloody my bedsheets.

John Hurt dead: The true story behind the iconic Alien chestburster scene |  The Independent | The Independent
Peak cinema. The moment when Kane (John Hurt) met his fate within. Source: 20th Century Studios

We all have to face our fears at some point, and ultimately, I'm glad I did start Alien Isolation. It is painstakingly beautiful if such an adjective can describe the world within.

The cosmos is rendered with all its splendour. Ships are detailed, seemingly lifted right out of the aesthetic created within Alien (1979). That detail extends right down to the wonderful use of Ron Cobb's Semiotic Standards.

I don't want to suggest that it's perfect, but it's close enough to make no difference. But, the pièce de résistance is, of course, the design of the Xenomorph.

The game's commitment to H.R. Giger's original Alien design, with matching hands, biomechanical details, and the iconic skull beneath the dome, links it seamlessly to the original film.

Alien: Isolation Review - IGN
"Hold your breath, Amanda!" The alien lurks from the other side. Notice the "skull" underneath its transparent dome. Source: Sega / Creative Assembly

This intentional nod not only ties the game to its cinematic roots but also provides the original design a fresh spotlight after being somewhat dormant since its debut in the first film.

While preserving the Giger legacy, the Alien in Isolation introduces distinctive elements that elevate its uniqueness. The creature's towering height imparts a more imposing and inhuman presence, contrasting with its more human features.

Its slender build, particularly evident in the arms and legs, contributes to an overall more agile and predatory demeanour, accentuated by the incorporation of digitigrade legs.

CDN media
Original concept art from H.R. Giger's Necronom IV. Source: Reddit
Necronom IV, featured in Giger's earlier artwork, played a significant role in the pre-production phase for the 1979 release. Dan Obannon shared a book containing Giger's art with Ridley, prompting him to advocate for hiring Giger to design the Alien.

Although digitigrade legs are not a novel addition to Xenomorph design, their implementation in this context seamlessly complements the original aesthetic, providing the creature with an enhanced sense of grace and menace as it prowls through the labyrinthine corridors of Sevastopol.

Mission 6 - Alien: Isolation Guide - IGN
Every corner is a moment of dread, more so when you hear the heavy thump of the alien getting closer. Source: Sega / Creative Assembly

The standout feature of this design, however, is the tail.

Its languid and sinuous movements evoke a visceral sense of disgust, aligning with the intended eerie essence of the Alien.

These reflections encapsulate a profound appreciation for what has become a favourite Xenomorph design in the franchise.

The slithering along the ground or the unsettling flopping onto the floor as the Alien exits an overhead vent adds an extra layer of repulsion, heightening the creature's overall unsettling nature.

The intentional contrast between the lethargic movements and the rare instances of purposeful action intensifies the emotional impact, making those moments of curiosity or aggression involving the tail all the more mesmerising.

Alien Isolation: Progress Update | Daves Computer Tips
A tail capable of inflicting serious damage. Source: Sega / Creative Assembly

These reflections encapsulate a profound appreciation for what has become a favourite Xenomorph design in the franchise.

In totality, the power of Alien Isolation is that I become a child again on playing it.

Filled with fear and excitement, but mostly fear, the alien has trundled towards me for the 20th time and still, I pause the screen as quickly as possible.

I feel as though it's toying with me, so good is the AI the alien is based upon. It knows my location at all times, and it will find me - and it is thrilling.

Creative Assembly nailed not just the environments, but how both the alien looks, and acts. It's commonly acknowledged that this experience serves as a video game version of the very first movie. High praise.

A rare win for a video game based on licensed material.

However, it's all the more disappointing that a sequel seems hugely unlikely, especially so by the team who created this wonderful experience. I've only felt that level of disappointment once before, and that was when PT was cancelled.

That's why Alien Isolation isn't just one of the best Alien games I've played, but one of the best survival horror games I've played. Ever.

If you were like me and hadn't played Alien Isolation, grab a copy and face your fears. I'll receive a small kickback from each purchase made. Good luck!

Alien: Isolation - Nostromo Edition (PS4) : PC & Video Games
Chris Kernaghan

Chris Kernaghan

Chris is a UX Designer with over 10 years of exp. He's worked with businesses small, large, and everything in between. He's passionate about putting people first through user-centered design.
Belfast, UK