Amanda Ripley's story is continuing in Alien: Blackout, a mobile game that looks like Five Nights at Freddy's with xenomorphs. I don't want to write it off yet, because I haven't played it and it might be decent. But as PC Gamer's foremost Alien: Isolation fanboy, I can't pretend not to be disappointed that Amanda isn't getting the full-blown sequel she deserves. I've written about Isolation more than any other game, from its impressive authenticity and how it was made, to its lost intro sequence and a glowing review. So it's fair to say I have some emotional stake in the series, which makes this news sting a little.
But will there ever be an Alien: Isolation 2? The original received widespread critical acclaim (for the most part, anyway), yet sales were much weaker than publisher Sega expected. And, to make matters worse, a lot of the game's designers no longer work at Creative Assembly, meaning even if they did do another one, it wouldn't be quite the same experience. But I can dream, and if a sequel is ever made, this is what I'd like to see.
An Isolation game absolutely has to be set somewhere dark, remote, and claustrophobic. I still want low ceilings, flickering lights, and cold, industrial corridors. But I would like the new setting, whatever it might be, to occasionally open up, with larger, more varied environments.
If the game was set in a stricken colony like Hadley's Hope from Aliens, Amanda could venture outside briefly. I'd want these sections to be used sparingly, though, because being trapped in a confined space with a prowling alien is what makes Isolation such a powerfully effective horror experience.
I'd also be interested to see, in the same way the first game was built around the technology of 1979, a 'leap' into Aliens' 1986 vision of the future. That would set it apart from the first game, while still retaining that compelling retro-futuristic aesthetic. Let's leave the Aliens influences there, though: we don't want Isolation turning into another poor shooter like Colonial Marines.
A better story
The weakest link in Isolation is undoubtedly the story. I don't think it's bad, just underdeveloped. And judging from the amount of unused content fans have discovered, this might be the result of cuts rather than the writers doing a bad job. Of course, I'd never want plot to be at the forefront in an Isolation game, because part of the beauty of the original Alien is its simplicity. Resurrection is what happens when an Alien story gets too complicated.
But I'd love to learn more about Amanda and how the events on Sevastopol have changed her. And, ideally, a story that does something new and exciting with the Alien mythology. And by 'something new' I don't mean an android teaching another android how to play the flute in a cave.
The streamlined crafting system in Isolation is great, and I especially love how the game doesn't pause as you're desperately trying to build an item in a tight spot. It's great for building tension. But I would like to see this aspect of the game made richer, reinforcing Amanda's engineering background.
I'm imagining something like Dead Rising, but not as silly. Scavenging junk and slotting bits together to create makeshift weapons and survival tools. And with freedom to dream up your own creations rather than just using blueprints. This would nudge the game further towards the immersive sim genre, which I actually think would be a great fit for a series like this.
Yes, technically there was an entire hive of aliens on Sevastopol, but by 'one alien' I mean that Amanda will only ever have to outsmart a single creature at a time, rather than a pack. Games like Colonial Marines cheapen the xenomorph by turning it into dumb cannon fodder, when facing just one of the things should be absolutely terrifying. The temptation in an Isolation sequel would be to increase the number of aliens, but that would be a mistake.
I would accept different alien types, however. Perhaps a smaller, nimbler creature like the one from Alien 3. But if you absolutely must have a scene where Amanda evades a group of aliens, use it as a one-off set-piece. It'll be much more impactful, like that harrowing section in mission 14 of the original game where two of the bastards are hunting you.
Human interaction in Sevastopol falls into two categories: people who want to kill you, and people who don't. The latter sit around lamenting their situation and usually end up being torn apart by the alien. The former run around shooting at you and frequently suffer the same fate. I'd love to be able to have proper conversations with other survivors in a sequel.
Maybe you could talk people out of violence or trade items. If you spare a few bullets, perhaps someone will unlock or reveal an alternate path. Richer interaction like this would make the setting feel so much more alive. A lot of the NPCs in Isolation are so lifeless, rarely reacting to you or anything you've done, feeling more like set dressing than actual people.
A Mass Effect-style conversation system with dialogue choices would also show us a lot more of Amanda's personality. She's something of a closed book in the original game, I think, rarely revealing much depth of character.
More of the same
Fundamentally, I don't think the Isolation formula has to change much at all. Evading an intelligent, unpredictable alien is a powerful enough concept to fuel a new game. Just change up the setting and I'm in. The alien could always be smarter, though. It's already a fearsome adversary, especially on the brutal Nightmare Mode, but I'd like to see it learning from the player more.
If you rely on the same tactic to avoid the beast several times in the original game it'll start to adapt to your tactics—or at least create a convincing illusion of adapting to them. But I'd like to see this pushed even further in a sequel. I want the thing to outsmart me, ambush me, and generally fuck with my head. I want to feel defeated, hopeless, and powerless to stop it. Because when I do eventually get the better of it, the feeling will be even sweeter.
I wouldn't bet money on Alien: Isolation 2 ever being released, but I think this could have been the start of an amazing series had it sold better. Isolation is the best Alien game, by a huge margin, because it respects and understands the source material. When you're blasting waves of leaping aliens in Colonial Marines, you don't feel anything. They're just another generic FPS enemy to mow down. But when one is breathing down your neck in Isolation, the terror is deep and intimate. And that's why the world deserves a sequel.