Alien Isolation mixes stealth-action with survival horror. It comes with hiding spots and multiple passage-ways scattered across the level, gadgets to get you out of a hairy situations, and even guns should you be desperate enough to use them.
Throughout the story mission, you encounter humans (survivors who might shoot you on sight or friendly NPCs), Androids who just want to bash your head in, and the big-baddy, the Xenomorph. There are other threats later down the line, but even mentioning them might be considered a spoiler.
As you progress through the story, you unlock new tools / gadgets and weapons to use. Some to ward-off the Alien for just another second, others to stun human enemies, and some to lure the big-baddy against a throng of unsuspecting victims. Note that whenever you do something like that, it may quickly turn against you, since the Xeno doesn’t seem to care who it’s hunting.
However, there's one interesting thing worth mentioning. When you get the flame-thrower halway through the game, a large chunk of Isolation's fear factor gets snuffed away. For the first time in the entire campaign, you finally have a way to drive that pesky alien away.
Of course, you can hide under tables, beds, and desks, where you might be spotted. You can also cower in work-cabinets or lockers, where the Alien will try to sniff you out (forcing you to hold your breath and huddle in a corner). Holding your breath is an odd mechanic, because it starts draining life after a few seconds, and if your health is low, the Alien will “notice” you and outright murder you.
The Xenomorph acts intelligent, and often if it happens to see you go in a hiding spot, it might start toying with you, giving you the sense of security to come out and then just pop up from around the corner and kill you.
The motion tracker is a tool used to detect any kind of movement, whether it comes from a friendly or threatening source. It might save your life by letting you know what’s around the corner, or prove to be your end through its loud beeps warning that which is around the corner.
Before you get to the meat of the game, get all the tools and settle in, Isolation paces itself perfectly. For the first hour or so, there is no Alien to speak of. Once it makes its entry, you don’t get to see it properly (unless you want to get killed quickly) for at least several more hours in. From there on, the tension only ramps up, with the Alien always being over-head or patrolling the hallways. It creates a steady rising curve of tension, ramping up the threat accordingly. It’s not like Outlast which was quiet for about 5 minutes, and then jumped to 100, and stayed there for the rest of the game.
Sure, there’s padding, and some missions feel tacked on just to add another 15-20 minutes of gameplay, but you won’t mind them, because once the game puts you in a certain mind-set you won’t even care what you have to do, you’ll do it just to get the hell out of there.
Each level has at least a lever of some sort, a locked door, an old-style PC, or re-wiring console that you have to turn on, hack open, log in, or calculate resources to get through. The old-PCs provide story snippets, lock-codes and audio logs, the locked door can be opened with a matching tile mini-game and the rewiring stations are there just to give you some advantage in certain situations. Some of these make sense being present, but others are just a reminder that this is still a video-game and some contrivances have to take place.
Since the core of Isolation is stealth, you will spend 70% of the time skulking around, trying to outsmart whatever enemy you’re facing (not fighting, shooting, killing). Noisemakers, smoke-bombs and EMP mines are there to help you, as are the stun-baton, flame-thrower and gun (though the last one invites a certain creature to dinner).
You get to craft most of these tools, as you find more and more blueprints and various resources scattered across the level. There are plenty of things you can create, from medkits and flares, to Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs and flashbang grenades. Sadly, the inventory / craftin menu is very clutttered. Not only that, but you will often switch from one item to the other without being aware.
Alongside the story-mode, you also get Survival Mode. This is essentially a game of cat and mouse with fatal consequences.
You’re tasked to reach the end of the level, while an Alien is on the prowl. You have all available tools, and you can hide and scurry around, trying to complete the level as fast as you can.