Alien: Isolation Crew Expendable Impressions
Alien fans were surprised and intrigued when The Creative Assembly announced its Crew Expendable pre-order DLC. The throwback bonus mission features the likenesses and voice talent of the original Alien crew, as players try to outsmart the granddaddy xenomorph on the iconic Nostromo. While the DLC contains an extra dose of nostalgia, it comes with its share of frustration and disappointments as well.
Crew Expendable eschews Alien: Isolation's manual save system for traditional checkpoints, and your dire mission is broken down into three main parts: sealing off the hatches on the Nostromo, navigating the primary air shaft, and luring the xenomorph into the airlock. While your initial playthrough will probably take you an hour or so, the full playthrough can be completed in about 15 minutes once you know what you're doing, in large part because the DLC is more scripted than the main game. Although you lack the more advanced distraction tools featured in the main game, avoiding the deadly xenomorph is easy enough, and you're equipped with a flamethrower, so you can scare the creature off once or twice should you find yourself cornered.
While the first and third portions of your mission remain true to Isolation's core gameplay, the airshaft sequence takes a frustrating detour. Unlike in the main game, the xenomorph seems to always know your position and makes a mad dash to your current location. After dying dozens of times, I finally figured out a route through the labyrinthine vents, but it still required blasting the alien with fire once or twice along the way. Listening to Lambert's hysterical directions as you try to navigate the vents is amusing (and just as unhelpful as in the movie), but the airshaft requires a lot of trial and error, and feels like a botched attempt at capturing the intensity of Dallas' (not-quite) death scene.
The ending to the DLC is also a letdown, and attempts to weave back into the movie's narrative even though what you're playing already doesn't conform to the canon of the original film. It would've been cool if The Creative Assembly provided an alternate, what-if scenario based on your actions; instead Crew Expendable feels largely inconsequential, and doesn't provide anything from a gameplay perspective that the main game doesn't do better.
The chance to wander around the Nostromo is an irresistible draw for Alien fans, but unfortunately the iconic ship is mostly pieced together from environments found on the Sevastopol, the doomed space station you'll explore in Isolation. To be fair, this is because many of the Sevastopol's environments are in turn based on the design and look of the Nostromo, but the end result is that the two spacecrafts feel largely indistinguishable. If you play Isolation first (which you should, since it teaches you all of the game's mechanics), the novelty of exploring the Nostromo doesn't have much of an impact.
At the beginning of Crew Expendable, you can choose between controlling Ripley, Parker, or Dallas. Each of the corresponding actors recorded new lines of dialogue for the DLC (as did the actors who played Brett and Lambert in the original film). While it's cool seeing the iconic characters brought to life in video game form, the choice you make is largely inconsequential; you'll run into the other two characters as you seal off the vents in the first portion of the mission, but your interaction with them is limited to a few lines of dialogue (they stand behind a window where neither you nor the xenomorph can get to them). You'll also run across a few recordings while exploring the ship, featuring various crew members discussing minor details from the movie. None of it adds up to much in terms of extending the lore, but the fact that The Creative Assembly got everyone back together is still impressive. Once again, I wish the developer would have done a more interesting alternate scenario instead of so closely aping the events of the film.
The Creative Assembly has released a day-one patch for Alien: Isolation, and it's imperative that you download and install it before you play Crew Expendable. The two times I beat the DLC without patching the game resulted in a completely glitched ending, which suffered from missing scenes and dialogue (including the final and ultimately underwhelming soliloquy). When I beat it a third time after installing the patch, everything thankfully went smoothly.
Crew Expendable is an interesting approach to pre-order DLC. It definitely doesn't feel like it was cut from the main game, and your appreciation of Isolation won't be impacted by playing it (or not). However, the DLC is short, lacks the gameplay depth or finesse of the main campaign, and doesn't do anything particularly interesting with the setting or characters, despite having the involvement of the original actors. It's definitely worth playing if you've already got it, but if you didn't pre-order the game, you're not missing much.