The “Alien” franchise has had a tough life in video games. Though a number of the crossover “Alien versus Predator” titles have been noteworthy, few of the others have. Aliens: Colonial Marines, the most recent title, is quite infamous for how bad it ended up being, and its left a bad taste in fans’ mouths. The trouble with these games is that they stick more to the schematic of the later entries in the film series, focusing on a more militaristic POV. The Creative Assembly has decided to go a different route with their “Alien” game, back to the ways of Ridley Scott’s original film. Alien: Isolation is a new step in survival horror as it not only is a licensed title but it also takes the setting to outer space.
In the game, players take on the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Set fifteen years after the events of the first film, the game sees Amanda going up against the same kind of monster that her mother faced, though her experience will likely vary. Players will be forced to crawl, run, and fight their way through the game, but it’s definitely more advantageous to stick to the shadows than go in guns blazing.
I managed to sit down to play the game for a few minutes and was very pleased, even with the limited amount of time I had to play. Firstly, the game is an atmospheric delight. Sound and music play a key role in setting the tone for the game and drawing players into a sense of both dread and excitement. The motion tracker is the most important thing in your inventory, adding yet another dimension to player’s fear, but when you have an unpredictable enemy in the xenomorph, sometimes it’s not all the useful. I played the demo twice, dying rather quickly both times, but each time the alien found and mutilated me even though I did my best to avoid him and track his every move. That’s one thing to keep in mind for the game – players not only have to keep quiet but make sure to find enclosed spaces to hide in. Though there is no guarantee that any given strategy will continuously work.
Following my quick time with the game, I was shown an extended video of a demo which revealed a different level in the game wherein Amanda is tasked with escaping the hospital portion of the ship she is on. The first thing that’s noticeable about the game is the look, which the developer described as a “1970s version of the future.” Things aren’t slick and shiny in this world. It’s very much in keeping with the visual aesthetics of the Ridley Scott film and that really adds an unexpected enhancement of the terror of the game. Sure, theres future technology all around you, but almost none of it can help you escape the clutches of the unstoppable killing machine that is hunting you. As great as the environment looks though, its title monster doesn’t appear nearly as polished when you see it face to face.
If there’s one thing to know about Alien: Isolation, it’s to expect the unexpected. At one point in the demo video the wall exploded in the middle of the hallway and a pipe jutted out emitting a huge wall of flames. Luckily this happened just as the alien was rounding the corner and prevented it from immediately chowing down. The player quickly ran into a nearby room and ducked into a cabinet. Players might see parallels to another survival horror series “Outlast” in this moment, but even though it’s reflective of another property its still terrifying to watch. Creative Assembly does make this moment a little different and gives the player the option of holding their breath so as not to fully alert the monster to their presence, once again, ahem, breathing new life into this kind of scenario.
The demo also revealed that the alien isn’t the only threat to the player as lone human survivors also wander the halls of the ship. It’s unlikely players will run into many friendlies in this environment as everyone seems a little on edge, and are usually armed. Can’t imagine why. Another enemy players can run into are the synthetics, a staple of the “Alien” franchise. Unlike the other humans the synthetics can be friendly but others patrol their locations and attack totally unprovoked. Though not as scary as getting attacked by the alien, it’s still pretty frightening to see an emotionless droid shout “You shouldn’t be here!”
Alien: Isolation had me on the edge of my seat the entire time I watched and played the demo. It’s a claustrophobic, haunting, and nail-biting experience. The game is also a visually impressive assembly, though the environments do appear sharper than the title monster. I hope this game ends up being the “Alien” game we deserve, because it was without a doubt the most heart-pounding thing I witnessed at E3.
Alien: Isolation will debut on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC on October 7.