The Alien franchise has suffered greatly in past years, but I am not here to talk about that. Putting any more of THAT in here will do disservice to Alien: Isolation. SEGA and The Creative Assembly, publisher and developer of the game, made quite a showing with their version for an Alien game at E3 2014. A special demo was prepared for the show, and it’s purpose was to put fear in you as you try to survive an encounter with the Alien. And it worked. This is my personal log from my time with the game.
I played Amanda Ripley (daughter of) as I guide her to safety on board the abandoned space station the Sevastopol. The tools at my disposal were a flashlight, that outside the normal use could help me focus on clues around the environment as I search for a way out, and a flamethrower I got hold of in the safe room where the demo started.
The Creative Assembly took it upon themselves to craft a survival horror title that, to me, replicated the the horrors of the Marine’s campaign from the first AVP quite well. Instead of going the action route though, this time the emphasis is on surviving. To help with that, the famous motion detector is back, and using it constantly reminded me that I was not alone on the station. I could hold up the motion detector and watch in fear every time that single dot appeared, but that would mean that I am not focused on the screen. The PS4 controller in my sweaty hands would always rumble and the light bar would always blip whenever Amanda sensed the Xenomorph, making me pull up the motion detector and hide behind a stack of boxes, terrified that it would find me.
After 10 minutes or so, I managed to pull myself together and walk 15 feet from the safe room to the next room. Oh, I could walk bravely across the entire area, without looking for a safe route, but that would lead to agonizing death. No, instead I decided to play smart. So I got into a room. There was a dead body on a chair, with a gaping hole in its chest. Yep.
I searched the body for clues, and found some useful items. Throughout the demo I could find scraps of gear (besides the odd medpack), and using the game’s crafting menu, craft batteries for my flashlight, fuel for my flamethrower, or even small decoys to lure the Xenomorph away.
While I stood there pondering my crafting options, my controller shook. Naturally I popped my motion detector and watched horrified as the green (huge) dot made its way towards me. I looked around for a hiding place, knocked over some glass bottles (crap!) and jumped into a locker.
As the Xenomorph entered the room, Amanda started breathing heavily. From inside the locker I could look around, and see it slowly searching for me. It stopped just outside my locker (crap!), and looked around, only to focus directly at me. Gulp. As it tried to sniff me out, a prompt appeared on the screen, telling me to pull back for the door. I did just that, holding my breath both in-game and in real life.
After the longest 30 seconds, the Xenomorph left and Amanda and I could breath freely. I continued into an air duct, confident it was empty since I just saw the Xenomorph leave in a different direction. As I crawled through the duct slowly, I shined my flashlight around, just in case. I saw the exit and thought to myself that I was right – no alien life here.
Of course not, the Xenomorph is HUGE. Think of the one from the first movie. Huge. As I approach the exit slowly, my controller starts shaking wildly (or so I thought. I was so tense at the time). I pop up the motion detector and watch as danger closes in on me. What do I do?! Oh right! The flamethrower!
The exit suddenly opens up, and I instinctively pull the trigger. Only a small burst of flame sees its way out as the it grabs my leg and pulls me out of that air duct. You know what happened next.
Thus ended my first attempt at escape. Now its time to talk a little about some of the mechanics in Alien: Isolation. You have limited items to works with and the Xenomorph can’t be killed, only chased away with a burst from the flamethrower. Limited items mean limited ammo as well, and that is something that can save your life occasionally. Crafting should be used wisely, as several items are crafted using the same materials you find.
The area where the demo took place was dark and steamy, just like the Nostromo from the first film, and it looked like a fitting place to stage a Survival Horror-oriented Alien game. Add to that the abundant of detail in the environment, with faded lights, steam vents scattered throughout, dead mutilated bodies and blood stains, and the setting really comes to life. No wonder they call the game Isolation; it really feels like you are cut off from everything, everyone and everywhere.
The developers did a remarkable job with the Xenomorph itself. I said it was huge, but the way it moved about, and the myriad of ways in which it kills you (I got to see at least four), makes every playthrough different. You can take as many routes to success as the station allows you, but the one thing that makes it all feel random and new every time is the unpredictable Xenomorph.
If you want to take something from this hands-on, let it be this: for the first time in a long time, I got to play an Alien game that wasn’t about kicking ass or about saving someone or something. The gameplay feels stripped dpwn at times (and it’s not, believe me, there is plenty that can be done with the controller) because the one thing the demo managed to do, and do well, overshadowed everything else. I’m talking about a true Survival Horror feeling that only a few other titles have managed to create in the past decade.
True Survival Horror seems to back with Alien: Isolation, from what I can tell (ask our Editor-in-Chief and resident horror expert Guy Yuval what he thought, he was sitting at the screen next to me), and I can’t wait to play the game’s official campaign when it sees light October 7.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.