First Looks// Alien Isolation

Posted 3 Apr 2014 13:00 by
In space, no one can... (NO! NO! NO! Redacted for being at least twice as old as the average age of our readership - Ed). OK, fine! But as trite and clichéd as that sentence is, it does much to capture the spirit of Alien: Isolation, a game that is designed from the ground up to scare the player out of their wits. I know this because I managed to have some time with it at EGX-Rezzed 2014, and it's a period of time I shall not be forgetting soon.

Set 15 years after the events depicted in the film Alien, Alien: Isolation places the player in the role of Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley's daughter; Ellen being the lead character in the Alien franchise.

Amanda is searching for the flight recorder of the Nostromo, the ship that her mother was on before she destroyed it at the end of Alien. As part of her search she has been working from space station Sevastopol, which as the game begins becomes infested by a xenomorph.

Amanda is not a gun-toting marine, so is not armed with the now-familiar M41a pulse rifle but instead has in her arsenal a motion tracker, flash light and her wits. There is only one alien in Alien: Isolation and Amanda has no means to attack it directly. The only means of defence she has against the being is either to hide from it or do her utmost to evade it by moving stealthily.

I played what appeared to be an introduction sequence of Alien: Isolation, with Amanda finding herself in a failing space station that was slowly shutting down, pitching most of it into near total darkness. Such an environment is perfect for a hostile alien that can see in the dark and is rather keen to separate Amanda's head from her spinal column. This, however, is not so great for Amanda. Or indeed the player's heart-rate come to think of it.

Amanda does have a motion tracker that emits the familiar pinging sound whenever the alien is nearby. It also directs the player to where their next objective is and provides a hacking tool to gain access to various computers within the space station. A very interesting mechanic to Alien: Isolation is the focus effect it places on the visuals. If the player wants to read the motion tracker they must bring its focus to the fore, which causes the surroundings to become blurred. It is still possible to move around, but looking at the motion tracker while doing so does mean the player has difficulty in seeing what is in their immediate vicinity. This is really not a good thing when you have a homicidal alien running about, intent on chewing Amanda's face off.

Littered around the station are lockers that can be used to hide in, which I did on more occasions that I'm ready to admit to. From what I played, Alien: Isolation is a deeply atmospheric and terrifying game that cranks up the feeling of vulnerability and helplessness on the part of the player to almost unimaginable levels.

The need to duck and dive away from the roaming alien forced me to creep around every corner and move at a snail's pace for fear of being discovered. Actions such as cutting panels from locked doors and hacking computers were given an extreme sense of urgency as such activities emit sounds and light, both of which are like moths to a flame as far as the alien is concerned.

An interesting stylistic choice on the part of the developer was to have the space station technology based on how futurists in the 1970s viewed how technology would be 200+ years from now. Ostensibly this is not too different to how we in the 21st century view how things will progress in the next century, the major difference being the prevalence of mechanical keyboards and CRT monitors. Some may find this a little off-putting as such a vision of technology is definitely a thing of the past. I, however, found it more in keeping with the material the game is drawing from, i.e. the film Alien. The banks of green screen CRTs flickering in the dark added a touch of menace to the atmosphere that a floating millimetre-thick panel really can't quite pull off.

Going on the short time I had with it, Alien: Isolation is shaping up to be quite an experience. SEGA is well aware of the damage Gearbox did to the Alien franchise with the abomination that was Aliens: Colonial Marines. So much so that the publisher is putting a lot of faith in The Creative Assembly to deliver a very different slant on the Alien universe; I just hope they can pull it off. We shall find out when it appears on all previous and current generation consoles and Windows PCs in October 2014.

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