Hands-On Preview: Alien: Isolation - Terror Lurks Behind Every Shadow
There have been plenty of games based on the Alien franchise throughout the years. Most of them are inspired by James Cameron’s Aliens and, as such, usually involved a team of space marines fighting against an endless horde of Xenomorphs. Alien: Isolation however is doing something interesting and is taking its cues from the original Ridley Scott movie. Because of this, the game isn’t a shooter but is instead a survival-horror title and a damn good one at that.
This game takes “survival” and “horror” quite literally. In the demo, I played as the sole survivor of a spaceship whose crew was killed by a single alien. The portion I played was actually a sort of challenge map. The goal was to make it to one end of the ship to the other. Sounds simple enough but when you are being hunted by a smart and fast enemy it isn’t that easy. Oh, did I forget to mention that your only weapon is a flamethrower which can’t actually kill the alien? Yeah, like I said, survival-horror.
This game terrified me in a way that I haven’t been since that zombie-dog burst through the window in Resident Evil. Actually, this was a bit worse because the tension was ever present and wasn’t just relegated to a single moment. As I slowly crept along, I would hear noises in the background. Some were normal sounds that the ship would make but others were of things falling over… clearly because something knocked them out of the way. Visibility was limited due to lights being out and whatever was lit usually showed me horrors like blood or bodies twisted in unnatural poses. I was in a demo room filled with people but I was scared witless while playing this game. I truly felt the isolation in this game’s title.
The best way to tell the alien’s location was through the motion sensor. This device is what I like to call “retro-futuristic”. It worked but in a limited sense. It could only really sense the alien when it was literally in the same room with you. The motion sensor had two features that weren’t in the movies. First, it can show you the way to your objective via a line that goes around the perimeter of the screen. The other is found near the bottom of the sensor and it blinks in the direction that the alien is in whenever it’s hunting you but isn’t close. Because the motion sensor’s display is on a flat, two dimensional screen, you kind of have to play a guessing game as to what direction you’re supposed to be heading to (or avoiding). From a video game standpoint it’s clunky but it fits perfectly with the world of the original Alien.
I hate to admit this but I died a lot. Once the alien actually sees you there isn’t much you can actually do but see it kill you in first-person. I always felt my heart sink whenever I’d turn a corner and see it looking right at me–knowing that it was over. There were other times where I’d hide in a closet and see it creep by and I hoped that it wouldn’t find me. Other times I’d hide in a corner terrified and I swear that it sensed that I was there and it waited for me to mess up and reveal myself. This is no doubt the sort of fear that the characters in the movies felt, but now I was feeling it myself.
After my billionth death, I eventually started to get the hang of how to avoid the Xenomorph. If I saw it walking in one direction I’d made sure to go in the opposite. I also made sure to not stay in one place for too long otherwise it would find me. Closets seemed to work well but air vents didn’t. One time I stayed in an air vent and it actually tried to get in as well. Luckily I was able to crawl out of there in time to not be killed. I also used a flare to distract it as well and I saw that there were a few switches that I could flip which would open panels that could also be used to distract it. I just played it cool and looked at the sensor as I kept moving wherever it wasn’t, afraid that me pulling a lever would alert it.
The presentation of the game is what really helps give it that unnerving vibe of the original Alien. From the minimalist sound design, film grain filter, dark shadows and the retro-futuristic art design, everything is made to invoke the feel of the Ridley Scott classic. Those aspects served to make that movie really scary and they work in the video game as well.
Alien: Isolation is definitely a game that one has to play for themselves to really “get it.” Like I said, this is the most frightening game I’ve played in a while and that is a testament to not only the team that created this game but to the original movie which inspired it. Despite how much it scared me, I can’t wait to play the final game and let it spook the hell out of me some more.
Alien Isolation will be released for the PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on October 7th.