Alien: Isolation takes the Alien game series to its survival horror movie roots, where sneaking, running, hiding, and screaming are all par for the course.
Alien: Isolation puts you on a space station where (surprise) one of everyone’s favorite xenomorphs has gotten loose and is doing what it does best—killing people in gruesome, horrible ways. The idiots in the Alien universe never seem to learn—how many movies and games have these schlubs gotten themselves into?! Messing with these things is a bad idea. If you even think one of these things is within a kilometer of a populated area, you should forgo the pleasantries of saving civilians and just mash the orbital nuclear strike button. Then finish your coffee and self-destruct your ship just to be safe.
But it’s far, far too late to pop even a hint of nugget of wisdom into the station suggestion box. “I think we shouldn’t mess with alien xenomorphs because they tear off people’s faces, mkay?”
No, you’re in the thick of it on a station where someone obviously missed that particular email. The alien is loose, you’re looking for someone, and you need to escape.
What few survivors you might meet are panicked and unpredictable. At best you might approach them with one hand out and another fingering the crowbar behind your back. It’s usually best to avoid them, or use them as alien bait while you run and hide. You don’t always need to outrun the alien, you just need to outrun an easier target.
In addition to the alien and straggling human survivors, there are also synthetic to worry. There’s another lesson humanity apparently hasn’t learned: synthetics can’t be trusted. And these are apparently the ‘twitchy’ models Bishop mentions in Aliens (the movie), or the equally subversive, suspicious one seen in Prometheus.
Familiar tropes, effective scares
Alien: Isolation definitely looks like it will deliver the thrills and chills the series is famous for, although it still relies heavily on very familiar tropes of the genre, much of which can be boiled down to this:
- Everything is already going to hell because someone Didn’t Get The Memo.
- Nothing works—especially lights and doors.
- Everything you do will fail until something elsewhere is corrected.
- There are no BFGs, lightsabers, or plasma rifles in the 40 watt range to be found. Anywhere.
Can’t open a door? Look for a key card (in that very dark room where the scary noises are coming from). Got the key card? Looks like the door’s power is out. Find and fix the generator. Why hasn’t someone invented a monster-proof generator yet?! It’s harder to terrorize people in well-lit areas, and the heightened level of social awkwardness would make you less likely to pee yourself.
Predictably, most of the demo is spent moving through the cold, dark, claustrophobic halls of the ship/space station as it falls apart. Power flickers on and off (of course), so the most consistent light typically comes from your flashlight or by something or someone being on fire. Yes, you can find a flamethrower. But it won’t kill the alien—it will just piss it off and maybe buy you some time.
And you won’t get to enjoy the crispy-fried smell of enemies (human ones, anyway) long before you’re running for your life, crawling, hiding, dashing—did I mention hiding? Burning people scream. Screaming attracts the alien.
Assuming you survive long enough to run and hide, there’s even a controller button dedicated to holding your (virtual) breath, which is probably important when you can see the alien mere inches from eating your face as it wanders past the locker you’re hiding in.
As you struggle to survive amid the insanity, you can scavenge items—health kits, flashlight batteries, and various implements you can use to create improvised weapons.
But the weapons you can find or construct will at best slow the alien and buy time. Killing humans isn’t as difficult, but it can be noisy (and of course draw the alien’s attention). Aggressive synthetics, however, are very difficult to bring down if you need to. In our E3 demo, the engineering synthetic took several slugs from a revolver to the gut *and* a flamethrower to the face, and it just kept coming.
An EMP grenade finally stunned him long enough for our presenter to whack him a few times and finally bring him down.
Thankfully, the alien hadn’t found us yet, although our motion detector starts to pick something up. The motion detector is the same as the one so effectively used in Aliens. It helps keep you alive (and your underpants damp) by telling you when something is near—but not what it is or its elevation relative to you. It pretty much keeps you guessing right up until something jumps out to eat your face.
Alien: Isolation may play on familiar Alien and survival horror tropes, but it also looks like a very fun and scary survival horror game.
Alien: Isolation will be arriving to scare the sh*t out of you on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 in October 2014 (just in time for Halloween). If you’re a fan of survival horror, you won’t want to miss this one—and it may help you forgive Sega for Colonial Marines, too.
Alien: Isolation meets Oculus Rift?
Alien Isolation may be the ultimate VR (virtual reality) game. I heard it was being demoed as such at the Oculus Rift booth, though I didn’t get to try it first-hand. I suspect it will need a warning label for people with heart conditions and come with a seatbelt for to keep you from jumping out of your chair. You may even need a waiver to buy it. I can scarcely imagine a more intense VR experience—sign me up.