When you hear that a new Alien game is in the works you’d be forgiven for being more than a bit sceptical. Aliens: Colonial Marines gave us years of misleading previews only to be almost universally disliked for being a generic shooter with outdated graphics. Let me put your mind at ease straight away by saying we enjoyed what we got to play of Alien: Isolation from our hands on at EGX in Birmingham this past weekend.
Straight off the bat it looks and feels like the 1979 movie but it also, very quickly, reminded us of the recent survival horror, Outlast. There’s no shooting hordes of enemies in this game, in fact you’re only armed with a motion tracker that detects nearby lifeforms and if there’s one nearby, you better run or hide as you’ll be quickly ripped to pieces.
When you start the game you’ll immediately admire the aesthetics and how true to the films they are with a retro-futuristic feel to it. In the game you play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver’s heroine throughout the quadrilogy and therefore provides a completely different adventure from those on the silver screen. Amanda only gets a passing mention in the films when Burke says to Ellen Ripley that she’s been gone so long that her daughter has grown old and died and there’s nothing for her to stay on Earth for.
The story takes place 15 years after the events of Alien where Amanda is recruited as part of the crew to search for the remains of Nostromo, the missing ship her mother was on.
From here we’ll explain the level we played so obvious spoilers ahead.
We’re shown a quick transmission video of a man telling us the basics of the game and how we have to be smart and quiet in order to stay alive before being thrown into the game. We start off on a space ship that looks ready to crash, this demo is about half way through the final game, our first task to find a cutter to use on the door. The motion tracker is always in your hand which you can focus on by holding one of the shoulder buttons which in turn blurs the perspective of what’s in front of you. The sensor also points us in the direction of our next objective. We sneak into a room and find the cutter on the wall but as we grab it the electronics spark and the ship jerks which, admittedly, gives us a little fright as we’re sat in a small, dark booth alone with a headset on.
The usual little scares and build-up you’d expect from horror games are littered through the environment early on such as seeing the Alien’s tale move up through a vent, a familiar silhouette in the distance and the occasional banging from the vents above. It’s all dimly lit as we cautiously make our way through narrow corridors and into a control room where a quick cutscene shows Amanda hiding under the desk as the Alien enters the room and tries to sniff her out.
It doesn’t take long for the guys at Creative Assembly to stop toying with us as now the Alien could jump out at any moment. There’s no script on when, where or how the Alien moves through the environment as the AI operating it allows the Alien to move freely whether that be out in the open, on the walls or through the vents. It’s an exciting concept meaning no experience is ever the same. For example, we got caught by the Alien’s tale wrapping round our neck which at first felt part of the game like a cutscene but alas, we were dead. Respawning and this time, the Alien didn’t walk round the desk he crawled along the ceiling so rather than going the opposite way round the desk we hid in a nearby locker. It doesn’t take long for the Alien to sniff us out however forcing us to hold one of the shoulder buttons to hold our breath in the hope the Alien will move on before we pass out.
We’re equipped with a flashlight but using it will give away Amanda’s position so use it carefully and only when necessary. The dynamic movement of our hunter means that even if you play the same section several times, you’ll always be cautious and surprised when and where the Alien comes from.
So we slowly make our way round to an airlock button, though would you believe it’s going to take a minute or so to open and the noise it’s giving off with the countdown is attracting you know who. The motion sensor starts beeping louder and louder, the shadow of the beast drawing nearer so quickly we leg it in the opposite direction into a dark corridor and peer round the corner wishing the airlock would get to 100% quickly. The Alien starts banging on the airlock due to the noise it’s making and finally it hits 100%, goes quiet and he crawls off. We’re half tempted to just run to the airlock doors now but from what we’ve seen so far that’s likely to get you killed. Especially since running makes noise on the grates. We do have a melee attack but it will not kill any Aliens, it’s mainly to be used in other parts of the game against human threats.
We skulk towards the doors, the sensor starts flashing, the green dot is getting nearer so f*ck it, run! The doors open, we dive through into a cutscene where the Alien grabs Amanda’s leg, she fends him off and the airlock doors slam shut. He gives out a loud screech as he pushes up against the door. The escape shuttle we’re in rocks, shakes, sparks fly, warning lights are going off, the shuttle explodes free from the ship and all goes black. The Alien Isolation logo fades in.
It was a short demo but showed us exactly how clever and true to the franchise this game will be, come its release in the final quarter of 2014. From what we’ve seen it’s certainly different and certainly something that Alien fans should get excited about.