Alien: Isolation – Preview

Title   Alien Isolation
Developer  The Creative Assembly
Publisher  SEGA
Platform  Windows PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre  Survival horror, action, stealth
Release Date  October 7th, 2014
Official Site

Jesus Christ, I suck at scary games – that isn’t an exaggeration, I’m totally fucking useless. When I agreed to look at for Alien: Isolation I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem, having progressed through a smattering of horror titles such as Resident Evil, Alan Wake and Outlast to name but a few. Yeah, they all scared me shitless, too, but I’d be surrounded by thousands of people in the brightly lit rooms of E3, so I’d have no problem getting to grips with Creative Assembly’s take on the Alien franchise.

Locked in my darkened pod, donning a massive pair of headphones and a staring into a giant monitor (those complete bastards) I could already feel the fear creeping up my spine as the pre-alpha demo loaded. The game is set fifteen years after the events of Alien, where Amanda, daughter of Ellen Ripley, is trying to discover the whereabouts of her mother. We know she’s currently in a stasis pod after kicking some Xenomorph ass, but Amanda gets transferred to the space station Sevastopol in order to find out more information, which comes in the form of the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Naturally, when she arrives, in true horror fashion, the whole place has turned to shit due to an alien infestation.

Now, I say infestation and what I actually mean is that one, just one of these fucking things is running around. It’s wiped out everyone else and I’ve decided that I want to jump in with both feet and have a good nose around. Well, of course. My hands-on (two pairs of pants on) preview, got started in the wonderfully detailed interior of the Sevastopol, where it was quite clear that I was already late to the party. Blood covered every inch of the place, the entire station was a mess and something, somewhere was making a very distinctive noise.

Creative Assembly have set a tone so tense, so utterly dripping with atmosphere it was a wonder that I could even move forward at all.  If the emotional atmosphere the developers have created was a physical object, it would be the equivalent of trying to swim through a mixture of quick-drying cement, jelly, marshmallows and acid blood.  I wouldn’t usually just jump straight into talking about how the game made me feel but, by golly, have they nailed what an actual horror game should feel like. The fact they’re doing it with no cheap scares and just one enemy and its superb AI should be commended right from the word go.

The atmosphere is so important for Creative Assembly, especially given how some of the previous incursions into the Alien series have gone in recent years. Thankfully, they’ve spared no expense in creating a world that has completely nailed the feeling of an 80s’ movie. The green hue that emanates from the giant CRT monitors, reflecting off your grubby motion tracker, all feels staggeringly authentic and faithful to the source material.

Enough about the look and feel – what about that rucking Alien? Even without seeing or hearing it there is an overarching feeling of fear, trepidation and desperation. The only indication as to where the Alien is lurking is with the motion tracker which only covers a 180 degree arc in front of the player and, believe me, this Alien is one sneaky little bastard. Little is also a poor choice of word because this creature is as tough as an industrial fridge and quicker than Mo Farah on a caffeine high. He is absolutely deadly and cannot be underestimated, striking a terrifying figure as he skulks around the coridoors, focusing on various clues as to the player’s location.

In order to keep the Alien guessing, players will have to keep moving, keep crafting and keep thinking – provided they live long enough to do so. The crafting element requires players to find various bits and pieces from around the level in order to build essential survival items, such as sound-creating devices with which to fool the Alien. However, the game doesn’t pause during crafting, and most of the time you’ll be more focused on keeping one step ahead of your hunter, rather than searching for odds and ends. Players aren’t totally defenceless, though, and I did manage to find the flame-thrower, for all the good it did. I would have had better luck throwing an inflatable dildo at its head. As soon as burning hot death exited the business end of the flame-thrower, the Alien legged it quicker than a marine can shout Face-Hugger. The flamer was empty before the beast turned the corner and I was now carrying a very expensive paperweight.

Soon, however, the experience was bought to a sudden end. It wasn’t because of developer interruption, player mistake or a fault with the game – I simply got outwitted by the AI. It jumped up into a ventilation shaft and I watched my motion tracker follow its movement away from my location as a feeling of relative safety washed over me… except I was being played. It doubled back as soon as I moved past the opening of the shaft. I was dead in seconds. Was I just unlucky or did it know where I was all along? It could have gone anywhere, and yet it turned around despite the fact I made no noise. A formidable adversary, indeed.

Alien: Isolation is certainly shaping up to be quite the title. It’s a subtle blend of exploration, fear and intrigue. Will I be playing it? Only if I can do so in broad daylight, surrounded by my loved ones.

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