The Alien movie franchise is for the most part fantastic, but the same can’t be said for the often troubled and underwhelming Alien video game franchise. Like many video games based on movies the Alien branded titles have either been glorified Xenomorph shooting galleries, or sloppily designed affairs like the recent Aliens: Colonial Marines. The Alien video game franchise just hasn’t been able to recapture the palpable fear that the movies first induced way back in the late 70’s, but that may now change with Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation. While at E3 2014 I got some hands-on time with the game and its challenge mode of sorts, and by the time my demo I ended I definitely felt like Ripley must have while she was aboard the Nostromo.
Alien: Isolation will be set 15 years after Alien, and it will feature Amanda Ripley as the protagonist. I didn’t get to play any of the campaign, so I can’t really comment on the character and how she fits into the world of Alien, but I did get to try out Isolation’s challenge mode that tasks you with completing mini-missions with certain stipulations for bonus points.
The particular mission I played through required me to stealthily reach a staircase and lock it down before the stalking Xenomorph could find me and inject my face with his mouth probe. This task may sound simple enough, and one of the bonus stipulations in place offered extra points if I beat it in less than 30-seconds, but I quickly found out that no task is easy in Alien: Isolation. The environment, lighting, and even the sound design are setup in a way to keep you in a constant state of guessing and fear, and the game truly does make you feel like your life is in danger during every move you make.
The mission started in a supply room of sorts where I could stock up on some ammo for a gun I didn’t have, and to also pick up a half-used flamethrower. The game’s UI is clear of clutter, and no objective markers can be seen on screen, so I set out into the dark unknown hoping that I wouldn’t get spotted by the lurking Xenomorph hunting me while I stumbled around looking for the staircase that I needed to reach. My first attempt was a complete and utter failure as I just casually strolled out into the corridors of an early 80’s movie styled space station as if I were Rambo. Within seconds I was spotted by the Xenomorph and quickly died as a result, so I was sent back to the beginning of the mission.
This time around I wised up and used my motion detector, which unfortunately didn’t have the iconic pinging sounds from the movies, but it still allowed me to keep tabs on the Xeno that was trying to kill me. The motion detector also serves as guide to your objective with a ring that lights up to let you know you’re headed in the right direction. With this knowledge in tow I set out once again in search of the fabled staircase. This time I entered a crouched stance to remain as quiet as possible and kept the motion detector running at full steam. I avoided a run in with the Xeno by hiding in a locker and holding my breath while he sniffed around the grates, which I must say made my heart race as if I were actually in the locker myself. It was a brilliant feeling, and one that I guarantee you’ll feel throughout Alien: Isolation.
I did make it a bit father this time around, but due to me mistakenly pulling the trigger of my flamethrower I was spotted again and eliminated. It should be noted that while there are weapons in Alien: Isolation they’re not the death bringers you would expect them to be. For example, I did use the flamethrower a few times to push back the Xeno when he got too close for comfort, but it didn’t kill him. It appears that, at least in this mission mode, the Alien can’t be killed, but can only be deterred long enough for you to make a hasty retreat to the next dark cranny you can find to hide in. There are also limited supplies to pick-up throughout the environment, so the focus of Isolation is most definitely not on combat, but rather on its stealth and survival gameplay tactics.
I attempted this particular mission many more times to get it right, and I eventually did, but it took a lot of exploring and trying new routes. Each time I attempted it one thing could be counted on, and that was the fact that I was going to feel anxious, and a bit terrified with each step I took, which is exactly how an Alien game should feel. After catching on to the stealthy gameplay it really did feel like my life was in danger, and that I could be snuffed out at any moment. Hearing the Xenomorph let out a cry signaling the fact that he spotted or heard me would always get my heart racing, and panic would set in as if he were standing behind me dripping his mouth goo on my shoulder before taking a taste of my flesh. The environment and its dark tones with flashing lights also helps to add to the anxious feeling that is ever present in your soul while playing.
Alien: Isolation is definitely shaping up to pay off on its promise to scare the shit out of you, and to make you feel like it’s a struggle to even stay alive. The game looks brilliant, and the visual design definitely adds to the tension. The tension is also heightened by the minimalist sound design that will freak you out with every bang, knock, or scream from the Xeno. The gameplay is all about stealth and survival, so don’t expect to be blasting Xenos like Billy the Badass while playing. You will have to channel your inner Amanda Ripley, and her Mom for that matter, to win the day, but you will be in for the struggle of your life.
Alien: Isolation gets in your head and flicks the fear switch perfectly, so if you’re up for the challenging gameplay and being in a constant state of fear, you should definitely check out Isolation when it drops on October 7, 2014 for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, and PC.
If you have any questions in particular please use the comment section below and I’ll do my best to get back to you with an answer if I have one.
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