There was a moment in the upcoming videogame Alien: Isolation that made me shiver with delight as much as with fear: I was cowering in a locker, watching through the door's metal slats as the xenomorph paced in front of me. Would the galaxy's greatest bioweapon pass me by, or turn me into its next chew toy? The moment it crept toward my hiding place, I had the option to silence my panting breath -- but one slip of a button, and it was game over, man. Game over. My death was as brutal as it was sudden.
Do you love the 1979 movie Alien, directed by Ridley Scott? Do want nothing more than to survive a single alien while unraveling the mystery of your missing-presumed-dead mother, Ellen Ripley? If the answer is yes, we have good news for you in the form of The Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation.
It may be too early to tell, but if you're a fan of the Alien saga, this game could be a worthy link in the xenomorph chain. At the least, it looks as if Alien: Isolation really understands what worked about Alien: It has a sense of dread, minimum alien exposure, and maximum alien impact, as well as a look and feel that pay homage to the 1979 movie.
Curiosity burning like acid blood, I attended a hands-on demo of the game, which will be released on Oct. 7, 2014. Here's what Alien fans should know about Alien: Isolation.
It's a sequel to Alien, not Aliens.
Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after the events of Alien and focuses on Ripley's daughter, Amanda Ripley-McLaren, as she learns about the events surrounding her mother's disappearance.
As Amanda makes her way around the seemingly deserted space station Sevastopol, the evidence that its occupants have abandoned it includes the half-chewed body of a synthetic dumped in a corridor. The empty space station, filled to the brim with equipment that blends the far future with the 1970s, has a nicely creepy feel to it. But even more scare-tastic is the alien on board ... which is hunting for sweet human meat.
Al Hope, the creative lead of Alien: Isolation, was not forthcoming about the storyline, except to tell me I was playing a scene in the middle of the game. And just as I was about to make a clean getaway, I found myself stuck in a small pod, floating off into space. What the hell? But according to Hope, why we're jettisoned is part of the story.
The plot isn't the only reason this game is the intellectual descendant of Alien and not Aliens: The game has the low-fi sci-fi feel of the first film. In addition, Amanda has to carefully work her way around Sevastopol, just as Ripley did on the Nostromo toward the end of Alien. Yes, even though we think of Ripley as one of Hollywood's best gun-toting action heroes, in the 1979 movie she only shot a harpoon gun.
You don't get a gun.
In Aliens, Ripley eventually got her hands on an M41 pulse rifle, with over-and-under pump-action grenade launcher. In Alien, the weapon of choice for the crew was the flamethrower. In Alien: Isolation, we don't even get a pistol. No, we have to rely on our wits and our stealth.
I lasted three minutes.
Since one weaponless human isn't going to win against a xeno, the only option is to cower under a table or duck behind a desk. It turns out that it's important to break the line of sight as quickly as you can; if you can't see the alien, chances are, mostly it can't see you. Mostly.
As my time was running short, Hope, who knows the game intimately, took over the controls. He, too, fell victim to the xeno's slime-coated mandibles.
There's a reason he died. Hope warned, "Every time you play it it's a little bit different." So if the alien came at us from the left the first time we played through, the next time it could hit it from above. Also, the alien uses the vent system to make its way around the station, so it can literally get the drop on you at any time.
It felt like a bug hunt, and I was the bug.
You aren't without tools.
Alien: Isolation doesn't give you a gun. Here your best tool for survival is ... a motion tracker.
Yes, the crew of the Nostromo had a motion tracker in Alien, albeit a stationary one (and never before have two dots converging elicited so much fear). But the motion tracker here as is portable as the one in Aliens. Additionally, your tracker will give you the basic location of your current destination, which is necessary, as the game has no HUD to break the fourth wall.
I found the rumble pack to be quite helpful. My gamepad frequently jolted in my hands, which signaled that I needed to activate my tracker. Yup, there was an alien in the room with me. I immediately dropped behind a table.
Hope told me there's a crafting system (not available for the demo), which will allow players to build makeshift tools, and possibly small weapons, that will help you survive a little longer (gamers may find it reminiscent of The Last of Us).
Although I was able to see crafting supplies, such as gel packs, lying around the Sevastopol, I could only collect them when I wasn't actively being stalked. That means I left a lot of items behind in a rush to get from Point A to Point B without becoming Victim A.
You're not alone.
Despite the title, Amanda isn't completely isolated in her adventure. Even though the game is about Amanda and her journey, Hope said, "We do have a small ensemble cast that you get to know, mirroring Alien."
One character, Samuels, is a Company man who we know from this trailer. Interestingly, he tells Amanda, "We think we may have found [your mother]." But as we know from Aliens, Ripley isn't on Sevastopol. So one of our ensemble characters looks like he's cut from the same lying scumbag cloth as Burke.
Other characters that we know about are Verlaine and Taylor, both women. (Note: It's terrific to see more female characters in the stealth genre -- particularly a game that's following the storyline of ur-action hero Ellen Ripley.) And then there's Ricardo, the voice in our comm system, who gives much-needed guidance.
Plus, there are survivors somewhere in this city-sized space station. Hopefully we'll find people as likeable as Newt.
It's not Aliens: Colonial Marines.
If you've followed the history of Aliens and videogames, you'd know that Aliens: Colonial Marines was the recepient of critical panning, with subsequently large patches (although I was one of the few who enjoyed it, as I didn't experience AI problems).
If it's any consolation to the Aliens fans who felt burned over A:CM, Creative Assembly is the only developer of this game, and no parts have been outsourced in the three and a half years the company has spent on it. So far, there's no sign of the creative troubles that affected A:CM.
As long as Creative Assembly's staff doesn't include a shifty-eyed science officer, we should be just fine.
It looks like a good game, but ...
My first thoughts: From what little I saw, this game looked terrific.
My second, more cynical thoughts: The level I played? The trailer was made completely from scenes of this very same level. If I were to worry, I'd worry that this is the only polished part of the Alien: Isolation right now. That might not bode well for the rest of the game at this point in the development cycle.
Of course, I'm looking forward to Alien: Isolation. I like a good stealth game, and I like games with strong story, and this looks like it could be a great mix of the two. Also, we get to know Amanda, and it's about time. We always knew more about Ripley's surrogate daughter, Newt, than we ever did of her biological one.
I just hope Amanda has her mother's survival instincts.
Will you be stepping into Alien: Isolation when it hits shelves? Let us know in the comments!