At a recent event in Los Angeles, Sega gave game journalists (myself included) a chance to play through a decent chunk of Alien: Isolation, the upcoming, first-person, stealth-action, survival horror game that’s set up as a sequel to the classic 1979 sci-fi film, and will be released on the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PCs on October 7th. But while my time with the game wasn’t exhaustive, it’s still clear to me that this game has the potential to be as scary and engrossing as the movie that inspired it.
In the game, you play as Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, who goes to a space station called the Sevastopol to try and get her hands on the flight recorder from the Nostromo, the ship her mom was on in the movie. But since one of her mom’s alien pals has beaten you to the station, and is making a mess of the place, you have to use your wits to sneakily get anything done.
From the beginning, Alien: Isolation is clearly being made by people who love the original movie. Be it the sound effects, the music, the architecture, or the things you use to survive, this really does feel like an Alien game. Though what really typifies this best is that there is only one alien in the game, and it’s impossible to kill (though you can, if you’re lucky, scare it off temporarily).
Though in playing Alien: Isolation, it also became clear that this is being made by people who also love survival horror and stealth action games. Because the alien has excellent vision and hearing, and is hanging out in the same parts of the Sevastopol that you are, you have to be really sneaky. If you make any loud noises, the alien will come running. And if it then sees you, you’re a good as dead. Which is what makes the game so harrowing. While exploring an area, for instance, I could hear the alien crawling around in the vents, which really put me on edge.
While not alerting the alien to your presence is your main objective in Alien: Isolation, it’s not the only hazard you’ll face. Besides some environmental issues, such as fire and explosions, you also have to deal with other people, most of whom would rather kill you than help you. There’s also some aggressive robots who, if you get too close to them, will choke the life out of you. The threat of death is constant in Alien: Isolation, which really gives this a nice sense of tension.
In the section I got to play, which I was told was about mid-way through the game, I first had to explore a section of the Sevastopol to find a keycard, and then make my way to a different section to turn some emergency systems back on so I continue making my way…somewhere.
Doing this wasn’t just a matter of walking around and poking through people’s desks. Well, it kind of was — you do a fair amount of scrounging, which I’ll get into — but the whole time you had to be mindful of how much noise you made, or of running into people, or if little scripted moments such as when a gas main broke and exploded, causing a stream of fire to come between me and the hallway I needed to go down.
In another part, for instance, I had to turn on some generators to start up a system, then I had to hack the system to get it going. And all while freaking out that all the mechanisms coming online might catch the attention of you-know-who.
Assisting you in your quest is, of course, a familiar-looking motion tracker, which not only tells you how close the alien is, but also where your next objective lies (though you also have a map to help you get around). The kicker being that, because the alien is always nearby, he often appears to be really close on the motion tracker.
Good thing lil’ Ripley has obviously played a lot of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty, because you’re very aware that you can hide inside lockers. Which you’ll do, a lot. And not just because there’s a lot of them on the Sevastopol for some reason. Though even then, you’re not totally safe, because if the alien sees you getting in the locker, he’ll come over and say hi.
Alien: Isolation also, as I mentioned, has you scrounging around for loose ammo and other supplies. Though the most valuable things you might find are often the scraps of metal and other items, which you can then use to make health packs, the aforementioned Molotov cocktails, and things that will make a lot of noise and attract your little buddy (though, thankfully, you don’t have to locate a work bench to make stuff, you can do it anywhere).
Oh, and why would you want to make a noisy thing that will attract your little buddy, you might ask? Well, let’s say that there are a group of people standing around, and you don’t have enough ammo. You could may toss a noisemaker at them, then hide in a locker and wait for the alien to kill the people, only emerging from the locker after he’s gotten bored and gone back into the vents.
Or you could, as I did when I faced that scenario during the demo, use some of the environment to clear the way. Using a simple lean motion, I noticed that the people were standing next to a red fuel canister, and that there was a locker on the far wall. So I shot the former, then ran and hid in the latter…and then listened as the alien tore apart the people who weren’t killed in the explosion.
There is, of course, a lot more to this game that just the little bit I got to play. But the big thing to keep in mind is that, unlike with such survival horror action games as Dead Space 3, the F.E.A.R. games, or Resident Evil 6, the people making Alien: Isolation aren’t aiming for an action game with some scary bits, they’re trying to make a game where you have to use stealth to survive, while the constant threat of being torn apart by something truly scary has you in a constant state of panic.
Whether they’ll succeed, though, we won’t know for sure until the game comes out October 7th. But if the bit I got to play recently is any indication, it seems they’re on the right track.