Ripley is stuck in a locker while a snarling beast surveys the area around her. If it senses her, she’s dead – no question. Ripley is trying to compose herself in order to continue searching for a keycard, but fear has halted her progress. While this is happening, I’m leaning back in my chair, wincing every time the gruesome creature peers through the cracks at Ellen’s daughter.
First things first, this is shaping up to be the Alien video game that long-time fans of the movies have wanted. To be frank: this isn’t Aliens: Colonial Marines. This build begins with protagonist Amanda Ripley reuniting with her companions Samuels and Taylor on Sevastopol (a space station that is no longer in use) to retrieve the USSCS Nostromo’s flight recorder. In my four to five hours with Sega’s latest Alien effort, it’s difficult to tell how the story holds up, as this preview version threw me into a situation that I had very little context for. Taylor has been injured and Ripley must go through a series of tasks to acquire some medical supplies and make her way back to her downed teammate. This is when you first realise that Alien: Isolation is a big game of cat-and-mouse. Guess which one you are.
As Ripley, you have a certain number of gadgets at your disposal such as flares, noisemakers, and other such items to distract the pursuing beast. If you need to replenish your stocks, you can also craft items, using different components acquired along the way. Blueprints can be found scattered across Sevastopol which will allow Ripley to create new survival tools, or improve certain aspects to her arsenal of EMP mines, smoke bombs and molotovs. I didn’t find myself relying on most of these, preferring instead to lean on both intellect and luck. The noisemaker can afford you an extra moment to gather yourself while the Alien inspects the clatter, but (in the section I played, anyway) I found most of the tools at my disposal to be redundant. This is partly down to the fact that thinking on your feet is incredibly important, and for the most part, I didn’t have time to ready a pipe bomb and fling it at the extra terrestrial’s face, before scurrying away into a vent.
Once the Alien locks eyes on you, you’re dead. It’s as simple as that. Alien: Isolation is all about patience and allowing a moment to breath before continuing on your journey. There are many lockers to hide in across the space station, but sometimes that’s not even enough. If the Alien is walking past and has a hunch that you’re in a specific container, it’ll have a closer look. And like many things about Alien: Isolation that I really appreciated, this is where you see true care and consideration for what The Creative Assembly is making. By holding back on the left stick and pressing the trigger, you lean back and hold your breath. This makes it more difficult for the Alien to find you, and it’ll move on. As soon as you relax, Ripley is heard gasping for air and most impressively, the entoptic phenomenon of little white dots appear around the edge of the screen. Alien: Isolation is full of these little touches – for instance, when you pull out the motion tracker, everything else in your vision becomes blurry as you focus on figuring out where your adversary lies.
One of the franchise’s most recognisable things is the motion tracker, and in Isolation it’s your best friend. As well as the map, the motion tracker is used to see where your next objective is via a bar at the edge of the device’s screen. This will guide you in the general direction, but once you’re in the general area that you are meant to be, you must explore the area further. There are also markers at the bottom of the motion tracker which tell you where any threats are in relation to your location. If they’re within close proximity, you will see a more detailed image of their whereabouts through blips on the display. I say threats, because the Alien isn’t the only thing you have to worry about on Sevastopol. Humans that have found themselves to be stranded on the space station can be dangerous, too.
That’s the main takeaway from Alien: Isolation. You are almost always in danger and should have your wits about you at all times. The tension is always mounting and death feels important, and a lot of that is due to the save system. Rather than allow you to autosave at every waking moment, Alien: Isolation employs a system that, in a genius fashion, is dangerous in itself. What appear to be old-style pay phones attached to the wall, are actually points where you can save your game. These aren’t around every corner in Alien: Isolation, so it’s imperative to take note of their location and save your game when you can. Like hacking or crafting, saving is dangerous as the game doesn’t stop everything so you can survey the area, or collect your thoughts. While you’re trying to put a bookmark in your progress, the Alien is still lurking. Remember that.
I’ve never been more fearful of a single entity, whilst also being determined to go back for more punishment. The Alien has been rendered beautifully in all its grotesque glory, as have the environments Ripley creeps across. The corridors are dark and frightening, with flickering lights and your trusty torch being the only sources of light to lead the way. Sonically, Isolation’s sense of despair becomes even more prevalent as the orchestra increases in volume when impending death is right around the corner. With the caveat that there will be a lot more game to play come October and the quality of the story largely remains somewhat of a mystery, Alien: Isolation is one to keep on your radar. Compelling and utterly terrifying, all at the same time. It’s incredible to think it, but in 2014 this may well be the Alien game we’ve always dreamt of.
Alien: Isolation will be released on PlayStation 4, Playtation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC on October 7th. This preview is based on a non-final PC build of the game. Check out some brand new screenshots of the game below.