From the ashes of Gearbox’s dismal Aliens: Colonial Marines rises an experience that promises not only to reinvigorate its parent property but also the entire survival horror genre. Alien: Isolation bleeds with the key components of Ridley Scott’s blockbuster, and weaves it into a thrilling fight for your life that never lets up. We recently took the reins of a fresh pre-E3 demo, which demonstrated some of the pivotal parts of this potentially defining release.
Considering the fate of the franchise’s abovementioned entry, it would be all too easy to be pulled in by publisher SEGA’s spiel all over again. The title – in which you assume the exosuit of Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda – sees you traverse the decks of the Sevastopol a full 15 years after the tragic events of the Nostromo. It’s here that you’ll be hunted by a single Xenomorph, who will learn your tactics and alter its behaviour accordingly, tracking you down by the light of your torch, sounds of your footsteps, and even heavy breathing. It’s an incredibly ambitious premise, but has developer The Creative Assembly made it work?
Well, the demo that we got our shaky mitts on furthered our first impressions – and seemed to suggest that the release will be able to maintain a tense gameplay experience throughout the duration of its 10-15 hour campaign. Indeed, the slobbering extraterrestrial in this escapade’s title will not be your only foe, as you’ll encounter hallways riddled with looters who don’t take too kindly to snooping officials. These enemies are blissfully naïve to the real dangers of your surroundings, so you can actually use the Alien to your advantage – with gruesomely gory results.
In addition to the looters that will hinder your escape, lifeless androids will also return with horrific effect. These guys are far less humanoid than the likes of Bishop – equipped with dead eyes and a droning monotone voice – and will patrol certain areas and ‘remove’ non-crew members with chilling indifference. Much like the Xenomorph, the androids are impervious to conventional attacks, and will require stealth and speed to circumnavigate; if you don’t want to get choked to death while staring into a pair of soulless eyes, you’ll need to ensure that you don’t get caught.
In addition to these life and death situations, we were also able to trial the title’s recently announced crafting system, which sees Amanda gather components to create weapons and distractions in order to aid with her escape. These tools range from the offensive Molotov cocktail to the more tactical Noisemaker, and can really make all of the difference in a tight situation. The latter is especially useful when you’re confronted by multiple looters; instead of burning ammo, you can toss the raucous tool into a busy room, and allow H.R. Giger’s creation to do the rest. The crafting materials are scattered around the ship and often off the beaten track of your objective, leading you to explore and remain at the mercy of the creature for longer.
Aiding your exploration and overall survival is the centrepiece of the game: the motion tracker. Complete with archive-sourced sound bites, this authentic cathode device cements the similarities to the cinematic classic that this release is based upon, and dials the fear factor up to dizzying levels. The display alerts you to movement close by, and means that you’ll end up sweating profusely as you seek refuge in a storage cupboard. It doesn’t, however, distinguish between looters and the alien, so caution and patience will be your primary weapons for survival, slowing the title to a perfect pace that will keep your seat warm and the palms of your hands moist. The ambient music will also respond to the proximity of danger, amping up to a disorientating pitch that only complements the thrill of your impending disembowelment.
Taking things slow is the best way to play for a number of reasons. First and foremost, speed will alert the skulking beast to your location, and ultimately secure your demise. However, it will also allow you to soak up the breathtaking design in the title’s decor. The developer has remained honourably faithful to the sci-fi phenomenon, dotting series memorabilia about the ship and maintaining a vintage feel to the futuristic environments, with everything from the doorways to the bulky terminals.
As with so many other survival horror titles, the lighting is also a highlight, with corridors often losing power as you creep through them, forcing you to whip out your flashlight. Other areas feature damaged terminals which disorient you due to their flickering, strobe-like status – it’s a game that definitely takes advantage of the added horsepower made available by the PlayStation 4.
And for many of the reasons discussed within, Alien: Isolation is shaping up to be the most authentic Xenomorph experience yet, accurately capturing the thriller aspect of its infamous source material, and dousing it with plenty of foreboding atmosphere. It takes a delicate approach to survive – one that you probably won’t master until after a fair few tails through the chest – but once you’ve grasped it, this could prove a genre defining title for newcomers, veterans, and sceptics alike.
Are you looking forward to Alien: Isolation, or has the title’s terrifying premise left you panting in despair? Crack your tail in the comments section below.