Preview: Alien: Isolation

Alien isn’t exactly a stranger to the video game format, but when it comes to games, the IP is a hit and miss. Last year Sega launched Aliens: Colonial Marines, which received a lot of negative publicity for both the franchise and its publisher, but can Sega deliver on this new, yet classic take on this franchise?  For reference to players, Alien and Aliens can actually be seen as separate sub-IP’s, as action-based titles are often based on James Cameron’s sequel Aliens, whereas horror-based titles are usually based around the tense tone of Ridley Scott’s original film Alien. A small fun fact, but none the less a small look into how the franchise is set up.

Sega and Gamescom delivered us a short-demo based on the challenge mode of the game, and from what we’ve played Alien: Isolation seems to deliver on its promises. After standing in line we were presented with the choice between the PS4 and PC/X1 versions, after which we chose to sample the PS4 version of the game. Funny enough Sega did seem to have twice as much PS4’s set up than any other platform. After choosing our platform we were led into a dark room in which we would be able to test out 10 minutes of the gameplay for ourselves.

After looking through the control scheme and a quick loading screen we were introduced to Alien: Isolation’s challenge mode, in which the objective was to survive and complete optional secondary objectives. The secondary objectives consisted of collecting 2 ID tags, not using the motion tracker and locking down the stairwell. Not using the motion tracker proved to be impossible for me though, as the Alien seemed incredibly agile and intelligent so I chose to follow his current location instead, which many players will likely resort to as the AI of Isolation is pretty impressive.

The first thing you’ll notice in Alien: Isolation is that you’ll have to be tactically cunning, and mistakes can be fatal. Wether it be making too much sound during traversal or not keeping up with the location of the Xenomorph itself, you’ll have to keep in mind all of the factors that could catch up to you as the game goes along. No place is safe, and the Xenomorph has just as much freedom as you do when traversing throughout the ship, which will have the player adapt his tactics to the strategy of the Xenomorph. In this regard, the gameplay could be seen as a game of chess, where both players try to anticipate each other’s moves. However, the player in question won’t be able to anticipate the AI that easily, as the random algorithms of the system constantly made me have to adapt a new strategy to stay hidden in the dark.

Whilst the game takes place in a lot of tight corridors, you still have a lot of freedom to move around through hallways, vents and such. But as said earlier, everywhere you go the Xenomorph can go as well. If the alien sees you and you try to escape through the ventilation, he’ll follow you and drag you out of it just as easily. You’ll propably spend a lot of time hiding as well, and the game offers enough possibilities for the player to stay hidden for a short amount of time. Lockers, vents and everything can be used to hide in, though again the Xenomorph isn’t simple-minded, and once he puts two and two together, you’ll probably won’t want to spend too much time in one location. At one point during the challenge I panicked and chose to hide in a locker, after which the Xenomorph walked up to the set of lockers and began inspecting them looking for me. The AI spent over a minute searching right in front of my location, and the tension of the situation was incredible, and whilst I wouldn’t say I was scared, I was incredibly nervous.

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Speaking of intensity, whilst Alien: Isolation can offer some potential scares, the game isn’t really about scaring the player. There might be some jump scares, but overall the game chooses to go for tension and panic rather than straightforward scaring, which really fit the tone of the original film and should certainly please fans of the franchise. The world and tone seem to be incredibly faithful to the original material, and it looks like the team spent an incredible amount of work and research on fine-tuning the game to feel so much like the film.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward concept-wise, you have to move through the level whilst remaining undetected and finish certain objectives, but the AI makes this much more complicated for the player than it initially sounds to be. You’ll spend a lot of your time collecting and scavenging for items, and you’ll even have some offensive weapons to work with, should every other option fail. At the beginning of the level I found a flamethrower, which in my head sounded like a really good idea, and whilst I managed to fend off the Xenomorph after he found me for the first time, it really didn’t help me in the long run as it pretty much pissed the AI off even more.

The scanner also proved to be an incredibly useful piece of hardware, providing me with a general outline of the AI’s location. This system isn’t foolproof though, as the AI can move pretty fast if it chooses to, and you’ll get no sense of elevation so you’ll always be vulnerable vertically if there any ventilations shafts and such near your location.

Visually Alien: Isolation looks incredibly sharp, and whilst it didn’t show off any large environments or anything because of its gameplay style it looked incredibly impressive. The textures and lighting enhanced each other beautifully and there didn’t seem to be any prominent visual imperfections present like jaggies on edges and such. Character and environment models were well detailed, and as said earlier the environments and technology seemed futuristic yet faithful to the visual style of the first film.

Whilst the demo we played was only a part of the challenge mode I was still impressed by it as a whole, and if the story mode manages to maintain the tension and fear of this demo, Alien Isolation could very well not just be a great Alien game, but an incredibly noteworthy survival title, which would be an impressive feat for a licensed property. It’s challenging, scary and genuinely well-made.

Alien: Isolation is set to be released on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on October 7th this Spring.