Reversing the curse? Why I'm (cautiously) optimistic about Alien: Isolation
Remember how terrifying Alien was when you first saw it? That's what The Creative Assembly is hoping to do with Alien: Isolation, the newest entry in a long line of disappointing Alien(s) games. With the tagline "How will you survive?" Alien: Isolation looks to recapture the horror and fear you first experienced (and maybe still do) when watching Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece film, Alien.
How will they do so? As the name suggests, through isolation. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, the protagonist of the Alien film. On a mission to discover the truth behind her mother's disappearance, Amanda heads to a space station housing the recovered audio log that details the events of Nostromo. Only when she gets there, she's greeted by a terrifying 9-foot Xenomorph ready to eat her face.
I know this is said every time a new game based on the Alien(s) universe is released, but Isolation finally looks like a game that can do the franchise justice. Here's why; for the first time in the history of Alien(s) video games, we finally have one that wants to scare us. While previous Aliens games have promised elements of "survival" and "horror," Isolation looks to be the first to actually embrace the two, without having to depend on scripted action sequences to hold our attention.
"Underpowered and underprepared"
Two words that Creative Assembly have used to describe Isolation. You won't have an arsenal of weaponry to help fight off this Xenomorph, and that's a good thing. Too often in past Aliens games, shooting comes first, tactics second. This is because of the endless supply of weapons at your disposal. Every game in the past is a reminder of Hudson's quote, "We got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks..."
Amanda won't have any of that. In Alien: Isolation, you'll need to rely on your wits and your improvisation to survive, which is great. After all, what better way to instill fear in players than knowing you can't kill this thing?
A fresh character
By placing players in the role of Amanda, Ripley's daughter, Creative Assembly has the freedom to explore the Alien(s) universe through the eyes of a new character as to avoid messing with the story which came before it. One of the biggest gripes among fans of the films with Aliens: Colonial Marines was how Gearbox completely altered the storyline with Hicks. I can't say for certain that Isolation won't do something similar, but playing as Amanda at least provides an opportunity for Creative Assembly to interject their own twist without offending fans.
"In space no one can hear you scream."
Creative Assembly has made it perfectly clear that Alien: Isolation is looking to replicate the experiences of the first film. Nothing exemplifies that experience better than the film's tagline: "In space, no one can hear you scream."
To that end, don't expect the blockbuster action sequences as seen in the film's predecessors. This game isn't about all-out action. Instead, expect the unsettling feeling that at any moment the Xenomorph can pop out of the shadows. In order to capture this feeling, Alien: Isolation must first do a proper job of creating a terrifying environment. Based on what we've seen so far, it seems they're on the right track.
From the eerie silence to the gut-wrenching beat that comes with every pulse of the motion-tracker, it's imperative that Creative Assembly stay true to the survival horror atmosphere. Dark, dreary tones, a cold environment, distressing alarms, and, most importantly, an unpredictable Xenomorph are key to establishing fear among the player.
It's important to remember, however, that despite all of these positive points, we've only seen what Creative Assembly has chosen to reveal. As we've seen all too often in the past, screenshots, trailers, and even previews can paint a totally different picture than the product that is eventually released. One only needs to look as far back as Aliens: Colonial Marines for a reminder that media can do magic for a game. The good news is that we're now preexposed to this sort of thing; we can see the signs and sense when a developer or publisher has something to hide.
At this stage, there doesn't seem much to worry about with Alien: Isolation, but it's still very early. There's also the unsettling truth that, aside from (maybe) Aliens: Infestation, we've yet to have a really good game based on the Alien(s) franchise. For this reason, I'll remain cautiously optimistic.