E3 2014: Alien Isolation Preview: At E3, no one could hear me scream
Since its announcement, Creative Assembly has told us that Alien: Isolation is looking to recreate the emotion -- the fear and tension -- experienced in the very first Alien film (the one by Ridley Scott). Of course, we've seen these types of promises made with just about every Alien game in the past, and each one has somehow managed to disappoint. So why think anything different of Alien: Isolation? Because as someone who played the demo at E3, I can attest that Alien: Isolation is every bit as terrifying, intense, and awesome as promised.
Skipping past the booth video, I was escorted into a rather dark room where I was able to actually play the game. With little setup, I was tossed into some sort of challenge mode, separate from the main campaign. The timed challenge wanted me to sneak around a portion of the space craft, find the generator, turn it on, and escape through an elevator -- all the while there's a terrifying 9-foot Xenomorph hunting me. Sound easy enough, right?
Nope. Aside from Lords of the Fallen, this was probably the second hardest game I previewed at E3. When Creative Assembly warned us that we'd literally not have a chance against the Xenomorph, they weren't lying. Being spotted by the Xenomorph almost always meant death. And each death was more and more gruesome. I specifically remember being impaled by the Xenomorph's spiky tail, looking down, and seeing it sticking through my stomach. It was definitely something you'd see in the film. Seeing those kind of details translate into the video game should make fans of the films and of the franchise happy.
As I mentioned, Alien: Isolation was extremely difficult. That's because you're at a clear disadvantage playing as Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley from the films. You aren't a soldier, you don't have the weapons to kill this thing. Your best chance for survival is hiding, using the shadows to your advantage.
You can scavenge for some tools that can aid in your survival. I found a flamethrower and a bunch of supplies that I could use to craft items like a flare or a noisemaker. Each item can be used to distract the Xenomorph, but you aren't actually able to kill it. The flamethrower that I acquired was pretty much the closest thing I had to fending off the Xenomorph, as it would allow me basically a free escape if I was spotted. Setting the Xenomorph ablaze wouldn't ever kill it, but does give you a second chance of sorts, as it irritates the alien enough to cause it to run and hide for a brief period of time.
This doesn't necessarily mean you are safe though. One time after I used the flamethrower, I walked out of the room only to have the Xenomorph pop out of one of the holes in the ceiling and eat my face. These types of sudden, seemingly randomly-occurring events are what makes Alien: Isolation so intense. You never know where the Xenomorph is going to pop out from. It doesn't seem scripted at all, making it hard to predict its future movements. You simply have to wait and react, and use your tracker to ensure you are a safe distance.
The unpredictable nature of the Xenomorph can certainly get frustrating at times, but it makes the game more believable. I feel that having the alien on a scripted path would remove some of the tension established by never knowing where the hunter is lurking.
After several deaths, I discovered the best approach was a slow one. Sprinting only made noise, which attracted the Xenomorph. Opening doors also seemed to attract it. I found that after entering a room, it was best to just sit and hold tight as the Xenomorph would usually investigate the sound and then leave if it couldn't find you. I recall one playthrough where two of us were in a room circling a pole. The Xenomroph didn't just walk in one direction though. It would randomly, at times, turn around, so I had to make sure to keep an eye on it at all times. You don't know how scary that is knowing that if I were to be spotted it would be instant death.
Eventually, I made it to the generator, turned it on, and successfully completed the challenge. It wasn't easy though. Now being a separate challenge mode, it's unclear if the actual campaign will be this hard. I hope not, as I could easily see my repeated deaths ruining the overall experience. It was fine for the demo, but if I'm invested in the plot then I don't want to spend 20 or 30 minutes trying to get past a five minute part. Again, I may have just died a lot because I was new to the game and unfamiliar with its mechanics, but it seems very unforgiving. Just about any time I was spotted, I died.
Up until now, I've talked only about the stealth gameplay of Alien: Isolation, but let me just say the team at Creative Assembly has done a remarkable job recreating the atmosphere of Alien. From the actual modeling to the lighting to the sounding effects, Creative Assembly has nailed the look and feel of the Alien film. The tone of the game, despite being a challenge mode, seems spot on. Finally, an Alien game true to its inspiration.
Alien: Isolation definitely seems to be on the right track. Of course, this feeling is based solely on a challenge mode that's completely separate from the story or campaign. The overall tone of Alien: Isolation is spot on in my opinion. WIth a few tweaks to the difficulty, unless the campaign does turn out to be easier, this could be the first Alien game that finally lives up to the expectations set forth by fans of the franchise.