Alien: Isolation Preview: Not So Alone After All
Here’s what you want to know: Yes, there are human enemies in Alien: Isolation.
Yes, they are armed.
No, they are not terrible, popping-up-from-cover military shooter marines, Weyland-Yutani thugs, or any other manner of enemy that might have appeared in that Aliens Title That Shall Not Be Named.
Sega showed off a new hands-on demo in May at an E3 2014 Judges Week event in Santa Monica, and in that level journalists finally got a chance to see what happens when you run into other people on Sevastopol Station.
You hide from them.
Like the previous playable portion of Alien: Isolation shown to players when the game was officially announced in December, this hands-on demo concerns getting protagonist Amanda Ripley through a mostly abandoned section of the station — a hospital, in point of fact — with the alien stalking around nearby. As developer The Creative Assembly has explained in the past, the creature is mostly hunting you by sight and sound, and you’re doing your best not to give it any reason to come looking for you.
The same is true with human enemies in the latest build. About a third of the way through the demo, Amanda is advised by crewmate Samuels that shots can be heard in the medical section. There are human looters about, using the chaos of the alien to steal whatever they can. They’re armed and they’re unfriendly.
“For the wider world, I think I was really inspired by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the sort of original man encountering extraterrestrials,” explained Creative Lead Al Hope as he discussed the other humans still left on Sevastopol. “That was written in, what, 1898. And that’s a similar story — technology’s not the answer. It’s an amazing story. Martians have landed and everybody goes about their business because they’ve got the British army, and they know there’s no threat to them. And within a day it’s decimated, and London is destroyed, and people turn on each other savagely. Society breaks down. And it’s horrifying — absolutely horrifying. And I think that was a big influence for me; there’s a lot of similarities there. How would a world deal with that? And I guess putting the player in amongst it, to witness it, that seemed quite an interesting way to expand on what that core essence was.”
Amanda’s not defenseless against the people she may meet — in this demo, she’s carrying various things, like a revolver with six or eight rounds, and a flamethrower players can locate along the way. But as Samuels warns, a gunshot will almost definitely draw the alien, so avoiding conflict is a much better plan than getting embroiled in one. Plus, ammo is at a definitive premium.
As Hope mentions, however, all the AI in the game is based on the same framework, and players can hide behind and under stuff to slip humans just as they can the alien itself — but that same systematic AI also makes human enemies hard to predict, just like the creature. In the demo, the humans gathered around various side rooms, opening doors and searching for valuables. I had to carefully use gurneys and other medical equipment to sneak around them, through other rooms, to reach the objective at the far side of the area.
Not all the humans are necessarily hostile, though. There’s Ripley’s crew who arrive with her on the station, and there are other people on Sevastopol who react differently to the situation.
“I absolutely wanted to mirror the experience of having a small ensemble cast that you did get to know (as in the film),” Hope said. “To be clear, humans in the game, like I said, are in the same situation as in the film — they’re desperate to survive. And some people act really positively to your arrival, and some people act extremely aggressively. Fear drives people to do bad things. At the same time, there is a small cast of characters who you do get to know over the course of the game, but of course, events, as in the first film, change the situation, and then how they react to those events is a driver, and changes things for the player.”
Sneaking past other people wasn’t the only potential course available to me, however. Combat is possible in Isolation, although it’s more of a worst-case response than a real option. A human catching sight of Amanda will get hostile almost immediately and can kill her in one or two shots, so don’t expect an FPS-style straight fight in any event.
I ran through the demo twice, and my first playthrough was entirely stealthy — neither alien, human or android (more on that in a bit) was ever aware of my presence. It’s probably most fair to describe Alien: Isolation most as a stealth game, even beyond it being survival horror. This seems to be an experience that’s mostly about staying small, staying quiet, and staying out of sight.
Fighting is possible, though. In my second run through the demo, I discovered a looter who was in a different place than my first time through. Curious, I stood up in front of him; he freaked out; I brained him with my pistol with two solid whacks. The ruckus drew the alien, which unfurled itself from the vent above. I quickly flipped to the flamethrower I’d acquired and gave the beast a burst to the chest. The flames licked around it, and the creature let out a hiss and escaped from the room.
The flamethrower represents another element we knew Alien: Isolation would include but hadn’t yet seen: items that let you fight back against the creature. The alien can’t be killed, but you can drive it off with different tools or with things found in the environment. The solutions aren’t good forever, though: flamethrower ammunition was at a premium (like everything), and CA has explained that the alien will adapt to your capabilities over time, making them less effective on repeated uses.