Alien: Isolation Hands-On: Where Everyone Can Hear You Scream
Want to see more about Alien: Isolation? Check out the story primer to get a deeper look at the lore and story behind the game, then jump over to our full preview to learn about the tech, the alien, and more, and finally catch our video preview to see the game in action.
One of the most intense scenes of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien is one in which Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) happens upon the creature unaware.
Ripley is the lone survivor of the crew of the commercial tug Nostromo at this point, and she’s hoping to cause the ship’s reactor to self-destruct by removing its coolant. After setting the ship on its overload course, she returns to its escape shuttle — where she finds the alien she had hoped to destroy along with Nostromo standing over the caged ship’s cat, Jones, between her and her destination.
I cut through the door, nervous the entire time, because I’ve been told that the alien reacts to noise and light.
With alarms blaring and lights flashing, Ripley presses herself against the nearest wall, hoping the thing hasn’t already seen her. The only chance is to elude the alien; once it knows where she is, there will be no escape.
It’s this moment in the film that Creative Assembly’s hands-on demo of Alien: Isolation captures nearly perfectly, and in fact, the game goes beyond the intensity of Ripley’s tentative escape from certain death. The demo I played, a short look about halfway through Isolation’s campaign, found protagonist Amanda Ripley alone, searching an abandoned portion of the game’s space station setting — and being hunted by an alien.
As Creative Assembly explained, there’s a single alien aboard Sevastopol, an inhabited but nearly decommissioned space station. Dealing with the alien requires stealth and discretion, with Amanda hiding from it whenever she encounters it. The gameplay of the demo strikes me as similar to 2013′s Outlast, with players avoiding encounters and hiding from danger.
Just as in the film, the alien is moving around but largely unseen by the player; the only way to get a bead on its location is to use a vague motion tracker, which gives the player a sense of where the alien is in relationship to them, but only in generalities. If the alien is ahead, the tracker can give ranges and a sense of left or right. If it’s behind, the tracker only gives players the indication that they should turn around for a more accurate reading.
In the demo, I worked my way through the environment, all heavily inspired by the aesthetic of Alien, armed with only a hammer and a motion tracker like the one fashioned by Ash in the film. With power fluctuating through the area, Amanda is guided by a voice on the radio, telling her to find certain locations to open doors, restart power and continue onward.
It’s a pretty standard horror scenario. Amanda carries a flashlight to go with her motion tracker, and both are functional objects in her hands — that is to say, there’s no motion tracker in Isolation’s minimal HUD, and lifting the device in front of Amanda’s face causes the rest of the scene to go out of focus. You can use the tracker, or you can see what’s in front of you, but you can’t do both.
It’s huge — the biggest xenomorph yet created in a game — and it’s looking for me
As I moved through Sevastopol’s halls, the motion tracker would occasionally give pings to remind me the alien is in the area. Like the film, it moves through vents and other hidden passages in the station’s walls. In the first portion of the demo, it’s mostly just a matter of creepy happenings and errant motion tracker pings as I explore the area. Occasionally there are dead bodies, which can be looted in a way similar to games such as Fallout 3 or Dead Island. Accessing a body when prompted brings up a menu of potential loot items, which will be useful for a crafting system that I haven’t yet seen, I’m told.
A little farther, I come to a locked door I’m forced to cut my way through, a job which requires a welding torch. Tracking the item down is tough; the motion tracker doubles as an indicator for objectives, but only gives the very vaguest sense of where the item is. There’s also a map I can pull up from the menu, but again, navigation requires players to pay attention and reason their way forward deliberately — there’s little to guide you to where you need to go but just impressions of direction. Couple that lack of guidance with the occasional notification that the alien is nearby, and Isolation conjures up quite a bit of paranoia.
I cut through the door, nervous the entire time, because I’ve been told that the alien reacts to noise and light. In fact, according to Creative Assembly, the alien doesn’t hunt based on prescribed patterns or patrol routes, but instead by adapting to players’ actions. So the welding torch worries me quite a bit.
But no alien murders me, and instead I head into the next section — but before long I’m being actively hunted. It seems that this section of the demo is where the alien is actually loose, and that the earlier portion was meant to put me on edge. Here, I’m constantly getting tracker pings, and now actually seeing the alien wandering around. It’s huge — the biggest xenomorph yet created in a game — and it’s looking for me.