Alien: Isolation’s Difficulty Will Frustrate Players, and That’s Good

The room is on fire and I’m dying slowly of smoke inhalation.

Amanda Ripley was nearly killed by the alien just seconds ago during my preview playthrough of Alien: Isolation, and as I control her, she’s now in another, similarly dire situation. Running through Sevastopol Station, she stumbled into a room someone had rigged with a bomb — the goal, one assumes, being to catch and kill the creature. It didn’t work.

And now the room’s on fire and there’s no way out.

It’s another harrowing moment in a harrowing game, with alarms blaring, doors sealed and the player’s lifebar slowly creeping toward empty. I dash around the room, trying to find an escape, as smoke fills it.

Then, suddenly, almost by accident, I discover a ladder in the center of the room, hanging over the round nurse’s station that marks the lobby of Sevastopol’s hospital, the area I just left. The ladder leads toward the ceiling and I leap for it, fighting to climb out of the crumbling room.

Thing is, the game gave me no hints about the existence of this ladder. It didn’t shine or glow. It’s not marked on a map. When I raise my trusty motion tracker, which usually displays the general direction I have to go in order to find my next objective, I’m shown nothing. Though I awoke facing the nurse’s station — and the ladder, right there at the top of the screen — it’s easy to miss in the panic of basically being on fire.

Speaking with other journalists at a preview event in San Francisco last week, I know I’m not the only one who had trouble. I pointed out the proper path to a colleague who was missing it — mind that I found it by accident — and for another colleague, I pointed the way to a hidden keycard much earlier in the build he struggled to track down. Across three levels and maybe four hours of Alien: Isolation (a subjective count given how long the game can take depends on how sneaky you are and how often you’re murdered by The Creative Assembly’s giant alien), there were several moments in which the game wasn’t precisely clear about what to do.

I think that’s great. And it’s probably going to piss off a lot of people.

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