Posted on January 7, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Alien: Isolation is ‘The “Alien” Game We’ve Always Wanted to Play’
Our Phil Hornshaw discusses Alien: Isolation will frustrate players, and that’s a very good thing.
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 hands-on impressions of the game, and finally catch our video preview to see the game in action.
I’m sitting in a black reclining chair in a dark room with three other journalists and a pair of developers at Creative Assembly’s studios in Horsham, England. On the screen before me is the first-person demo for Alien: Isolation, where I’m guiding Amanda Ripley, daughter of series protagonist Ellen, through the darkened corridors of a space station.
“Something we wanted to do really early on was kind of ‘re-alien’ the alien.”
As I raise my motion tracker, it’s already beeping insistently. The alien is here, close, hunting me. I’m panicking, not sure where to go, as I lean around a corner. And then I catch sight of it: the black, sleek, vicious alien from Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie of the same name.
And it sees me.
I spin and flee toward a waiting locker where I can hide, even knowing that there’s no way I’ll make it, and even if I do, no way the alien will leave me alone once I’m in there. But that’s the kind of reaction confronting this three-meter-tall vision of H.R. Giger’s xenomorph inspires, and the one that The Creative Assembly is hoping to bring out in players: terror. Alien: Isolation, the developer has told journalists at the preview event, is a next-generation survival-horror game coming to PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4 and Playstation 3, and features just one incredibly deadly alien.
“We’re dealing with the alien,” said Creative Lead Al Hope. “This isn’t any old bug or kind of insect, this is the alien. And something we wanted to do really early on was kind of ‘re-alien’ the alien. We really wanted to take you back to that sort of sense of what it would like to be confronted by Ridley Scott’s original alien. Something that’s lethal, terrifying and believable. I think the goal was, can we stick you in a room with the alien, and for that to be equally thrilling and terrifying.”
Unlike virtually every other game based on 20th Century Fox’s Alien franchise, including 2013′s Aliens: Colonial Marines, Creative Assembly’s game isn’t based on James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens. Instead, it’s rooted distinctly in Scott’s movie and looks to get back to the horror film that first ignited the franchise, featuring an “underprepared and underpowered protagonist,” Hope said. According to him, the developers at The Creative Assembly found themselves with the opportunity to create the Alien game they’d always wanted to play.
“Unlike a lot of alien games, where I think you spend a lot of time looking at the alien — they appear and you kill them, and they appear, and you kill them, you know, they spend a lot of time on the screen — we wanted to take the approach where, you knew there was an alien there, but it wasn’t necessarily in the frame,” Hope said. “A large part of the experience was the anticipation and the tension of when that creature would next appear, and when it does, it’s very explosive and it’s very meaningful.”
“You see the alien and you panic and you hide and you get out of its way. You’re fighting to survive against this thing.”
It’s a game experience that’s very reminiscent of the film. The Creative Assembly’s hands-on demo of the game put players, as Amanda Ripley, in an empty area in which they knew the alien was lurking. Armed with only an inexact motion sensor for detecting the alien’s whereabouts, players had to rely on skills other than fighting to stay alive. You can’t kill the alien. Instead, you have hide, keep quiet and stay out of sight in order to survive encounters with it. (Read more about the gameplay, and our first-hand impressions of Alien: Isolation, in our hands-on preview.)
“You don’t see the alien and you shoot it,” Senior Producer Jonathan Court said. “You see the alien and you panic and you hide and you get out of its way. You’re fighting to survive against this thing. It’s not fodder in any way, shape or form.”
That’s a fundamental shift in players’ relationship with Scott’s creature, Lead Designer Clive Lindop said.
After years of engaging the alien with guns, The Creative Assembly wanted to convey to players that they wouldn’t be pulse-rifling their way out of this one.
“Really early on in production, we kind of put a little test bed together with the alien, lighting and atmosphere, and dropped in some guests — brought some external guys in, a couple of editors,” Lindop said. “And we deliberately, a couple minutes before you met him, gave you a very very big gun. We go, ‘Right — are we going to be in a situation where they’re going to come around the corner, see him and fire, or are we communicating how dangerous he really is?’
“And in all cases, nobody ever fires. His size, the drama of his appearance, the impact on you psychologically — and you’ve got a big gun and you go, ‘That’s just going to piss him off.’ So we knew we were kind of going down the right path. And I think it’s so much of the experience that people want to have with him, that that helped.”