Developer The Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation made an eye-catching appearance at Comic Con this past weekend, drawing not only crowds of hopeful gamers but also throngs of intrigued spectators who couldn’t help but stop to watch the carnage unfold as each and every player met a grisly demise at the hands of the Alien. Not wanting to feel left out, I too joined the line to await my impending death and to see how the Alien franchise’s latest offering was shaping up a few months prior to release.
When last we previewed Alien: Isolation, the news of the day was the game’s focus on shifting back into deliberate survival horror, making the entire gameplay experience a drawn-out battle of stealth and will between a single alien and the player, as Ripley’s daughter, attempting to survive the confrontation. (Oh, and also that small detail of the whole cast of the original movie reuniting to voiceact the game’s first DLC.) Now the game’s launch is a mere couple of months away, and The Creative Assembly was ready to show off a hands-on demo to the Comic Con masses.
Of all the games on display at SDCC, Alien: Isolation took the award for best booth design. Gamers were led to and enclosed inside a giant replica alien egg, forced to play the game in the dark while an external screen broadcast their fear and dismay to a delighted audience. While other games present drew plenty of gamers to their play lines, Alien: Isolation was the only one consistently drawing intrigued con-goers to spectate on the gameplay. Chances are good that this may turn out to be one of those rare games that’s almost as fun to simply watch as it is to play through.
The game itself is at a high state of refinement, as expected at this stage. Controls are smooth, gameplay feels tight and locked-down (if occasionally frustrating), and there was nary a glitch to be found. Alien: Isolation’s grimy, dark art design suits the series to a tee, and stands in direct contrast to the franchise’s last video game installment, the incredibly disappointing Aliens: Colonial Marines, which glossed all its textures with a clean look completely unbecoming of any enterprise of Weyland-Yutani’s. (Unfortunately for developer Gearbox Software, this was the least of the game’s sins.)
From the moment you step onto the deck and grab a flamethrower, the tension builds rapidly, and only ratchets upward. The gamer is constantly on edge—a single misstep, a run instead of a walk, a cabinet you brush against, will often mean your immediate doom. There were several instances where gamers barely made it 10 seconds into the round before giving away their position and failing to adequately make themselves scarce, causing the Alien to track them down and kill them in a matter of seconds. Against the Alien, at least, your flamethrower serves merely as a deterrent, and is not lethal. Further, the AI of the creature is impressive to behold in action. The Alien is extremely developed and unpredictable. As a gamer, it is impossible to judge which varied gameplay method may or may not succeed based on previously failed playthroughs because the Alien has few, if any, discernable patterns. The AI keeps the game fresh and dynamic—at least, in the observable gameplay currently available.
How can the player hope to defeat such a formidable foe? Your motion sensor will be your best friend, for one. Best viewed periodically to ensure you’re not crossing the creature’s path or to determine when it’s coming straight at you, the motion tracker also adds significantly to the game’s atmosphere—keeping you constantly unsettled unless your screen is entirely clear, which is still an all-too-brief respite, given how quickly the Alien can close in on you out of nowhere. Ultimately, in this game, success will be found not through aggression but through patience, stealth, and knowing when it’s okay to run and hide.
Thus far, Alien: Isolation looks to be one of the most promising stealth adventures of the year. If you’re a fan of the franchise or stealth-based survival horror, you should keep this on your radar.
Alien: Isolation launches October 7 for PC, PS3/4, and Xbox 360/One.