Last month I was invited to the Soho Hotel in London, along with a smattering of other games professionals in order to try out the latest code of the upcoming horror survival game Alien: Isolation. We were taken down into a sweltering, baroque room below the ground floor, lights down low, screens flickering with ominous green intent.
The game itself, being developed by the Creative Assembly, creators of the Total War franchise, is set 15 years before the events of the original movie Alien. Action in the previews so far has been located on the small space station Sevastopol, which had picked up the flight recorder from the Nostromo. Since doing so, contact with the station has been lost, leaving Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen to figure out why as part of the team investigating.
Razor-sharp suspense, just as in Ridley Scott’s film, is the heart of this game. Skulking around the claustrophobic corridors of the space station, listening for the faintest of noises, making sure you are out of sight, traceless is 90% of the action. Unlike other stealth games, though, your actions do not feel accomplished – you are no master thief. Instead, every moment in the shadows is a desperate, terrifying bid for survival.
With no UI to speak of, you must use an futuristically old motion tracker to keep abreast of where the sole alien on the station is at any moment, as well as to figure out what direction your current objective is. However, doing so creates noise and light, potentially alerting your enemies (there are hostile humans and androids aboard, too) and the alien to your presence. Curiosity, I found by playing, often kills the cat.
The alien itself cannot be killed, and this makes it all the more terrifying. The desire to balance your knowledge of its exact position and not be heard or seen places you squarely on a knife edge of suspense I can’t say I’ve ever experienced in a game before.
Despite some performance issues with the Xbox One due to the intense heat of the room we were in, the game looks and feels perfect. Huge effort has been made in duplicating the ambience, technologically and aesthetically, of the original film. Monitors ping and crackle, green on black. Vents and pipes snake like intestines in the corridors. H.R. Giger’s surrealist vision is alive and well, and as unsettling as ever.
Whilst mechanics like crafting and the variety of weapons on show weren’t developed a great deal in the level we got to play, there was certainly a fair amount of scope with what would be possible. One imagines that over a long campaign of missions, collecting resources to keep yourself alive will be as compelling as hiding and skulking for your life.
The developers have said that there will more to the game than this almost unbearable (but exquisite) tension, which is a relief. As Al Hope, the games creative lead has said “For me, the game is very much about the whole of the journey. The station itself is almost a character – it’s very broken and physically dangerous and just navigating your way through it is kind of a puzzle so that occupies the player from moment to moment.”
Here’s hoping the rest of the puzzle is as good as what we’ve seen so far.