EGX Rezzed hit Birmingham this week and centerpiece to the showfloor was Alien Isolation. Now we all know how hard Sega's reputation has been hit with its handling of the Alien franchise. Alien Vs Predator was underwhelming and Aliens: Colonial Marines is considered by many as a complete disaster made worse by its false promises of something truly special as shown in early trailer reveals. Sega haven't always mishandled their Alien acquisition. In 2011 they released Alien Infestation for Nintendo DS. Competently made by 2D supremo developer WayForward, Alien Infestation boasted rock hard gameplay with an atmosphere reminiscent of the sweaty claustrophobia of James Cameron's gung-ho sequel. Sega haven't given up on delivering Alien games on home consoles just yet. Alien Isolation was announced in January and promises to be the definitive Alien experience. I sat down and played a lengthy demo at EGX. Will this be the Alien game fans of the original 1979 classic have always wanted?
Straight off the mark Alien Isolation is keen to remind you that all inspiration comes from Ridley Scott's original and not James Cameron's Aliens. The story focuses after the events of Alien, with Ripley's daughter Amanda who volunteers to search the Nostromo to find out more about her mum's disappearance. Developers Creative Assembly describe the game as a haunted house in space. They emphasise that there is only one Alien who won't be killed and it's up to you to navigate your environment with utmost trepidation. The Nostromo's interior has all the winks and nods to the original which is a wonderful thing. I loved searching out the room where Kane met his end with a bad case of Bronchitis, though I don't remember so many adult magazines littered on the floor. They're everywhere.
Walking around the Nostromo is a similar experience to the beginning of the original film. If you remember, Alien opened up with an extended, silent introduction to the labyrinth spaceship brilliantly setting up the ominous tone and the themes of isolation in a terrifying new world. Alien Isolation nails this introduction and you certainly feel the isolation and tension within your surroundings. There are some fine details that further highlight the sense of time and place. The tutorial at the start of the demo is shown through a grainy, noisy VHS filter which again is reminiscent to the film. Conveniantly, this also adds an extra dimension to the horror thanks to the found footage genre plaguing cinemas today on an infinite loop. Communication between the characters is predictably distorted but lends a hand generating tension during the scarier scenes. The now infamous tracking device with its familiar progressive beeping is charmingly heavy and bulky and probably a nuisance to carry around.
Meeting the Alien for the first time is a nail-biting experience and the highlight of the demo. A situation arises where you have to make it across an area to an escape hatch. The Alien stalks every nook and cranny meaning you have to remain hidden almost constantly. You can peek around corners to scout where the Alien may be or resort to your trusted tracking device. It's an incredible adrenaline rush knowing the Alien is just on the other side of a table when your tracking device is beeping uncontrollably. Revealing yourself to the Alien results in instant death but this showcases an impressive thing. I died quite a few times in this section and I was worried the game was already becoming an exercise in trial and error. However, when re-trying from my last checkpoint I realised the Alien moves and searches in a different pattern meaning any worries of trial and error are quickly vanquished.
I was very impressed with Alien Isolation. It absolutely nails the feel of the original film and the encounters with the Alien are taut and terrifying. There was the odd glitch here and there that can be ironed out such as my map not appearing on screen and Amanda's melee attacks didn't connect with with the environment. Another gripe was when you enter a room close to your objective and the game breaks the illusion of tension by having Amanda say hints like 'Right if only I had a...' for example. My only main concern is how Alien Isolation can keep the pace up for a full length game and will there be any replay value once the experience is over. As an exercise in stripped down survival horror, I suspect we're looking at a 5-6 hour campaign which is fine by me.
Alien Isolation is out 7th October 2014 on PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
Image supplied by Sega