Alien: Isolation (preview)

Fact: Alien is the best science fiction film ever. You can argue about this, you can disagree with this, but that is all that you can do.

It is only a shame that good video games set in the Alien universe are few and in between. Lately, it became always the same, well trodden path: great expectations followed by a huge disappointment.

The last such attempt, Aliens: Colonial Marines, was nothing short of a disaster. Players complained about multiple bugs, lacklustre A.I., unbalanced gameplay, poorly implemented multiplayer mode, low quality graphics compared to the pre-release demos and lack of continuity with the original Alien films, despite the prior boisterous claims from the developer that the events of the game are supposed to be part of the Alien canon. Alien: Isolation is a game which has a fair chance to break this curse.

Alien was modelled on H. R. Giger's original design for the creature from the first Alien film.

The Creative Assembly, its developer, describes the game as a survival horror, as opposed to an action shooter, and to that end chose to base the game more closely on Ridley Scott's original sci-fi horror film Alien, as opposed to James Cameron's more action oriented sequel Aliens. Indeed, unlike most other video game adaptations of the Alien franchise (notably the aforementioned ill-fated Aliens: Colonial Marines), Alien: Isolation features only one Alien throughout the game that, as in the original Alien film, is nigh on invulnerable, requiring the player to use evasion and stealth, rather than brute force and huge arsenal of weapons, in order to survive.

The artificial intelligence of the Alien has been programmed with a complex set of behavioural processes, so that the creature actively hunts the player by sight and sound clues. Moreover, Alien has an ability to learn from its encounters with the player and adjust its hunting strategy accordingly. This includes the ability to investigate secondary sources of disturbance, for example, if the Alien notices a locker door is ajar or an air lock is open, it will investigate further. Levels are non-linear with multiple entry and exit points for each room, providing alternative routes for both the player and the Alien to escape and attack, respectively.

The player can run, but this increases the noise that they make, thus increasing the chance of the Alien noticing them. The player has also the ability to crouch behind objects, crawl under tables or hide inside lockers to break line of sight with the Alien.

Technology which can be seen throughout the space station, such as the monochrome computers, faithfully replicates the look of the sci-fi classic.

As in the film, the player has the use of an electric torch and a motion tracker to detect the Alien's movements, however using these creates light and noise respectively and that again increases the chances of the player being spotted by the Alien. Although the player has access to some iconic weapons from the film, such as the flamethrower, they are, in line with the plot of the Alien, ineffective against the xenomorph.

The interior of the space station, and the technology depicted within, is made to look as if it were designed in the late 70s in order to faithfully replicate the look of the first Alien film, e.g. the computers have monochrome displays and simple line graphics. The Alien itself was modelled to look similar to H. R. Giger's original design for the creature from the first Alien film, as opposed to the later designs that were used for the film's more recent sequels.

I find that trying to get out of a situation by stirring things between the other humans and the Alien is immensely satisfying - Jon Court, Lead Producer

To help Creative Assembly recreate the unique atmosphere of the original film, 20th Century Fox provided them with an assortment of archived data related to the original Alien film, including notes on props and set designs, behind the scenes photos and videos, the film's original sound effect recordings and most importantly, the original musical score which, remastered, will feature in the finalised version of the video game.

All this should help to ensure that the Alien: Isolation will recapture the essence of the Ridley Scott’s seminal science-fiction horror film Alien.

The game features also the iconic motion tracker from the original film.

The Creative Assembly is a well-established video game developer known primarily for strategy video games, notably the Total War series, which are now regarded as a benchmark in the strategy games genre. My only concern is that they have practically no experience in either survival horror genre or first-person-style video games. On the plus side, a substantial number of former employees of Crytek (experts in the first-person shooter genre), were working on the project, and the game demos and screenshots released so far look rather reassuring.

Moreover, the game is fully playable as of January 2014, and, according to the developer, the remaining time to 7 October 2014 release date will be spent on testing, debugging and further improvements. This should guarantee that the game won’t be full of bugs and its playability won’t be compromised as it happened with the unfortunate Aliens: Colonial Marines.

The response we got for our prototype level on Oculus Rift was just phenomenal - Al Hope, Creative Lead
Player can use interaction of NPCs to their advantage, e.g. by creating conflict between the other humans or androids and the Alien.

And now, for the bombshell: Alien: Isolation is running, though yet only in prototype form, on Oculus Rift. Al Hope, Creative Assembly’s Creative Lead for Console Team, saw the Oculus Rift's potential in survival horror games and talked Creative Assembly into making the Alien: Isolation demo for this virtual reality headset. People who donned Oculus Rift and played the short excerpt from the full game at E3 2014 found the experience genuinely terrifying and likened it to actually being in the Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi film.

We can only pray that all goes well for the Alien: Isolation, that the full game will be as frightening experience as was the E3 demo and that the final version of the game will be fully compatible with the Oculus Rift.