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Alien: Isolation Extended Hands-On Preview and Dev Interview – In This Space, They’ll Hear You Scream
Post by nachosjustice @ 01:35pm 14/08/14 | Comments
AusGamers was given the chance to sit down and take a look at just what developer Creative Assembly has in store for horror fans when it comes to Alien: Isolation

As a relatively new convert to the survival-horror genre, having missed the glory days of Resident Evil (in its prime), it’s amazing to encounter examples that get the formula so wrong, when it really does seem to be quite simple. For a game to earn ‘survival’, it needs to feel as though you’re constantly running the risk of running out of supplies and that your digital life is constantly threatened. For it to score ‘horror’, there needs to be sights and sounds that make the player feel on edge more often than not. So when Sega announced survival-horror title Alien: Isolation, forged by RTS conquerors The Creative Assembly, it was incredibly easy to be jaded.

After all, the disappointing taste of Colonial Marines was not as distant a nightmare as it should have been before the existence of Isolation was revealed. Hell, it was easy to get cynical about the project when rumblings of other humans aboard the ship seemed to go against the notion of the Isolation subtitle, which led to the seemingly logical notion of buying into the idea that the game would inevitably descend into a shooter with survival-horror elements. Having played a two-to-four-hour slice of Isolation, which I’m told was designed to throw the player in the deep end, I can safely say that this game is the business. It earns both survival and horror with aplomb.



I played through about half the demo on PS4 before sitting down with Creative Lead Al Hope to chat about the game, and eventually played through the entire preview section on PC. Alien: Isolation is beautiful on both platforms, and Al hinted that PC gamers can expect some platform-specific love outside of Oculus Rift. My money’s on in-built Twitch support, at the least, because this is one survival-horror game that’s almost as entertaining in the passenger’s seat as it is taking Amanda Ripley for a spin in the beautifully rendered, albeit cramped, corridors of the Sevastopol spaceship. She’s the daughter of Ellen Ripley, and is searching for answers about the disappearance of her mother after the Nostromo’s (the ship that Ellen destroyed in the original Alien film) black box is discovered.

But while it felt a little Jaws sequel-like that the murderous beast had a taste for specific DNA, Al shed some light on why Amanda’s inclusion made sense. “We felt like we needed someone who emotionally cared about that loss [of the Nostromo],” said Al. “In Aliens: Director’s Cut, she’s revealed and it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, hang on. There’s this character within the universe whose story hasn’t been told, and she’s Ellen Ripley’s daughter, so she has the same DNA, she’s going to be her own character, but she’s going to share some of the qualities as her mother. Wow.’ What would happen if she would confront the Alien?”

I’ll tell you what would happen if she encountered an Alien. Much like her mother in the first or third film, Amanda doesn’t have the pleasure of an arsenal of nukes, smartguns, sharp sticks and bad language that James Cameron’s Colonial Marines had for taking down Xenomorphs in Aliens. She had a revolver in the section I played, but all that did was attract and/or piss off the solitary Xeno that was perpetually stalking me. One of the greatest instances of how foolish it was to make too much noise was highlighted when an aggressive human decided I hadn’t backed off enough. She fired two shots at me, and I ducked around the corner. Seconds later there was a hiss, followed by a scream. When I built up the courage to investigate, all that was left was a blood trail. Creepy.



As would be expected, sound plays an essential role in both scaring and increasing the likelihood of player survival. It’s so essential, in fact, that I found I had to greatly reduce the volume of the pitch-perfect soundtrack just so I could track the Alien’s movement at all times. It also made me petrified of making noise. Sprinting’s an option, but it attracts the Xeno and it runs a whole lot faster than you. Walking is acceptable, but I spent most of my time crouched, moving slowly and peering around objects to check the path was clear. This is definitely one of those games where the total play time will be determined by how bold the player is in moving forward. In fact, Al said he can’t wait to see people attempting to speed run the game once it’s been released.

Surprisingly, the lean mechanic works better with a controller as the joystick afforded precision control over how far I could lean out. On PC, I had to hold a button and use the cursors, which meant Amanda was sticking her head out as far as it would go every time. Considering the fact that if you can see the Xeno’s head then it can see you, this resulted in me employing blind tactics a lot more on PC. It increased the tension, but Isolation was already dripping with that without the artificial difficulty spike on the leaning.

In fairness, human AI wasn’t the best, but when it came to trying to outsmart the Xeno, I’ve never encountered artificial intelligence as cunning and adaptive as this before. “He certainly adapts,” said Al. “You throw a flare around a corner, he sees the flare, he’ll go over investigate, that gives you a little window to avoid confrontation, great. A couple of flares later he’ll realise he’s being played with and he’s not going to go and investigate, so you’ll have to change up your style and your approach. Likewise, we have the flamethrower, and that has a range on it. Once the Alien has encountered that weapon, obviously it doesn’t like fire so it will retreat, but it learns the distance at which the flame extends from the weapon and will stay out of range. For what seems to be like a powerful game-winning tool, you suddenly realise it isn’t the answer. He’ll do things like stay out of range, look for a vent, go up above you and come back down behind you and ambush you in a different way.”



The Alien regularly dispatched me via the vents. While staying out of its line of sight is essential, being so invisible that the Xeno rages and returns to the vents isn’t advised, either. In my experience, this meant it could randomly appear from any ceiling vent if you, or someone nearby, made noise. Alternatively, it had a knack for camping vents in later sections, with the only giveaway being dribble and the occasional hiss, both of which are easy to miss amid low-light situations and blaring alarms. Staying behind the Alien proved to be the best tactic, but I was told that if I stepped on his tail, I’d be dead.

And death is something you should expect to be experiencing regularly. On hard difficulty, the Xeno is even smarter. On normal, it’s still a dastardly challenge, and there were multiple instances of tense gameplay time where the Xeno was hunting me between my hiding spot and the closest manual save point. To further complicate matter, there are no quicksave or mid-level checkpoints in Alien: Isolation. Instead, you have to locate and use manual save points that take a few precious seconds to save and, yes, you can die while using them. You might be lucky enough to get warning text that states there’s something hostile nearby, but you may decide it’s worth the risk just so you don’t lose the last 15 minutes of progress, even if that progress could be measured in distances less than 10 metres.

While the Xeno doesn’t like fire and you can temporarily slow it down by locking a door on it, don’t expect to be able to kill it. “I had one of the guys at the studio explain it as, ‘You’re the guard, aren’t you?’” said Al. “In games, you usually have the ninja killer and it’s usually [the player] and you’re preying on this defenceless guard. In this game, it’s flipped around.” You are absolutely being stalked and I never once during my multiple hours with Alien: Isolation felt as though I was the cat in this particular game of cat and mouse.



What’s more, it’s incredible how much more terrifying the Xeno is when depicted in the Ridley Scott way, as opposed to the more accepted James Cameron approach. “We really wanted to go back to the sensation of the first film. It’s very upright, very tall, something that looks down on a player, not runs around like angry dogs. It wasn’t any kind of bug or insect. This is the Alien. That’s one of the mantras we had: to re-Alien the Alien, to really reclaim it as the ultimate killer, not just any other generic sci-fi creature. One of the things is to enable the player for the first time to really experience an encounter with that Ridley Scott Alien. We were never going to make lots of different Alien types.”

And all of this is set within a game world where the Xeno is, according to Al, 10 percent scripted and 90 percent emergent. In practical terms, it meant that every time I reloaded a section of the game, it played out differently than before: sometimes slightly so, sometimes in more extreme ways. There was an instance where I used a precious noise-maker to distract the Xeno, only to come face to face with it as it unexpectedly dropped from a vent to investigate the sound. There were multiple other times when I was hiding in the back of a locker with the Xeno sniffing at the grills, squeezing down on the right mouse button to make Amanda hold her breath, only to be detected, have the door torn off the locker and I ultimately met a terrifying demise.

Despite an abundance of deaths during my time with Isolation, there weren’t any demises that I felt were cheap or unwarranted. In fact, in my calmest moments, I encountered some of the most terrifying instances when the Xeno ran straight by me to investigate a noise, or I watched as its tail curled and whipped around a corner. I immediately developed an intense fear of using underfloor passageways, or poorly lit shortcuts on the off chance I ran into the Xeno. It also didn’t help that some clever Creative Assembly artist has clearly deliberately designed certain light fixtures to look like the Alien’s head and it made my heart skip a beat every time I saw one.



What was surprising given the survival-horror tone was the absence of false positives on the near-constant use of the motion tracker: that is to say, instances of movement in the environment that make the tracker beep but turn out to be not a scary Xeno. It felt like a missed opportunity, but considering how tense the game already is, I’m sure your average player can do without the additional heart attacks.

By far the most impressive revelation, though, is that what I played was specific to the original pitch for the game, which earned the backing of Sega to work on the beloved Alien IP and scored the blessing of Fox to use the licenced character Amanda Ripley. There was also a lack of talk about whether Isolation will be canon, which was refreshing in light of the canonised disappointment otherwise known as Colonial Marines. It was also great to know that the dev team was comfortable to sit back and forge an emergent survival-horror experience that’s set to redefine what’s expected from the genre. I fell in love with Isolation’s constant feeling of uneasiness within the first five minutes and cannot wait for October to arrive so I can experience the terror all over again.


Nathan Lawrence can be found fragging n00bs in a variety of digital battlefields, but most commonly the ones from the franchise with a capital ‘B’. He loves games with a strong narrative component, and believes in a gaming world where cutscenes are no longer necessary. In his lack of spare time, Nathan can be found working on a variety of wacky script ideas, and dreams of freeing cinemagoers from unnecessary sequels and pointless remakes by writing films with never-before-seen twists and turns. But mostly he’s all about the fragging of n00bs.

Recent articles by Nathan:
Find him on Twitter - @nachosjustic PSN - SaintRasputin XBL – NachosJustice and Steam - uber_chimera
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Read more about Alien: Isolation on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!



Latest Comments
midunno
Posted 11:11pm 14/8/14
Sooo. Worth a pre order?
Or the usual, its great, its aliens. But once brought it feels like you've been rogered by a alien head
zaraq
Posted 12:18am 15/8/14
image

Rogered by an alien you say?
midunno
Posted 01:22am 15/8/14
Nope i said alien head ;)
That one doesn't have giant banana head to roger you with.
zaraq
Posted 04:05am 15/8/14
Researchers from IBM, Cornell Tech:

"We are now a step closer to building a computer similar to our brain" said Rajit Manohar, a researcher at Cornell Tech.

The neurosynaptic chip dubbed TrueNorth works to mimic the 'right brain' functions.
It is an astonishing achievement to deliver a chip that emulates the human brain.
Computers may be able to one day combine the 'left brain' machines with the new 'right brain' devices.

(edited for brevity).

Cyber- dyne is a go,could this be beginning of true artificial creatures?
Tollaz0r!
Posted 06:37am 15/8/14
midunno, Do you get anything special for the pre-order that you really want? Is it cheaper to pre-order? If both of these answers are no, then it most certainly isn't worth pre-ordering.
nings
Posted 04:02pm 15/8/14
Dear CA, please don't f*** it up.
midunno
Posted 01:09am 17/8/14
Id rather play the original alien. Its only 20/30 bucks depending on where you get it. Ive spent worse on kick starter/ indigogo for less.
You get the Nostromo Missions, which you know they'll flog off for $10 bucks, after.
Im just sick of getting Geigered with this franchise, that i love
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