Some 35 years after Ridley Scott reinvented horror films using what would quickly become the most iconic of extra-terrestrial lifeforms, a Sussex-based studio is seeking to do the same for soil-your-undergarments videogaming.
Creative Assembly cut its teeth on PC's successful Total War series, so on the surface seems an odd fit for the game of scares you've spent more than three decades praying for. But a behind-closed-doors look at Alien: Isolation confirms that the only thing to fear here is that eyeless, 3m-tall slimebag.
The first-person horror adventure is packed with fan-sating references to the movie, and takes all its influences from the series' 1979 roots. There are no guns. There's only one enemy. And attempting to outlast it in the outer reaches of space is a spunky young lass named Ripley.
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This time around you're Ellen's daughter Amanda, a Weyland-Yutani engineer drawn to an abandoned space station, the Sevastopol, by traces of the Nostromo's black box 15 years after the ship disappeared. And if none of that makes much sense to you, you'd better watch the first film.
Once on the space station, she loses contact with the rest of her crew – and swiftly comes into contact with a certain fallic-domed beast. The point of the adventure, then, is simply to survive; a prospect made especially tricky by the alien's movements being completely unscripted. There are no behaviour patterns to learn off by heart here. Just you and that infamous bitch, playing the deadliest game of cat-and-mouse imaginable.
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This is the closest you'll ever get to a virtual tour of the Nostromo. While the name's different and you're on a space station rather than a ship, everything about its design is informed by Scott's original movie setting.
Cold white walls abound, CRT monitors blink through the darkness, and flashing lights guide you nervously through claustrophobic corridors from one room to the next. The hospital looks like the Nostromo's med bay, supersized. In the dining area, a table is littered with retro-sloganed cereal boxes and kids drawings – suggesting that whole families lived here at one time. Their current whereabouts will surely form a major plot point. (We're predicting 'oozetastic cocoon'.)
Other nods to the original flick include multi-lingual signs which play a vital role in navigation, all manner of workstation switches and levers, and various containers, gels and tools with which you're able to splice together additional melee weaponry. Fox supplied the devs with 3TB of unused Alien material, and it's evidently been put to fantastic use.
Ingeniously, this looks like the future as imagined in the '70s and '80s, rather than the pristine, touchscreen-centric version popularised by modern telly and cinema. It's Tom Baker over David Tennant, Peter Weller as opposed to Joel Kinnaman.
And HD really enables that setting to sing – as well as injecting the eponymous lead baddie with an entirely fresh sense of fear. The smooth, almost effortless movement first brought to screen by Bolaji Badejo has been mimicked perfectly, and may finally lay to rest your horrendous flashbacks of the old girl's distant offspring somehow learning to swim in Alien 3.
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The biggest risk being taken by Creative Assembly is unleashing a game with no fire button upon a market saturated with shooters. Evidently, the idea here is to go in the opposite direction to colossal xeno-flop Aliens: Colonial Marines, and that has to be considered a positive. Instead of conventional weaponry, your only hope while navigating the Sevastopol – at least to begin with – is a motion tracker, a flashlight, and a limp-limbed melee attack.
In a potential masterstroke, Isolation isn't about killing the alien, but outlasting it. And the lack of enemy scripting isn't the only thing ensuring you a tough ride; it learns from your behaviour, too. Try to use the same route through each environment, or attack with the same cobbled-together object too often, and Creative Assembly says it'll adjust its tactics in response. How exactly remains to be seen, but it sounds fascinating.
And when the acid lady does appear as a blip on your motion tracker? Well, it's as terrifying as you both hoped and dreaded. Particularly when the signal then disappears again, inspiring Blair Witch-esque shrieks of 'where the eff is it?!' in your mind. Even more frightful are the occasions when you catch the shadow of its tail draping down from above, or switch on the flashlight to spot it sliding past a doorway. It's going to be challenging to maintain that intensity and fear across 10-12 hours, but the initial signs are very promising.
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More after the break...
THE INSIDE VIEW
A critical component in Isolation's fear factor is the lack of a HUD, which senior designer Gary Napper says would dilute the experience. “I love playing games where I'm shooting stuff and I see numbers bouncing off heads,” he told Official PlayStation Magazine. “But we've made a game that's all about atmosphere and tension and horror, and you can't really apply that to it.”
Senior producer Jonathan Court, meanwhile, is keen to point out that while the alien's behaviour is unscripted, the narrative is not. While there's much to explore on the Sevastopol, this is no open-world game: “We’ve got a series of beats and a strong story that takes you through,” he revealed to Metro. “But we also have multiple routes and opportunities to go back where you’ve been.”
Sega has been showing Alien: Isolation at conventions and events of late via the Oculus Rift VR headset, and if you think it’s scary peering out of cupboards and dashing away from skittering sound effects when looking at a flatscreen, just wait until it’s strapped onto your head.
Putting on the headset does change the gameplay a bit, because the motion-tracking latest version of the Rift (the Development Kit 2) means you'll need to look down to use your proximity sensor, or move your head to look through slits in the locker you’ve cowered into.
Granted, Alien: Isolation is set to debut well before the consumer version of the Rift does - perhaps a year or more at this point. But that’s an experience we expect eventual Rift owners will want to return to, even if it’s deep into 2015.
For all the griping that occurs over downloadable content announced before a game is properly released, we can’t help but feel a bit guilty that Isolation’s big DLC is perhaps our most anticipated part of the game. But how else are we supposed to react?
Crew Expendable is a bonus mission available free to anyone that pre-orders the game, and it drops players back into the Nostromo, the ship from the original Alien film - and features the familiar crew, many voiced by their original actors. You can play as Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Dallas (Tom Skerritt), or Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and try to isolate and defeat the titular monster within the ship.
Surely, the mission will also be sold separately for those who don’t pre-order - but if the sound of that gets you as excited as it got us, then you might as well put down a deposit now. Check out some of the original cast (including Weaver) discussing the project above.
Alien: Isolation arrives on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC on 7 October. "We couldn't be happier to finally announce a date for Alien: Isolation,” Creative Assembly's Alistair Hope said on delivering the news last month. "The reaction we have seen so far has been simply incredible, from the screams and shrieks to the cold sweats and racing hearts. It's the Alien game that we've always wanted to play and we can't wait to let everyone get their hands on it this fall."
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