The lights are on
Creative Assembly had its work cut out for it with Alien: Isolation. Not only is it extremely challenging to transpose a 1979 horror film to the interactive medium, but the studio and publisher Sega have to win back fans turned off by Gearbox's 2013 Colonial Marines fumble.I spent five hours and an uncountable number of deaths with Alien: Isolation, and while the title needs the remaining time for polish before the October 7 release, it's in good shape. Our demo begins mid-way through the game as Amanda Ripley needs to find medical attention for an injured comrade.The Sevastopol is a station located in deep space that has fallen into disrepair and is desperately low on supplies. A ship that docked recently unleashed the Xenomorph menace, and Amanda must sneak through the corridors and solve puzzles while avoiding the predator.
It incorporates a hacking minigame, which fits within the retro aesthetic. When encountering a console or door that needs a technological nudge, you'll tune your portable device and then match pieces of a pattern against what's displayed.
Throughout our time with the game, the alien grows more intelligent. Our first encounter with it is sudden and terrifying. Finding a place to hide is challenging, and it's never a quiet process. If you slip into a locker or crate when the alien is too close, it will rip the door off and have you for lunch.Your best bet is to avoid getting that close. Judicious use of the motion tracker is crucial, though it obscures the rest of the scene through a close focus effect. You won't want it out at all times, but you will likely find yourself checking it frequently. You'll hear the alien stomping around or crawling through the vents above you, and you'll get subtle pings from the tracker even when it's not raised. Learning how to gauge the creature's distance is a big part of the learning curve, especially since there are no automatic or objective-based saves. You'll need to manually use emergency stations to catalog your progress. Right now, some of them are too far apart. Tuning the location of emergency stations would go a long way to improving the experience, and it shouldn't be a difficult fix. I'm looking forward to seeing how this is tuned on the way to release.
Death can mean having to repeat a tricky section again. Since the alien has unpredictable behaviors (similar to the A.I. Director in Left 4 Dead), you never know just where it will pop up even when you reload into a familiar save.
Thankfully, Ripley has some tools at her disposal. Alien: Isolation features a hefty crafty system that is reminiscent of the one featured in The Last of Us. Ripley will find a wide variety of components and combine them to create noisemakers, flashbangs, EMP mines, molotov cocktails, and more.Against the Xenomorph, distraction is your best bet. Throwing a noisemaker in the direction opposite from your objective (also displayed on the motion tracker) is a smart tactic (provided you aren't between the Xeno and it). Against angry human survivors and corrupted android enemies, you'll want to sneak by, use smoke grenades, or attack quickly with a stun baton. Ripley has a revolver, but it's not terribly easy to use and bullets are scarce.Later on in the demo, the alien got smart and started sitting in open ceiling vents. Looking for its breath and listening for the drip of saliva on the ground was the only way to avoid it.As devious and deadly as the A.I. is, it still needs refinement before release. I found myself frequently facing instant death upon reloading a save because of random Xeno placement. Those situations aren't fun, even with the speediest of load times (and Alien: Isolation did sport quick loading in our Xbox One demo). This is a matter of polishing the A.I. to retain its cruel intelligence without putting the player in unfair situations. There is certainly time for that before October.
It's rare that a game – even a survival horror title – can keep me on my toes through multiple reloads. Alien: Isolation isn't a game of trial and error. This isn't about firing faster or more accurately. It's about moving wisely using equipment, taking risks when necessary, and being a bit lucky. The more I played, the more comfortable I got with the alien's movement. I started to get a feel for its distance by the sound of its stomps, got wise about luring it toward human aggressors, and knew when to duck into a closet to break line of sight.Alien: Isolation is wicked in a way we don't see that often anymore. It reminds me of the brutal challenge of Resident Evil 2, with the atmosphere that fans of the film series have been looking for in the interactive medium.There's still work to be done before release, but as an extensive, hands-on work-in-progress, I am hopeful. We'll know for sure how it stacks up when the title is released on October 7 for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PC.
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