Earlier this year, I got to play Alien: Isolation for the first time. The demo was thrilling and I walked away wanting more, but, as I pointed out in this month’s cover story, I didn’t have a whole lot of context for what I was seeing. The Creative Assembly did a great job of setting up the action before dropping me into a station with the creature – unarmed, no less – but I wanted to see it unfold myself. Months later, I got my wish. I was able to play the game from its opening moments through the game’s seventh chapter. In that time, I got my bearings on Sevastopol station, met up with some of its hostile inhabitants, and had my interest in the game cemented. Read on for my updated reasons for why I think The Creative Assembly is making the Alien game that could help redeem the franchise.
It’s A Slow Burn
The night before I got my demo, I sat down and watched Alien again. It’d been a decade or so since I last watched Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, and I wanted to make sure that it was as fresh in my mind as possible. I was struck by its pacing, and how seemingly nothing happens for minutes at a time – an eternity by today’s standards. Even when things go catastrophically wrong for Dallas, Ellen Ripley, and the rest of the crew of the Nostromo, it’s a slow burn. Shotguns, pulse rifles, and Colonial Marines would have to wait. My time with Alien: Isolation showed that The Creative Assembly took a cue from Scott’s methodical pacing, too.
The opening hours are about getting your bearings and learning more about the Sevastopol. As Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, you’re sent to the spaceport to retrieve the flight recorder from the doomed Nostromo, which was lost 15 years ago. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, apparently the ship that recovered the black box also brought along an especially unfriendly (and otherworldly) stowaway. Those opening hours were unnerving, largely because I was alone for much of it – the game’s name is no coincidence. I spent much of that time absorbing the atmosphere and reading about the station, which was in the middle of being decommissioned by its operator, the Seegson Corporation. Once I did encounter life, however, things quickly went out of control.
Encounters Have Meaning
One of the many things that Aliens: Colonial Marines got wrong was the way it introduced enemy humans to the game. They were faceless drones that only existed to shoot at you when you weren’t facing crowds of dopey-looking aliens. Their presence further reduced it from being a lame Aliens game to a lame Aliens game with poorly realized firefights. Alien: Isolation takes a different approach. Instead of bombarding you with gunfights, the encounters you have with other survivors are carefully distributed.
Sevastopol was in the midst of being decommissioned before the alien arrived, and its staff was reduced to a skeleton crew. The remaining population is skittish and understandably wary of your presence. They will fight you if pressed, so the best course of action is to avoid them entirely. It took me a while to get into that mindset. If I have a gun in a game, I’m going to use it. After a while, I realized that doing so only drew unnecessary attention to my position, putting me in immediate danger.
It’s A Stealth Game, But You Can Make Mistakes
With that in mind, I adapted. I took time to observe what people, Working Joe androids, and the alien were doing before acting. I can’t speak to the later parts of the game, but in the opening hours you simply don’t have the tools to take everyone on. If your goal is to leave a trail of bodies in your wake, you should probably reconsider the game. Alien: Isolation is about cautiously hoarding your resources, watching what your enemies are doing, and finding routes that let you slip by unnoticed whenever possible.
That said, you’re not powerless when most opponents notice you. There’s almost always an out, whether it’s chucking a flare in another direction, rushing off to the shadows, or utilizing one of the many service tunnels. If you’re being trailed by a person, you can use your weapons in a pinch – while that gun shouldn’t be the first tool you reach for, it is a gun, after all. The same goes for those Working Joes, though their mechanical bodies are far more resilient. If the alien’s on your trail, unfortunately, engaging it head-on will only get you a nice death animation and a reload prompt.
You Have Options
The first day of my demo, I played for about eight hours. The following day, I watched as a Sega representative ran through it again. I was surprised to see just how much our individual playstyles affected each situation, even though the story plays out in a fairly linear sequence. For example, I used those flares and other distractions whenever possible, coaxing my foes out of my path so I could continue undetected. As I saw, you don’t have to do that at all. Instead, when you have enough experience under your belt, you can push uncomfortably close to Sevastopol’s other inhabitants. It’s an intense way to play (and to watch), but you keep more items in your arsenal that way, should you need them later.
Even though our ultimate destinations were the same, we also ended up taking different paths. I found a few floor vents he didn’t know about, and vice versa. Or he’d bypass rooms by using those utility tunnels, where I opted to quietly navigate past armed survivors. When I spoke with developers from The Creative Assembly later, they said one of their goals was that people would be able to share their unique stories with friends after beating the game. That is, if they manage to get off Sevastopol in one piece.
Alien: Isolation is coming out October 7. It's one of two games featured on the cover of our latest issue. Check out the hub for a month of features on the game and horror games in general.