Ever since Sega decided to appeal to the Western market by releasing games based on the Alien franchise, there has been a rather foul taste in gamers’ mouths. Aliens vs. Predators in 2007 left us certainly dissatisfied and Aliens: Colonial Marines last year turned our bored sighs into angry ones. Sega certainly have built up a poor reputation for themselves when it comes to the Alien franchise, and this has left many wondering why the upcoming Alien: Isolation should be any different? Here’s why you should have a little faith. Alien: Isolation may be published by Sega but it’s incredibly obvious that the developers have the passion and authenticity to make this game something fans of the films have been aching for. Let’s discuss.
What we have seen of Alien: Isolation is impressive; there’s no doubt about it. Yet the initial gameplay trailer for Aliens: Colonial Marines had gamers just as excited. The trailer was full of impressive little details, fun chit-chat between the rough marines and incredibly tense combat with the hidden Aliens that swarmed all over the environments. It nailed the look of the Aliens film and felt almost like it acted as an imperative chapter in the plot of the movie. Yet when the game was released, all of the elements of the trailer that gamers enjoyed were ultimately removed.
The game ruined parts of the lore and took liberties with continuity; the AI was awful, and poor graphics and gameplay rounded out its issues. The initial trailer was a well-dressed sample to entice you but once you bought your admission ticket, you realized you purchased a buggy mess of a game that was widely regarded as the “Worst of 2013”. All of this leaves Alien: Isolation in a tricky spot. Comments like “Ew. Another Aliens game from Sega? Did they not learn their lesson with Colonial Marines?” are obviously expected and frankly, people can’t be blamed for thinking this way. “Fool me, once” and all that certainly applies here, though there are a few reasons why you should cast off some of those doubtful thoughts.
First of all, this is not an Aliens game but rather an Alien game. The difference between Alien and Aliens is night and day with Alien often regarded as part of the horror genre and Aliens seen as an icon of the action/horror genre. This means that there will be a major difference between the themes of Alien: Isolation to previous games. In Isolation, players will be running away from the Xenomorph instead of fighting it. Creative Assembly, the development team behind the game was adamant about only including one Alien to hunt down the player.
The Xenomorph actively “hunts” down the player throughout the game, with an advanced AI that reacts to the player’s patterns instead of pre-programmed ones. That means that every interaction will be different every time you play. The game also has next to no weapons to defeat the Alien but only some to distract it as you attempt to avoid it. This is a big change from the typical FPS formula we’ve come to expect from previous attempts. Usually, you would mow down as many Aliens as possible with strong weapons but for Isolation, you’re running scared, with no way to defend yourself.
The reason behind making Alien: Isolation is because the developers wanted to make the Alien game they have been “wanting for years.” Creative Assembly are best known for their work with the Total War games, though they have also dabbled in lightly genres. They do not have a lot of experience with horror-based titles, but the strategy and adventure titles in the back catalogue will certainly help with some aspects. More important is the love that the team has for the Alien film, as it is this that is helping set Isolation apart. The team have made sure that any of the technology used in the game does not look out of place with the “retro future” setting and are trying to nail both the atmosphere and look of the original film.
Creative Assembly admitted that they loved the initial Resident Evil and Dead Space games for their creepy atmosphere but felt dissatisfied that the series changed their direction towards something more “action-orientated”. This is a good indication that Alien: Isolation will stick to the same “survival horror” theme throughout and you will not be forced to learn combat or use weapons but rather tactics for distraction and deception. The team also praised games such as Bioshock and Dishonored and seems to take cues with how their worlds are constructed so we can expect to learn more about the universe through environmental storytelling.
However, there seems to be a real inspiration from Dead Space 2 in Alien: Isolation. In the initial 10-15 minutes, Dead Space 2 does not allow the player to combat the enemies. You have no choice but to run as fast as you can before you eventually pick up a weapon. Later in the game, Isaac Clarke faces an enemy that will not die. You can cripple the enemy and slow it down but it will eventually regenerate and continue to hunt you down. Even as you progress further through the level, you meet the enemy again. Alien: Isolation looks to take some of those scariest parts of Dead Space 2 and create a true nail-biting terror where you are constantly hunted and you can’t fight back. All of this gameplay is presented in the retro futurism look and other aspects of the 1970s Alien film. There’s certainly a lot to be excited about.
Speaking of inspirations, the game seems to take cues from the successes of first-person horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast as you won’t have anything to defend yourself from the Alien monster and you’ll be able to hide under desks and tables with bated breath as you wait for the threat to pass. The player will have a gadget to help track where the Xenomorph is but at the cost of forcing the player’s perspective on the screen. Everything outside of the screen of the device will be filtered with a soft-focus so it can be even harder to spot the Xenomorph skulking around in the darkness. Creative Assembly really want to focus on how terrifying the Xenomorph really is by forcing you to run away or face certain death. It’s a bold new direction from the usual FPS onslaught we’ve come to expect with the Alien franchise, and unlike Colonial Marines, is attracting interest for the right reasons in being faithful to the source material and not being outsourced to a less than capable developer. If anything, it seems more like a fan project given triple-A funding and talent to bring it to life.
Alien: Isolation looks like the revival the Alien franchise has been looking for. While it may have the Sega tag attached, it does not mean it will suffer from the same issues as Colonial Marines. The difference with Isolation is that there is a genuine feeling that a huge amount of love and care went into recreating the horrifically tense atmosphere of the original Alien film as well as helping establish the true terror of being hunted by a 9-foot Xenomorph. The game will be available to play on PS4,Xbox One and PC for the public at EGX Rezzed in Birmingham on March 28th so be sure to attend if you want the first hands-on to see how terrifying the game really is. Only time will tell if Alien: Isolation really is a success or not but it certainly looks like a step in the right direction as it strives to distance itself from the disaster that befell Colonial Marines. Alien Isolation looks set to be the Alien horror game you didn’t know that you’ve always wanted.