They say that in space no-one can here you scream. After going hand’s on with Creative Assembly’s latest project we’re inclined to disgaree. The Xenomorph will hear you, it hears everything. Before you have flashbacks to last year’s disaster with Alien: Colonial Marines let us assure you that Alien: Isolation is a different beast entirely.
Set after the events of the first film, you play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the original Ripley and part of a team sent to Sevastopol station to collect the flight recorder from the Nostromo. As soon as you enter the station you can tell something is wrong. When you first arrive the station is shut down with no power but as soon as you enter you get to see the fantastic lighting that accompanies the game. We played the demo on PS4 and it really does look next-gen.
The set up is simple but effective. To start with all you have are a flashlight and a motion tracker. The light will let you see your way but will alert the Xenomorph to your position. The motion tracker will alert you to the Xenomorph’s movements but will leave you blind to your immediate surroundings. This underpins the survival horror element of the gameplay. You won’t beat the Xenomorph so all you have to do is survive with whatever tools you have.
For any survival horror game to succeed you need more than just great graphics and a promising set up though. Here Creative Assembly have put a lot of thought into every aspect of the game, The sound of the station is just as you would expect, from the groaning of the station suddenly coming back to life to the blips on the motion tracker everything just sounds right. Allied to this the pacing of the demo felt perfect. We didn’t meet the Xenomorph until half way through and that was in the brightest room we had encountered. There won’t be any cheap jumps coming from suddenly meeting it halfway down a hallway with no chance of escape.
With only one Xenomorph this time around you could be fooled into thinking this would be easy, but it finally feels like the threat it should do. It’s strong, fast and smart and will easily take you down, something which is proved when our first encounter with it leads us to try and run away. We’re killed within seconds. In fact each time the Xenomorph takes us down teaches us something else about the game.
After running didn’t work we attempted to hide in a locker only for the Xenomorph to wait outside. We held our breath as long as we could to avoid making a noise, only for it to wait until we had to breath. It tore open the locker and killed us. Gone are the days when a simple ruse will work, a la Metal Gear. On the third attempt we actually managed to make it to our objective, an emergency airlock, only to have it set off an alarm as it re-pressurised. Trapped behind a waist high counter we tried to play hide and seek with the Xenomorph, only for it to outsmart us and double back leading to death number 3.
The key here is that the game constantly asks you to think about each action. With the Xenomorph able to adapt to what you do, it’s never as simple as restarting at a checkpoint and trying again, rather it asks you to constantly check the environment to try to outfox the beast. You can’t win one-on-one in a straight fight so you must use everything you have at your disposal to just survive.
Overall it feels exactly like the Alien game we’ve all been waiting for. From the little nods to the films scattered about the place, though in a much more subtle manner than Gearbox’s attempt, to the overpowering sense that the Xenomorph just can’t be beaten it looks like Creative Assembly have got a winner on their hands here. Suddenly there looks like there will be another contender for game of the year come December.