Never has a game made me feel so uncomfortable, and as a pathetically obsessive fan of the Alien series, with Ridley Scott’s epic firmly at No.1 on my all-time favourites list, it certainly had me excited for what is looking to be the most accurate virtual recreation of the Alien lore we’ve ever seen.
Now, I could just talk about what is it that made Alien: Isolation my favourite game of the show, but I don’t think that will accurately articulate just how frightening the experience was for me. It wasn’t even so much about what was actually happening in the game as it was what could potentially happen, and that’s what makes it so great.
Every sound makes you vulnerable
The opening few seconds of my play-through had me nervously creeping through the introductory area. I’d already sat in on a demo played by a member of the development team, so I knew how important it was to keep a low profile. What’s particularly engrossing about this game is how it’s equally as inviting as an exploration title as it is a survival game: it’s very, very hard to cautiously move around the place, because it’s very easy to just get lost in the environment around you.
So at first I found myself moving slowly, only to pick up the pace as I moved into the next room. Suddenly, as I walked along the crates, the motion tracker started to beep: the alien was onto me.
I irresponsibly turned around and sprinted back into the opening area, only to find it to be a dead end. I ran back into the next room, with the tracker beeping erratically, and snuck into a vent in the wall. It didn’t work. The damage had been done, and the alien was searching.
I managed to survive this encounter, but it provided me with a powerful opening lesson: do not underestimate the hunting capabilities of the alien, and always, always be cautious with your movements.
If you run, you die
You’re not actually going to be running a lot in Alien: Isolation. In my experience I slowly crept or walked around the place, and any time I did start running, it would attract the alien and I’d find myself backing up to find somewhere to hide.
The only other time I ran was when the alien saw me, and once it sees Amanda, you’re finished.
Moral of the story: try not to run, and if you have to, you’re probably already dead.
The alien isn’t your only enemy
You’ll meet other humans and even synthetics, but you can’t trust anyone in space, and especially not in Alien: Isolation. Human interaction is rare but can have powerful consequences.
They might be threatened by Amanda, for example, and might threaten to shoot her. They might shoot first, ask questions later, or they might even be willing to trade with you.
Whatever happens, you have to consider how the interaction is going to negatively affect you: do you engage with this person openly and risk attracting the alien but perhaps gain an ally, or do you avoid the contact all together and go on your merry way, but perhaps miss out on important information and tools?
The alien suspect’s things
Alien: Isolation is the kind of game that makes you feel uncomfortable, both as a product of its gameplay nature as well as the particular aesthetics that amplify its suspense.
It plays in a very unique way each time you pick up the controller, and that, Creative Assembly creative lead Alistair Hope told me, was an important direction for a game like Isolation.
“What we were trying to achieve,” Hope began, “in terms of the response from the alien, it’s not black and white, and I don’t want to delve too deep under the hood about how it works, but the alien suspects things, it will hear you and go and investigate.”
The alien doesn’t just suspect things: it learns. It investigates. And it’s terrifying!
You can’t actually kill the alien
Well, you might be able to, but at this stage all we know is that if the alien sees you, you’re dead. It doesn’t matter what weapons you have, how good you are at hide and seek, or how fast a runner you are: if the alien sees Amanda, she’s finished.
This is what makes the survival gameplay so important: all of your interactions, all of your decisions, movements and choices influence how the alien responds to you being where you are. Hiding, sneaking, planning. These are the things you do to stay alive in Alien: Isolation.
The motion tracker is not entirely accurate
Your motion tracker in Alien: Isolation is your best friend. But you need to take a few other things out into the ship if you want to survive. That includes your smarts. The tracker doesn’t provide a three-dimensional view of the area around you, so while it will alert you if the alien is within the vicinity, it won’t tell you if it’s above you or below you.
One time, for example, I’d moved into a vent to hide. The alien just wouldn’t give in, and must have heard me move into the vents. It was right on top of me, but no where to be seen. Then, straight out of Alien, I looked above and saw it staring down at me, before jumping down and, of course, killing Amanda.
The motion tracker is a tool: not a life saver. Use it to reposition yourself, because if you rely on it too much, you could find yourself in the situation I did.
Sometimes being a coward is the best method
How often do you come across even the most survival-focused horror game that actually discourages combat? I’ve never played a game that actively rewards cowardice, and that’s exactly how you have to play this game: move around as cautiously as possible without wanting to attract any attention, and if you do, simply hide. That’s the name of the game.