The Average Gamer

Alien Isolation Hands-On

Before we start, I want to stress this to you: You. Cannot. Kill it.” The most life-affirming words I could have ever hoped to be greeted with. Right from the off Creative Assembly’s Al Hope, the Creative Console Lead, wanted to stress exactly what Alien Isolation was. “We wanted to create the Aliens game we always wanted to play.” What Alien game is that, you may ask? It’s a gritty, terrifying, survival horror, stealthy, sci-fi game engulfed in darkness.

You play as Amanda Ripley, Ellen Ripley’s daughter. It’s been 15 years since the Nostromo incident, and you have found yourself upon the besieged space-station Sevastopol – alone, scared, and desperate. All you have is an M314 Motion Tracker, a revolver with six bullets, and single pack of bandages. That’s it.

What remains of the space-station is either dark, destroyed, or both. The only way to light your path is with a very dim flashlight with a worryingly short battery life. If you run out of batteries, you may as well start squirting yourself down with honey mustard dressing because you’re more meat for the grinder. You will need to scavenge to have any hope of survival. Batteries, ammo (what little there is), bandages, and general scrap are vital to making it out alive.

Unfortunately what sparse survivors are left had a similar idea, so you’ll come across looters who don’t hesitate to take you out on sight. The shadows will become your best friend. The game’s controls are perfectly crafted for the shadows. You can hide behind cover, lie down under desks, press yourself into corners while curling into the smallest ball possible, and even peak inch-by-inch around corners or over objects.

You can also hide. By which I mean you have no choice but to learn to hide. As quickly and quietly as possible. Everything is a hiding place if you’re cunning and cautious enough. Lockers, desks, chair, cabinet, beds, crates, vents – everything. When that Xenomorph is looming you’d better make yourself scarce. It doesn’t take long for it to become second nature to immediately scout a room for potential scavenging opportunities, hiding spots, and entry/exit points – and that’s just a few steps into the room.

Don’t be fooled by the scrap, you’d be surprised what can become useful down the line using the crafting system. You see, the crafting system doesn’t merely give you a list of components, you have to add each part into your construction one-by-one from your inventory.

Molotovs are rather simple, rags and alcohol, but building an EMP mine on the fly out of seven set parts to take out what lights are left in the room so you can make your escape out the door in the shadows? All while the crafting system doesn’t pause the game, forcing you into a Dark Souls-esque panic? That’s a real challenge.

Even the hacking is coronary-inducing. You couldn’t possibly imagine how stressful it can be to match several QR Code-like shapes in a row when under pressure. With a patrolling looter 20 seconds away, knowing an engagement will rain hell upon you, and your nearest hiding place 40 metres in the same direction as the Xenomorph was last detected. The tension can really ramp up on what in any other game would be a rather menial task.

Of course there’s still the ace in the hole of your arsenal: the motion tracker. One of the most iconic pieces of equipment to ever grace the Alien franchise. The motion tracker is perfection in Alien Isolation. You hold it in your left hand almost constantly, but you need to bring it up to closer to view the location data. Otherwise you’re reliant completely on the imprecise beeping.

Here’s the dilemma: when you hold it up, the rest of your vision blurs – as you’re focussing on the screen in very dim lighting. Even worse; if you hold it up even closer you have almost no vision what-so-ever, but you’ll have the most accurate readings. Even worse still; you can’t hold a weapon and the motion sensor at the same time. So you’re forced to choose between knowing your enemy, and being able to fend off your enemy.

Watching a blip, slowly crawling towards you, carefully getting closer and closer to you, all the while you know that you’re nearly defenceless as you stand there gormlessly staring at the screen but knowing the second you lower it to make your move you’re near totally blind the the dangerous that are clawing their way towards you at an ever increasing pace… Well, it’s enough to start your chest thumping.

What about the Xenomorphs though? Pardon me, allow me to correct that typo: Xenomorph. For there is only one. And it is hunting. If you so much as breathe too heavily this creature from a blackened hell we cannot fathom will split your skull open like a raw egg before you can say: “OH SHI-!”

Fired your weapon? Better run or hide because it’s coming for you. Powered up a particularly loud piece of equipment? Better run and hide because it’s coming for you. Knocked some loud, metal medical equipment off a table? Better run and hide because it’s coming for you.

Even if you are able to escape the onslaught of its arrival, and find a hiding spot, the battle is not over. I found myself cowering inside a nearby filing cabinet, after using a valuable bullet to kill a looter who had me cornered, leering petrified through the tiny slit between doors, as the Xenomorph scoured the room for the nose it heard. Slowly it crept towards the outside of the cabinet, sneering at the tiny gap I was looking through, because it could hear me catching my breath from the prior chaos.

Sharply I pulled back, pressing myself as far back into the cabinet as I could, and took a deep inhalation. This was it. I was going to die. My vision began to blur and I became woozy from the lack of oxygen, all while the beast grimaced towards the cabinet that would be my grave, but then relief. It turned and slithered out of view. Must have been a good number of minutes before my motion tracker gave me the confidence I escaped the cabinet, my struggle to escape the Sevasopol was not yet over. Then the demo faded to black.

Alien Isolation is the Alien game I have always wanted to play.

Alien Isolation will release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on October 7th.