Lost in Space once again.
If Aliens: Colonial Marines was the ordinary derived Call of Duty shooter set in space, then Alien: Isolation is the inspired F.E.A.R. spinoff more in tune with the movie franchise. Instead of going guns blazing in corridors, you’re instead limited from the very beginning and on the run for your life.
Alien: Isolation has gone back to the drawing board and revisited the origins that started it all, taking place 15 years after the USCSS Nostromo went missing. You’re a young female named Amanda Ripley, daughter of movie protagonist Ellen Ripley. She journeys with a team to the space station, only to find that the Xenomorphs have taken over and of course insanity ensues.
Alien: Isolation doesn’t use any references to the Alien movie franchise after 1979, which helped “free them to design the game we envisioned,” according to Gary Napper, lead gameplay designer. As such, it instead has looked back on the past for design inspiration and implemented a design technique called lo-fi sci-fi. This technically recreates watching the movie on the VHS with static overlays that pop in and out. These are just little touches to the game’s interface, but it helps cement itself closer to the original source material.
From the very beginning of its development, Alien: Isolation has wanted to recapture the menace behind the franchise, the Xenomorphs. Rather then focusing on strength of numbers, Creative Assembly chose to establish the atmosphere behind the game. Every room is dark, uninviting, and claustrophobic, creating a dark, haunting presence that’s uncomfortable to walk in.
I’ve always been enamored with the original movie and the sequel since an early age because it focused on an individual fighting for her life, and it's this element that's currently missing in Alien: Isolation. During my hands-on time the only weapon in my procession was a hammer (which, of course doesn’t do much against a vicious extraterrestrial alien who can kill you a dozen ways and counting); however, the main problem is centered around gameplay, which focuses around instant death. Every time an Xenomorph spotted me, I was scrapped instantly without even giving me the chance to fight back. I couldn’t run, find a better weapon, and fire away in fear. I was simply greeted by a quick-time event that I couldn’t avoid and became increasingly frustrating.
Combat isn't aided much by the design at the moment, which does a poor job describing where to go and where to hide. During my demo I could only take cover in lockers, which were few and far between objectives. Many times I felt I was trapped in open corridors where I was an easy target for a Xenomorph. It boils down to playing a quiet version of a cat and mouse game that is ultimately not rewarding right now.
Recreating Ripley is one of the toughest design philosophies to nail, which will ultimately define Alien: Isolation as either a success or blunder. The game has a good foundation to build off with its lo-fi sci-fi and horror elements, but it was hard to look at another Alien’s game so soon after the franchise' recent attempt of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Of course, it also intends on learning from the checklist of mistakes that Colonial Marines made on both the Public Relations and development front. Fortunately I came away surprised wanting to see more of what’s ahead, but at the same very cautious of having my spine ripped right out from me (again).
Alien: Isolation releases in Q4 2014 for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.