E3 2014: Alien Isolation hands-on impressions

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SEGA invited us for a early hands-on  sneak peek at some of their titles and I had the opportunity to try out one that’s been on my radar for some time, Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation.

I was led into a silent room where columns of systems were set up. The lights blanketed the room in green hue that was eerily reminiscence of the Alien’s nesting grounds. A dead silence permeated throughout. Sitting down in station with a controller and noise isolating headphones, I began my nightmarish battle with the Alien. After a brief introduction, I stepped foot into the shoes of Amanda Ripley.

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The first thing that you notice about Alien Isolation is the 1970s sci-fi aesthetics that the development team has painstakingly recreated. The lo-fi introduction hearkens back to much of the VHS era and scratchy imposed scanlines that were commonplace at the time. Aboard the space station Stevstopol I truly feel the lack of ambiance as alarming. The visuals were quite frankly embodied the original with its CRT displays and command line terminals. The muted and film grain palette brought the dated look in beautiful and high definition clarity. The varied lighting in rooms act as traps for the alien to spot you in plain sight. In contrast, see the alien slowly revealed by the light creates a frightening revelation. This is as close to the original Alien as one can get to without going back to 1979.

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The lack of HUD in the game denied me of any comfort of knowing the whereabouts of the alien. The game arms you with a motion radar that I religiously relied upon during my time as Amanda. However even this has drawbacks as using the tracker reduces the depth of field making you focus on either the background or the tracker itself. The inability to accurately track the alien proved to nerve racking with me carefully along to the objective points. The first part of the demo only alluded the alien was nearby but never actually in sight. I had figured out how to open the first door and from the moment I thought I was safe, a strange black spike appear protruded from my abdomen. That would the first time I was genuinely afraid to advance without knowing anything. So began my brief play through of a pre-alpha build of Isolation.

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The Alien tracks you based on sound and it is perhaps the scariest aspect of the demo. Even running will set the Alien hot on your trail. Easier said than done as once it catches on to your presences it will spend a considerable amount of time waiting for you to attempt an escape. Thankfully, there are an abundant of hiding places that you can use. The alien will even peer into the lockers prompting a command to hold your breath. However I soon realized it wasn’t just the Alien I had to fend against as the demo pit me against both humans and androids. While you can sneak up on them and surprise them, you can use the alien to your advantage by using objects scattered across the station to use as sound cues to alert the alien to their location. I was able to escape quickly while my unfortunate human enemies were ripped to shreds by the creature. Once it finished the job, it began to run towards my location. I hid under a bed cart as the Alien slowly made its way over and jumped on top. I must’ve waited for several minutes staring at my tracker before the alien finally hopped off before proceeding down the hall searching for me. These tense moments truly defines Isolation as a survival horror. Again, the sound ramps up with a menacing tone that kick-started my adrenaline. Running from it will only result in dying as it trips you and slowly hovers above your head, ending your life.

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The crafting system allows you to construct tools that aid you in your survival against the Alien. The first impressions be similarities to the system found in The Last of Us as there’s no pausing the game to craft them. The main difference is you can socket the materials and finish it as you come across more items. Things like your flashlight also run on a battery so you must scout out rooms to resupply. One item that helped immensely was a noisemaker that distracted the Alien long enough to slip past it. These materials are scattered throughout the space station in drawers, tables, and corpses to name a few. I was not able to fully explore each item that was available to us in the demo.

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In the end however, I found an inconsistency with the Aliens roaming, as it never set out to look for me as I got to the power room. Despite all the loud noises I made cranking the generators, the Alien never moved until I left the room. This particularly scripted hampered the ever looming presences of  the Alien that they wanted us to believe in. In fact, once you’ve died once, you will know exactly from where the alien will be coming, allowing you a generous amount of time to find a suitable hiding place. Once you’ve died a few more times, the novelty of the fear began to wane as the obstacle of avoiding the alien becomes frustrating trial and error. If Creative Assembly hopes to install fear into the players, it needs the alien to be able to attack at any given moment given within the circumstances. However, thanks to the averts of modern gaming checkpoints, you are given an unlimited amount of continues to try again. At the end of the day, the Alien spells a game over once it’s set its sights on you. For some, this can be a frustrating task to get through if you’re impatient.

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Isolation is still by far the most authentic experience of any previous Aliens games you will probably find. Creative Assembly is working with FOX to ensure that each element in the game stays true to the vision and fidelity of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. It shows extreme promise to be the first Alien game that doesn’t disappoint its legion of fans and truly captures the terror of the xenomorph, however it also has all the doubt in the world thanks to SEGA’s previous fiasco that was Colonial Marines. Will the final product look as stunning as I’ve seen it?

Time will tell once the full game drops October 7th this year for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.

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Hokan Lo
Hokan Lo 324 posts

Hokan Lo is a contributing writer and photographer for Nerd Reactor. He likes Pizza Butts and Mello Yellow. You can contact him on twitter @colorinlive. <a href="http://nerdreactor.com/about/">Meet the Nerd Reactor Team</a>