Before diving into a terrifying, 20-minute stretch of Alien: Isolation’s campaign, Creative Assembly’s Brand Director Jon Rooke reminded us that his team’s take on the face-hugging franchise isn’t another xenomorph-blasting shooter. “You cannot kill our alien. There are no pulse rifles or smart guns. There’s no chance of survival in a one-to-one encounter with our alien.”
While weapons are indeed scarce in the upcoming first-person survival horror entry inspired by Ridley Scott’s chest-bursting benchmark, players aren’t jettisoned into deep space without any hope for survival. During our demo, unfolding in the game’s first half, protagonist Amanda Ripley was armed with a motion tracker, some makeshift crafted items, and – most importantly – her wits. Upon meeting some survivors in need of medical help, she set out on a pulse-spiking search through the remote space station that serves as the game’s primary house of horrors.
Amanda’s early encounters and tasks – collecting scrap for crafting consumables, navigating air ducts, cracking security codes – might seem mundane in any other environment, but Isolation’s immersive audio and oozing atmosphere pack every moment with the sort of sweaty-palmed tension usually reserved for our worst nightmares. On top of that, the game’s claustrophobic confines are littered with mood-setting touches that simultaneously progress the story and elevate our blood pressure. A favorite moment from our presentation saw Amanda enter the medical facility’s “Welcome Center,” only to be greeted by a bloody corpse on a gurney, and a sparking electrical panel. Paired with an unsettling symphony of things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, such disturbing scenarios manage to pack more frights than other games’ been-there-slaughtered-that zombie hordes.
Speaking of unconventional scares, Creative Assembly is also incorporating an old-school design idea to keep players from ever feeling like they’re anything but a future alien appetizer. Explaining that auto-saves can “kill the tension,” Rooke revealed that users will have to physically insert a key card into terminals – an act that intentionally takes a few seconds – to ensure their progress is saved. This might sound like a minor inclusion, but your fumbling fingers might disagree the first time they fail to keep you free from a malfunctioning android’s choke-hold.
Players may also want to retreat to the fetal position when they realize that Amanda’s pistol is best left holstered. In addition to ammo being scarce, and the hand-cannon’s blast attracting unwanted attention, Amanda simply isn’t a very good shot. To help remind trigger-happy fans that their avatar is not a sharpshooting space marine, the gun’s cross-hair is slow to focus, and its from-the-hip action highly inaccurate.
When not cowering in a corner and clutching her motion tracker for dear life, Amanda can construct makeshift items. By assembling crafting components found throughout her trek, she can build flares, noisemakers, EMP mines, flash-bangs, smoke bombs, and med kits. Used strategically (and primarily for defensive tactics), these items can distract enemies, disable devices, or simply be tossed in a fit of desperation, before the alien uses your spine like dental floss.
We got to see the flare in action after the evildoing E.T. literally dropped into our demo. Upon falling through the ceiling with a room-rattling thud, the iconic creature that helped spawn the tag line “In space, no one can hear you scream” began searching the area like a bloodhound. A tense game of cat and mouse ensued, as the motion tracker-equipped player did their best to stay out of the space monster’s path. After plenty of careful crouching and peeking – things you can plan on doing lots of in Isolation – the nine-foot-tall xenomorph passed right by the player’s hiding spot. Amanda was able to briefly catch her breath after distracting the alien with a tossed flare; that breath would turn out to be her last, however, as the demo closed with the beast’s drool-drenched chompers consuming the entire screen.
Following the hands-off presentation, Isolation’s Creative Lead Al Hope stated that the Xbox One has allowed his team to elevate the game’s “atmosphere and immersion to another level.” Based on the moisture that surfaced on our brow and the dryness that took up residence in our throats, it seems that Hope may be spot-on. We look forward to playing Alien: Isolation with the volume up and the lights off, when it creeps onto Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles October 7.