Detailed doesn’t quite do Alien: Isolation justice. We explained before the process by which the team at Creative Assembly created the 1970’s, heavily CRT inspired look that informed the entire project’s visual style. But, after seeing yet more of the game’s claustrophobic space-station (Sevastopol Station to be precise), the attention paid to even the smallest amount of detail is staggering.
From general animation quality to the blurring effect - when bringing up the(suitably clunky) iconic motion detector - that simulates depth of field, the worlds and characters are stunningly realised. We’re informed that the entire design process has been focused on how to make this vision of the future feel as real as possible. As detailed in our previous article - spoken about above - there was a very push-button feel for the environment and the design team decided there would never be anything in the gameworld that couldn’t have been reproduced in the 70’s on the set of Alien.
Having only seen small sections of the game up to this point, we were treated to an extended playthrough of a small part of the main story. Amanda Ripley has been tasked with finding some medical supplies for her injured friend. This leads her through a vent system until she finally finds a doctor sealed in a room who offers to help if she can get him the supplies as he running short; as in, he has none.
The voice acting and animations of the characters are fantastic and considering how much of the game is based around the story, it’s good to see. As Amanda moves forward through some more vents, we’re introduced to a couple of interesting design choices. Firstly, all saves are manual and there will be no auto-saves. This was a conscious choice on the part of Creative Assembly to keep the tension levels high and elevate the feeling of failure; when encountering the alien and other possible enemies.
Next up is the way the map system works. Unlike most modern titles there will be no real-time updating map that expands as you explore the dark. You’re expected to seek out terminals or physical maps to update your vision of the immediate area. This is again meant to reflect the technological limitations of the future in which the game is set and keep the tension high.
As we leave the doctor he tells Amanda she must find codes to unlock the area where she can find the medical supplies. On a computer terminal that connects to the station-wide ‘Sevastolink’ - a system that links all computers in the station with each other - is where the code is found and Amanda is sent on her way once again. As soon as she’s outside the door a quarantine alarm is set off.
Here we’re treated to a host of new devices and mechanics. First the learning system available to the player seems more robust than most games. Only the recent Wolfenstein: The New Order is a close relative of the system on display here. Amanda is able to peak round things at a constantly growing angle, allowing you to really check an area before you move forward.
As we reach a discarded hospital bed, the vent in from the ceiling behind it smashes to the ground. As Amanda ducks behind the makeshift cover we get a small glimpse of the legendary predator the franchise takes its name from. Taller than any human by several feet, a shiny black exoskeleton glinting in the flashing red quarantine lights and the ever intimidating cracks and squeals that accompany the universe's most dangerous predator, the team wanted it give the alien its fear factor back.
Unlike every other Alien game out there, this is all about one alien. The single greatest hunter in the universe. The perfect organism. Although it was hinted that there is more than one, you will never be exposed to more than one at once. But how do you fight something that is infinitely more powerful than you?
An arsenal of weapons that aren’t used to injure but to distract, is the answer from the Isolation team. Several items were shown off to show just how you can get around the alien. We were shown the noise maker, which does what it says on the tin. An EMP grenade, a flashbang and a smoke bomb. All the items are pretty self explanatory but, more importantly, define the tone and atmosphere of the game without ever actually encountering an enemy.
Finally we were privy too just how deadly the alien is. As Amanda peaks around a corner to check the coast is clear, nothing is visible. A little bit of a larger peak to just confirm shows the alien emerging from a door at the end of the hallway. With that, a screech and a couple of seconds later a fall. Amanda is tripped and the next thing she sees is the iconic second mouth within the gaping jaws of the monster. Then a split second later, nothing.
The gentleman walking us through was questioned as to if this was a set up for the viewing. This was answered with a very simple, no. This was a demo. Being played live for it’s audience. The movement and behaviour of the alien wasn’t scripted and it was terrifying.
The tense atmosphere was something that has been created by people who have a lot of respect for the source material and the original vision for one of the universes most feared predators. This is the Alien game that could set the benchmark. This is the Alien game that could make up for a lifetime of mediocre Alien games. This could be the Alien game.