First Look: SEGA’s “ALIEN: ISOLATION”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,News Samuel Zimmerman
The concept is something of a no-brainer. While James Cameron’s lauded sequel and its balls to the wall aesthetic might be more suited to an action-heavy experience, there’s an entirely rich, haunting atmosphere to be mined from Ridley Scott’s original, better ALIEN film. Dripping with steam and dread, ALIEN’s original intent is as noble as ever and provides just one reason why SEGA and the team at Creative Assembly crafted the latest series game in its image. This isn’t that action-heavy experience. With ALIEN: ISOLATION, they want to scare the shit out of you.
And they did. In an exclusive reveal of gameplay, I was one genre-focused film writer amongst a crew of game journalists at the Creative Assembly offices in Horsham, UK (a lovely place). Perhaps I tipped my hand by undoubtedly dying the most in a single demo, but as much as my jolts and poor performance were about being an inadequate player, they also owe to becoming entirely immersed in an extension of the lived-in, dank, analog world we were introduced to on the Nostromo.
With incredible, in-depth access to Fox’s ALIEN archives, Creative Assembly is striving to craft something truly thrilling in survival horror, and something wholly in tandem with the 1979 masterpiece. “We deconstructed the first film and took apart everything from it and how it was built, and built our own versions of that using exactly the same techniques,” Design Lead Gary Napper tells FANGORIA.
Just outside of the conference room we’re speaking in, walls are lined with design reference. We’re told more revealing pieces had to be taken down in anticipation of our visit, but what remains speaks to the devotion they pledge to ALIEN. There are portraits of Ripley, Lambert, Brett, Parker and Ash with every element of their wardrobe outlined and defined. Maps and blueprints of both the Nostromo and the Space Station that houses ALIEN: ISOLATION can be pored over. Two screens play ALIEN on a loop. When I ask if that’s just for show, I’m told at least one is always running.
But funny enough, ALIEN: ISOLATION’s roots lie in that Cameron-helmed second installment. More specifically, in its Director’s Cut when Ellen Ripley learns of the life (and death) of her daughter Amanda. Interested in exploring this barely there character, Creative Assembly has created a narrative in which she is the star. Taking place 15 years after the events of ALIEN, Amanda Ripley searches for information on her mother’s disappearance and has her own encounter with a Xenomorph aboard a ruined space station. That’s correct, a Xenomorph, and if evidenced by this demo, it’s more than enough.
“Having that one Alien allows you to have so much more of an emotional connection to that creature and the environment,” Napper says. “If you’re gunning down hundreds of aliens, they’re just cannon fodder. But that one thing that keeps returning.” Giving the Alien a singular presence is essential to establishing an immense, credible threat. So is everything that’s gone into building the creature, one who’s always stalking, always looming and is apparently as unpredictable as possible.
“There’s always this presence of the Alien, whether you can see it or not,” says Lead Artist Jude Bond. “You’re always in the shadow of the Alien. The game responds really well to the player and how the player approaches the game. The objectives of the game are by and large the same for every player, but how they’re achieved is completely varied from player to player. On top of that, because the Alien is systemic and AI driven, how the game responds to that isn’t even predictable, either. So we’ve got these two very unpredictable elements thrown into the mix; play style—how you would approach— and the Alien, who knows what he’s going to do? [laughs] That’s a really interesting point about the game: it’s not the same for everyone.”
I’m assuming, based on my brief experience that even if the interactions vary, ALIEN: ISOLATION will at least be similarly frightening for everyone. In a dark, failed, decommissioned space station, you (as Amanda Ripley) guide yourself with a delightfully clunky, not particularly high tech motion tracker, avoiding the Alien as it seeks you out. Stealth is, of course, key, but I never lost the sense the Alien was close; probably, because it always was. At some points, I saw my error and accepted my fate. At others, I was caught off guard and rightly horrified. It all seems but one small piece of an extended exercise in atmosphere and real deal tension. Just as Creative Assembly dipped into the original for inspiration, I’m really looking forward to going back.
Keep an eye on the pages of FANGORIA for much more on ALIEN: ISOLATION in the coming months.