You know how, when you’re a kid, you always have at least one friend whose parents let them watch films yours don’t, and accordingly sleeping over at theirs is infinitely cooler because of that fact, yeah!?
Well, for me, it was all great and whatnot, until one of those videos (like DVDs, but bigger) happened to be ‘Alien’, and, for want of a better phrase, it scared the living, bejesusing shit out of me, and I spent the next few years periodically waking up from hideous nightmares where I was being hunted by H.R Giger’s massive, f-ugly alien, who was fairly intent on munching on my face and sucking the marrow from my bones.
Which was, you know, nice!!
Anyway, I mention this because (even after a shed-load of therapy) I still struggle with that beast, because it, and the context in which it existed, is still a great example of how to do nerve-shredding, claustrophobic horror, and Alien: Isolation, released today, is intent on keeping with that atmosphere and sense of pure, poop-your-pants dread. As you may expect, this is a prospect that both thrills and terrifies me, but (the fact that I’m a big old wuss aside) is something to be commended, at least from a gameplay perspective.
Survival horror is, admittedly, something of a niche in gaming, but when it’s done well, it can be not only brilliant, but a great example of how an interactive medium can be utilised to its full potential. The makers of Alien: Isolation have made no secret of the fact that they made this game very much in the hope that it would scare you stupid, and that their emphasis was on survival horror, rather than frenetic action or gunplay. For me, the true power of the original film was exactly that feeling of cat-and-mouse, and the Alien franchise has been crying out for a game that recreates that, rather than the heavy weaponry/Space Marine type aspects of the later films.
Moreover, if you are a fan of the original film, the great news is that (Creative Lead) Al Hope and his team were given access to hundreds of hours of footage, notes and production paraphernalia at Fox, meaning that this should, hopefully, be the most Alien-ey of all possible Alien-ey experiences. Focusing on Amanda Ripley (Ellen’s daughter), as she attempts to discover what happened to her mother, Alien: Isolation will have you creeping around an aging space station in your pursuit of answers, and the flight recorder of the Nostromo. There’ll be only one Alien (which can’t be killed), so you’ll likely spend a lot of that quest hiding, running away, and, in my case at least, frequently changing your underwear. You’ll also have to contend with both rogue androids and hostile humans – as if you didn’t have enough on your plate.
Aliens: Isolation will feature ground-breaking AI, which will allow the Alien to track you by sight, sound and smell, and the game has been commended for its tactical open-endedness, and it’s highly likely that, to bastardise a common cliché, you’ll be skinned like a cat in more than a few, different ways. The Alien will also have a complex set of programmed behavioural characteristics, which will unlock progressively, giving the impression that the huge, homicidal beast is learning how to hunt you more effectively. As if that wasn’t chilling enough, the game has been designed to be different on each play-through, so there’ll be no memorising where something that can keep you alive for a little bit longer is, because it prob’ly won’t be there the next time you’re trying to avoid being E.T’s lunch.
And, in true survival horror style, you’ll be given only a few tools to help you, most notably a motion tracker, and you will have to craft, hide, and stealth your way around certain death, in what promises to be a truly, heart-pounding experience, with little-to-no margin for error.
If you’re a fan of the genre, or the original film, Alien: Isolation looks like it will be a great addition to your nightmares, and will probably do a stellar job of undoing quite a lot of the progress I’ve made in therapy over the past decade. Developed by The Creative Assembly, and published by Sega, Alien: Isolation is available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, and PC, today, so I’m expecting more than a few sleepless nights over the coming weeks.