Alien Isolation gameplay & details – one unscripted alien, no guns: all the scares

Creative Assembly and Sega have finally announced the oft leaked Alien Isolation – a minimal first person survival horror based on the original 1979 film and staring Amanda Ripley – daughter of Sigourney Weaver’s original heroine – and one lone alien.

Alien Isolation gameplay & details

To make one thing clear upfront: this is nothing to with Gearbox’s outsourced effort. It’s not a shooter for starters. Instead there’s more of horror titles like Outlast or even Slender in its make up as Ripley Jr, a Weyland-Yutani engineer, creeps behind boxes and spins torch beams around dark metal rooms in search of a predatory alien.

More on Alien Isolation

Here’s a gameplay video with Phil to explain more about what he saw when he played the game at Creative Assembly’s studios:

Alien Isolation gameplay. Subscribe for more PS3 & PS4 videos.

The set up sees Ripley contacted by Samuels “from the company” when the Nostromo’s flight recorder (the ship from the original movie) has been found by a spacestation called the Sevastopol. Samuels makes Amanda an offer – join the recovery team and “close the book” on her mother’s disappearance.

Key parts of the plot are still under wraps obviously but the upshot of Ripley taking Samuels’ offer up is that she ends up alone on the Sevastopol with a nine foot alien. As the gameplay above shows this is very much a cat and mouse experience: being caught is certain death so what Creative Assembly has shown so far focuses on creeping through shadows and trying to avoid your new friend.

Avoiding the alien is key to Isolation. This isn’t a game about gunplay & confrontation

The really interesting part of this one-on-one relationship is that the alien isn’t scripted. Senior designer Gary Napper says, “when we drop an alien into a level, we don’t know what it’s going to do. We just see how it behaves”. According to creative lead Alistair Hope, “the alien isn’t running prescribed paths”.

It makes the game unpredictable – a crucial component of creating real scares. Lead Artist Jude Bond describes the alien as, “systemic” continuing, “he is unpredictable, the AI guys know how he behaves completely I would wage a guess, but there’s a lot of elements of the game that are systemic and it’s not scripted”.

So rather than rely on Doom-style ‘press the button and all the lights go out’ style jumps this is built around a pursuer that reacts to what you do. “If you run and make a lot of noise it will find you” explain’s Hope. “You have your flashlight, which is really useful in the dark, but it’s also a beacon that shows you where you are.”

Isolation’s lone enemy alien isn’t a scripted entity & instead reacts to the player’s choices.

According to the Creative Assembly team the playthroughs at the reveal event showcase the variety of approaches, with some playing slowly and stealthily to avoid the alien; others pegging it from point to point and having far more close encounters.

There will be a scattering of weapons in the game but in keeping with the spirit of the original film this is more about hobbling things together from what’s available in the spacestation. “We’re not giving you plasma rifles, launchers and electric guns and stuff like that”, says Napper. “It’s about scavenging and finding things you can imagine to be in that environment, small fire arms and stuff you can craft basic rudimentary devices from”. Worryingly the alien will apparently learn from encounters so any traps and weapons you do build might not work as well second time around.

While we’re mentioning the environment it really is worth reiterating how closely this follows the film’s source material. The studio apparently used 3TB of material from Fox, much of it unreleased, while researching and designing Isolation. Clothing and props are created as if out of objects a ’70s movie SFX team would have had to use – check out Verlaine’s wide-collared paisley shirt.

Here’s Isolation’s cast, from left to right: Samuels, Ripley, Taylor & Verlaine

It all sounds exactly like what an Alien game should be – a slow burning haunted house in space with an unpredictable enemy. Maintaining that over the full campaign will be a challenge, something Napper says Creative Assembly will achieve through, “the flow of the story and the mechanics, when you introduce things” mentioning, “peaks and troughs with our approach to the action”.

Earlier rumours suggest there will be other antagonists with synthetics and soldiers mentioned. If it’s true the method acting approach to the game’s development displayed thus far and the promise of no real fire power suggests these could be more thoughtful and tense enounters rather than Colonial Marines Oorah gunplay. A clash with a single android  – like Ripley and Ash’s encounter for example – seems more in keeping with what’s been seen so far. So what you think? Is this the game the Alien series finally deserves?

Alien Isolation is due to release at the second half of 2014.

Alien Isolation announcement trailer. Subscribe for more PS3 & PS4 videos.