Alien Isolation gameplay hands on – feeling the horror on PS4 with Creative Assembly

alien Isolation

There are no such implements to hand during my playthrough, which means having to use my motion tracker almost constantly. By distancing myself from the radar dot, I keep the alien off the screen for the next five minutes – there’s that low frequency, high impact dynamic at work again. It might be saving my hide, but it’s also a horrible device to travel around with in .

Alien Isolation gameplay hands on

“The motion tracker in [the movie] Alien is almost just there to show you how close you are to death,” Hope points out. “It’s not particularly useful – it’s actually supporting the horror more than the idea of escaping.” That’s almost true of Isolation – those beeps won’t save you if the xenomorph corners you, but there’s also an objective marker outside the display which is incredibly handy. Until it lines up with the alien’s dot. When that happens, you’re firmly back in ‘supporting the horror’ territory.

Alien Isolation trailer. Subscribe for more PS4 videos.

I know this, because it’s just happened to me. I need to manually override a locked door (of course I do). I don’t know where the console is that does this, but I do know the alien’s hanging out incredibly near it. There’s no other option than to move towards both, hoping it’ll slink off somewhere and give my shot nerves a freakin’ break. Initially the plan seems like it’ll work – I make my way into the console room and locate the clunky old/new computer screen that controls the door. Then it flashes past a doorway, sending my motion tracker into an apoplectic fit. It’s really near.

Panicking, I run out of the room and dive into a locker. Of course, it heard my footsteps and so follows the sound and, for the first time, is completely visible on-screen. That’s enough for me to completely lose confidence in the whole locker plan and dart back out into the open. Operating on instinct, I run for it with the alien closing in rapidly behind. There’s a loud thud, then my legs are taken out from under me. Everything goes silent – I’m pretty sure I’m dying. What actually happened is that I activated an airlock back on the console, and just before the alien reached me the whole area lost pressure, sending us both tumbling through the air. By the time pressure’s restored, the xeno’s gone again. This whole sequence was unscripted and player-directed, and it couldn’t have been paced better by Ridley himself.

Operating on instinct, I run for it with the alien closing in rapidly behind. There’s a loud thud, then my legs are taken out from under me. Everything goes silent – I’m pretty sure I’m dying

Hope mentions something interesting about the original movie: “After 30 years, it’s still in the Top 50 on IMDB. Danny Boyle calls [it] one of the holy trinity of serious sci-fi, and it’s a guy in a rubber suit. We’re so used to seeing CG now, It’s amazing we can see that rubber suit and still get an emotional reaction from it.” It’s crucial that there’s a man in a suit in those scenes of course, because we’d see through digital artifice in a second (and do, in later movies), and that realisation takes the monster’s presence right out of the scene. With that in mind, I wonder what such an obviously forward-thinking studio as  sees as the videogame equivalent of that CG buzzkill in movies? Gary Napper and art lead Jude Bond have the answers.

“XP systems and level up points on screen,” answers Napper. “I love playing games where I’m shooting stuff and I see numbers bouncing off heads. But we’ve made a game that’s all about the atmosphere and tension and horror, and you can’t really apply that [to it].” Bond feels much the same: “If the fourth wall’s broken, you’re not going to be scared.”

By the way – you are going to be scared when Isolation hits PS4 (and PS3) later in 2014. This is the most effective survival horror since Visceral’s Dead Space, and it works by putting systems in place that produce terrifying situations organically rather than scripting jump-scares. It plays like the very best fan-pitched Alien project you dared dream up, which means it also has terrible timing – this is about the worst time a genuinely promising game within this franchise could emerge. But it’d be a crime if Isolation suffered for Colonial Marines’ shortcomings. They literally exist in different genres, they’re being developed by different studios – and only one will make you grin at the freshness and craftsmanship of the haunted house ride you just went through.