Alien: Isolation made me a cold, hard killer without ever having to pull a single trigger. The alien itself is invincible, but the inhabitants of Sevastopol are not. Given a choice between my life or theirs, I chose mine every single time.
Due Oct. 7 for, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Alien: Isolation takes place 15 years after Alien, the first film in the famous sci-fi series, and 42 years before heroine Ellen Ripley wakes up from stasis in the sequel, Aliens. Her daughter, Amanda Ripley, is working with the meg corporation Weyland-Yutani to find out the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. The aliens must love the Ripley bloodline, because it doesn’t take long for Amanda to meet one of the deadly creatures herself.
But it’s not the only enemy you’ll face in the survival-horror game. At a recent press event, developer The Creative Assembly introduced two new groups: other humans and rogue androids.
“We like to think of it as something like a food chain, with the alien very much at the top because it’s unkillable and it’s relentless,” said writer Will Porter to GamesBeat. “And it will learn if you’re using different tactics and techniques.”
Meeting the apex predator
Sevastopol isn’t a very happy place by the time Amanda and her three-man crew arrive. The decommissioned trading station descended into chaos when supplies became scarce. Any sense of law and order disappeared — and this was before the xenomorph started picking them off.
The new demo began with Amanda entering Sevastopol’s hospital by herself, communicating with her colleagues via radio. This gave me some time to check out Isolation’s crafting system, where you can combine spare parts into Molotov cocktails, noisemakers, and other weapons. Looking for those parts made me realize just how antiquated everything is. The stark white walls, bulbous electronic panels, and giant computers remind you that this is a vision of the future filtered through a late ’70s lens — The Creatively Assembly’s attempt at maintaining cohesion with the first film (Alien came out in 1979).
When a gas pipe exploded, blocking my path with a wall of fire, the alien heard the noise and dropped down from the rafters. As soon as I saw its long, sharp tail, I bolted to a nearby locker to hide in. It was terrifying: The only thing you can do is stare at the moving white dot on your motion tracker, its high-pitched alert beeping faster and faster the closer the alien gets. When the xenomorph walked into the room, it peered into my locker, and a button prompt popped up to let me know that it’s a good idea to hold my breath here.
I was happy to oblige.
A few perilous seconds passed before the alien moved on. I didn’t leave the locker until the tracker was quiet again.
If the alien knows you’re inside, it’ll pull you out and kill you in a number of gruesome ways, like when its inner mouth burrows into your forehead.
Sevastopol’s wild cards
A couple of rooms and eviscerated corpses later, I found the medical ward, where I saw the human survivors for the first time. I guess they weren’t worried about the xenomorph, because I could hear their conversations from a mile away. Their presence disrupted my seach-and-loot philosophy: Should I sneak around them, hoping they don’t notice? Or should I take them down silently, so I can explore freely again?
In my first attempt, the alien actually took care of them for me. It probably heard my footsteps, because it appeared a few seconds after I passed through the medical ward’s sliding doors. I hid behind a bunch of boxes at the time, so it didn’t spot me, but it did hear the humans at the end of the hall and ran after them. I was going to investigate, but the screams convinced me to head the other way.
When I had to repeat this sequence (the alien killed me in an unrelated incident), I wanted to try something new. Thinking I could talk to them, I headed straight for a guy who was patrolling the area, but he immediately pulled his gun, urging me to leave. I actually got a little angry, and even insulted, that with all the other crap going on, this guy thinks I’m the biggest threat in the hospital. Didn’t he see the 9-foot monster that’s hunting us down here?
I didn’t feel like dying, so I turned around. He told me that I was doing “the smart thing.”
According to Porter, not everyone in Sevastopol are that hostile. He described the population as being a mix of friendlies, neutrals, and people with “slightly longer fuses.”
Synthetics don’t like you, either
The only downside to the demo was how close its final act came to ruining my experience. After I turned the power back on in a control room, one of the dormant androids there (also known as synthetics) woke up. Its dead, soulless eyes and pale skin were enough to let me know that these guys aren’t friendly. You can try to attack it, but the robot will just catch your arm and punch you in the face.
I died, as expected, but when I continued from the last checkpoint, the station’s alarms were suddenly ringing and the android was about to choke the life out of me. It had to have been some kind of bug, because I felt like I was missing some crucial narrative beat, dialogue, or scene that would’ve bridged the moment before I died with this newfound hell I came back to.
A representative from publisher Sega later filled me in on the missing piece: Once you restore power, you have to start the evacuation procedure. If you can do this without the synthetic noticing you, you don’t have to kill it. But if you do get caught, it’s only supposed to chase you up until you leave (its orders are to keep the control room safe from looters). My android must have been extra aggressive, because it clearly followed me — by calmly walking, which made it more creepy — when I escaped.
However, with the station in panic mode, the other humans onboard were on high alert, too, so sprinting blindly into the darkness wasn’t the smartest idea. My first plan was to lure the android toward the other survivors, partly because I was curious if it’d work, and partly because I wanted revenge.
I thought I was scot-free because of the gunshots I heard, but when I turned a corner, a black tip emerged from my chest. The damn alien, who I completely forgot amid of all this madness, found me.
The next half-a-dozen tries at escaping ended in similar ways. At one point, I tried starting a three-way rumble between the alien, the android, and the humans, but that dream died a swift death when the survivors shot me through the locker I was hiding in.
Flustered, I asked someone from the dev team to help me out, and he guided me to the end of the demo.
Aside from that abrupt and frustrating finale, the hour I spent with Alien: Isolation was fraught with tension and scares. Toward the end, I was full-on paranoid, hiding under tables or crouching behind objects if I heard so much as a blip from my motion tracker — most of the time, the creature didn’t even show up. Those psychological tricks, plus the constant risks of pissing off one enemy group over another, wore me out, and I couldn’t wait to take a breather outside.
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