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Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One (tested)
Alien: Isolation UK release date: 7th October 2014
What is Alien Isolation?It's a fair assessment to say that Aliens Colonial Marines was bad. Like really bad. Co-developed by Gearbox (of Borderlands and Duke Nukem Forever fame) and TimeGate it might not have been in the ET realms of terrible movie tie-in games but it didn’t live up to the initial jaw-dropping trailers Sega later admitted were misleading and didn't represent the final game.
Sega has not only gone back to the drawing board, giving developer Creative Assembly the reigns, it has also taken inspiration from the original Alien film to add more horror to this first person survival horror game.
Alien: Isolation was one of the most talked about games at E3 2014 and much of that was down to giving it the Oculus Rift treatment. While I didn’t get to play the VR version, I did get to sample the same Challenge mode based outside of the single player campaign where your one task is to survive for three minutes and avoid being attacked by a lone alien.
If there's one way to create the sense of fear and isolation, it's knowing you don't have endless ammo or weapons to defend yourself. Having a flamethrower is one of the few items you have at your disposal and it’s only good for stunning the alien to give you some time to run and hide.
Except you can't just hide and hope it goes away. Aliens are intelligent and instinctive learning your habits and sniffing you out. Whether it’s being brash running in the room and immediately pulling out the flamethrower or wandering continually with the motion tracker on, the wrong approach will cost you your life.
If you are detected, running away won’t work and it’s not just worrying about being attacked from the front. The alien will attack you from behind or even run inside vents and jump out to fatally pierce you through the chest. Clearly the developers have spent a lot of time working on enemy AI and it looks like it has really paid off.
I died numerous times despite each time trying different approaches. Hiding behind crates and big computer terminals peeking above and to the side to get a better view didn’t work. Keeping motion tracker use to a minimum even failed and just trying to run is simply not an option. This is an unforgiving game where patience and stealth play is rewarded.
The AI is ridiculously well developed, adapting to your play style in a way that will punish you if you even try and favour a particular play style. You will evolve and change your approach as you journey through these challenges, or you'll be dying over and over again with no progression.
As for the atmospherics, this game isn't for the faint hearted. Normally playing a game in an open room where it’s difficult to zone out and focus on the game makes it difficult to get a true sense of the atmosphere a game creates but it was different with Isolation.
Even without headphones it’s tense and like the Unity-built game Outlast, you don’t really want to look around the next corner. If we had to pick holes, visually it lacks some next gen gloss although dynamic lighting effects are impressive and will clearly play a major role in carving out the chilling environments.
Challenge mode also gives you some insight into how some of the single player mode is going to play out, notably the new crafting mechanic where you need to collect parts to build items and weapons like an electrical device called a Noisemaker. Just like the flamethrower, it won’t kill the alien but it will help buy you some time to make an escape.
First ImpressionsAs difficult as Alien: Isolation is, it really feels like a real slice of survival horror. The first person view lends itself so well to creating that sense of fear. Throw in the dark, dimly lit environments, an alien that learns and adapts with very little items to help you progress and the ingredients are all there to suggest that Sega is not going to make the same mistakes it did with Colonial Marines.
MORE: The Evil Within hands-on review