‘Alien: Isolation’ preview: Taps into the terror of Ridley Scott’s classic
“In space no one can hear you scream” was the ominous tagline of “Alien,” Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror masterpiece. Now, on the 35th anniversary of its release, the sci-fi classic is coming to your living room’s game console. The neighbors may hear you scream.
While there have been numerous video games based on the “Alien” movie series, most have chosen to base themselves on James Cameron’s “Aliens,” the more action-heavy 1986 sequel, or the “Alien vs Predator” spinoff series.
The last attempt, 2013’s “Aliens: Colonial Marines,” was appalling and wound up on many “Worst Games of 2013” lists.
So the deck is stacked against the new game, “Alien: Isolation.” It’s still in development, but Sega invited me to try out parts of it, and I can tell you the signs are promising.
First, it’s clear that the developers “get” “Alien.” They know that what made Ellen Ripley’s adventure scary was more than the jumps and the big monster. It was the claustrophobia, the isolation, the sense of helplessness.
Playing the game is like stepping into the movie itself. You play Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, trying to solve the mystery of your mother’s disappearance. You end up being chased by a very familiar-looking Alien on a space station that looks very much like the original movie’s Nostromo (but isn’t).
The graphics are top-notch, and Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting soundtrack sent a chill up my spine. The movie had tension in buckets, and that is the dominant theme behind the game.
The hook of the gameplay is that the Alien acts dynamically, not on set paths, giving you a different experience each time you play. You can’t kill it, and if it gets you, you’re dead. So the game removes combat and makes you entirely vulnerable, relying only on stealth to navigate the barren space station. Walk too quickly, shine your flashlight for too long, knock something over or just fail to stay in the shadows, and it’s game over, man, game over!
The goal is to scare you, and it works. After the first of my many deaths, my hands were clammy, my mouth was dry and my heart was racing.
The game’s best weapon is that nowhere is safe; it ramps the tension up to 11. When the Alien is near, there are no clearly marked “safe points,” as in other stealth games. There’s no place to hide, take a breath and determine your next move.
Armed with just your motion tracker, you can crawl under a table or hide behind a wall. But when the Alien comes sniffing, there’s always a chance it will see you, so you always have to be moving. Move too quickly and the beast will notice and grab you. Linger too long and it’ll track you down. You’re never safe, never sure you’re doing the right thing. You’re always looking over your shoulder.
“Alien: Isolation” comes with hefty doses of tension, but this will be only part of the game. Sega has hinted at other aspects, such as puzzle solving and human interaction, and possibly some combat (presumably with something or someone other than the indestructible Alien). It may be these sections, which provide relief from the close encounters with the Alien, that make or break the game.
But so far so good. The graphics and soundtrack capture the feel of “Alien: Isolation,” and my snippets of gameplay captured its spirit. Sega appears on track to provide a unique experience that taps into the terror of Ridley Scott’s classic.
“Alien: Isolation” is scheduled to be released in the fall.