Getting hopeful: Alien Isolation

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Rock Paper Shotgun have posted a hands-on with Alien Isolation and after reading it I’ve gone from disillusioned fan to please-don’t disappoint-me-this-looks-so-good enthusiast.

First of all, Creative Assembly have apparently kept with the “held together with duct tape and wire” aesthetic of the early films that made them so atmospheric.

Sevastopol, isn’t brand-new, gleaming-white perfection. It’s the beaten-to-shit car with a pile of trash in the backseat. And unlike most sci-fi, which is consistently moving technology forward, Alien: Isolation returns to the CRT monitors and blinking lights look of the original 1979 Alien film.

And the gameplay. Finally, aliens becoming the stuff of nightmares they once were:

On the surface, Alien: Isolation sounds like the perfect game for the franchise: one xenomorph, which is impossible to kill and hunts weak, defenseless you around the ship … The alien is big. The alien is scary. The alien uses its senses to find you. The alien can kill you.

But it does have a couple of issues at this stage. Firstly is the one that nobody has been able to solve, and frankly nobody knows how. You have an invicible killing machine hunting you. To be seen is to die. The first time you cross paths, maybe the first few times, it’s excruciatingly tense as you match wits with the killer. Then you die, reload, lose immersion and it becomes a puzzle instead.

On top of that RPS report issues with AI consistency. Unpredictable is good, it adds spice, fear and replayability. Inconsistency is bad. Yes, it’s possible that a random number generator means that a hiding spot that worked once might not work a second time, but when you’re walking such a fine line between life and death such issues become infuriating. It may be better reality but it’s not better gameplay. Unpredictable AI should vary routes, switch strategies, be impossible to predict on a tactical and strategic level. What it shouldn’t do is be unpredictable on a mechanical level. As a player you should be thinking “I hope it doesn’t turn down this corridor” not “I hope this hiding place actually hides me this time”.

The first issue I don’t mind about. It may well be unsolvable, and other survival horror games have functioned perfectly well despite it. The second issue, let’s just say I hope they’ve left themselves enough time and resources to deal with it.

Even so, I can’t wait. Come on Xenomorphs, terrify me on screen like you do in my dreams.

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