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E3 2014: Alien: Isolation Preview: Survival horror's new generation

on 16 June 2014

Truly frightening games are not particularly plentiful nowadays. While zombies have become as much of a staple category in gaming as the superhero genre is in Hollywood, most games with such creatures are not the survival horror triumphs their early predecessors were. But a certain extraterrestrial franchise may be the first triple-A survival horror blockbuster worth its salts on the new generation of consoles. The name of the game is Alien: Isolation, and thankfully, it is no Colonial Marines.

A quick glance at the first-person perspective of Isolation may cause the quick to judge to believe there isn’t a difference between it and the previous interactive entry in the Alien franchise. Take a closer look: this is, potentially, a game that will leave many sleepless at night. This time around, you step into the shoes of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver in the original films), as she searches for answers regarding her mother’s disappearance. She of course ends up on a space station that is already infested with the eponymous Alien.

Understanding the story premise is the easiest part of Isolation, as playing through the game is no walk in the park. While the Alien is easily the most lethal enemy Amanda faces, other human beings and the android Synthetics add additional hurdles in the fight to stay alive. In the short video demonstration I saw at E3 2014, Amanda encountered an armed space station resident suffering from paranoia. The developer playing was able to sneakily move past him, albeit taking a roundabout route. From what I saw and played, the stealth approach is the primary way you will play in Isolation. It has to be--entering hand-to-hand combat range of an Alien means instant death. The only way to escape an encounter with the Alien is by using the franchise’s signature flame thrower. Unfortunately for Amanda, gas tanks and other weapons are scarce. Saying Isolation is a struggle for survival is an understatement.

Immediately upon starting the game, I immediately notice that developer The Creative Assembly nailed the look and ambience of Ridley Scott’s original Alien film--a “lo-fi sci-fi” style. Most presentations of futuristic settings in media nowadays glimmer and have a clean, sterile sheen (J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, for example). Isolation’s space station had a classic grunginess to it, with everything being dirty and roughed up. Displays on monitors and devices feature scrolling scanlines and monochromatic colors. There’s even a subtle ‘80s film grain to everything. This retro-futuristic aesthetic combined with dim, flickering lighting produced an unsettling feeling as I exited the safe zone into an area containing the Alien.