The future's kind of a dump.
Sure, we're capable of interstellar travel, off-world colonization, and terraforming new worlds, but most of that tech is made of mold-injected, battery operated plastic. This future is a firmly blue collar one, the crew of the Nostromo in the first Alien film were miners after all.
Sega, and developers Creative Assembly, are setting the next entry of the Alien mythology in a future that's decidedly lo-tech. Temperamental technology was just one of the components that made the short hands-on we played so damn effective in (hopefully) building an atmospheric survival-horror title.
Alien: Isolation comes a mere year after the deservedly panned Aliens: Colonial Marines. That entry treated the Alien IP with all of the care and respect of a venereal disease, and the less said about what was ostensibly a broken game, the better
Alien: Isolation faces a distinctly challenging set of tasks before the title even gets released.
First, it follows in the footsteps of one of the worst titles of 2013.
Secondly, Isolation will (again, hopefully) lure back fans of the Alien franchise after the cold shaft of Colonial Marines. Fans of the Alien mythology have been burned before by the mishandling of the franchise, and the memory of the last cluster-fuck is still very, very recent.
The singular 'Alien' in the tile is massively significant.
Isolation is a game that is decisively more Ridley Scott than James Cameron. It's the survival horror equivalent to Scott's claustrophobic, 1979 thriller and has little to do with the balls-out action sequel, Aliens.
Taking place 15 years after the ending of Ridley Scott's Alien, Ellen Ripley's daughter Amanda, has set out to search for her mother. Amanda has volunteered to travel to the space station Sevostopol to retrieve the flight recorder of the USCSS Nostromo, the ship that was destroyed at the end of the first Alien film.
The flight recorder is the last hope of Amanda finding out what happened to her mother, and the rest of the crew, after the events of the first film.
The space station is one of those dumps I mentioned earlier.
Derelict and abandoned, the space station feels like a nightmarish version of Epcot's Spaceship Earth. Sevostopol Station is just as effective in steeping the players in fear and dread as any creature.
Lights flicker, doors don't open, and the place has the decided air of having been abandoned in a hurry. Half empty glasses litter tables, steam hisses from exposed vents, and this is all while you are silently hunted by a creature that's wildly more powerful than you.
Oh, you can't fight the creature either. Not directly at least. There's no combat in the traditional sense, the best you're doing is buying yourself time.
The ten minute demo I played was about half-way through the game. I was tasked with finding a welding torch, unlocking a door, and restoring a power conduit.
Which all seem like simple enough tasks until you factor in the omnipresent threat of having your skull punched open by the creature's pharyngeal jaws.
While James Cameron's Aliens has been the influencing flavor of more titles than we can count, Isolation trades flame-throwers for tightly-wound tension. We've explored and battled Xenomorphs as the heavily armed Space Marines on dozens of outings, and we've killed thousands of Aliens in swarms and hives, but this is just a single combatant affair.
Amanda's not completely defenseless, but she's not going to stumble upon any M41A pulse rifles either. A melee attack with a pipe is more for show than anything else.
Again, you can't defeat the Alien.
A crafting system is in place to create a meager arsenal of defenses while you're mostly hoping to avoid the Alien at all costs. I didn't get a chance to create anything during the demo, but picked up my share of pipes, scrap metal, and gasoline littered throughout the station.
The Xeno's stalking isn't programmed around any pattern in particular. Which means every time you play the game, the alien will be hunting you in a completely random method. You've got a very small window to run or hide, but if it makes a lock on you, you're done: instant death. Your best, and only real weapon, is your motion tracker.
Keep the creature in the cone in front of you, otherwise it may already be too late. When the Xeno begins to stalk you from behind, keep the Alien in the motion tracker's line of sight.
Stumbling upon the ravaged remains of station inhabitants and at least one android in a pool of viscous, milky vital fluids.
There's a sense of intimate and sincere horror in Isolation.
The survival horror genre seems to be enjoying a deserved renaissance as of late, and Isolation looks to be a welcome addition.
With titles like Outlast, Dying Light, The Evil Within, bringing back the atmospheric horror titles gamers have been sorely missing over the past decade, Isolation is poised to add a science fiction title to those ranks.
Science fiction is never about a defined future. It's about using the present to explain contemporary neurosis. At this point Alien: Isolation is all potential, but it's a future you should definitely be paying attention to.