Cowering under a table might not be anyone's idea of a kickass good time, but as leisure options go it's preferable to having your stomach lanced by the prehensile tail of a seven-foot death machine. Arguably more importantly, it's also preferable to replaying the same section of a game multiple times over. Such is life on the Sevastapol space station, where as Amanda Ripley—daughter of Ellen, star of the Alien movies—I recently spent several hours hiding in and under things while battling H.R. Giger's walking phallic nightmare. Spoiler: I mostly lost.
Several things are remarkable about Alien: Isolation , aside from the fact that a licensed, first-person horror game represents such a huge departure for the strategy specialists at Creative Assembly. Perhaps most startling is how fastidiously committed the game is to pure stealth as an archetype. I struggle to think of anything, beyond perhaps Outlast, which keeps the player so relentlessly under threat, with so few means of redress against your hunter. I'm also not entirely sure that's a good thing, but more on that later.
Less surprising is Alien: Isolation's fidelity to the source material. From the moment the game was announced Creative Assembly has been talking up the dread and tension of the Ridley Scott original, rather than the 'Nam-in-space shootfest of James Cameron's sequel. And with the Colonial Marines debacle fresh in everyone's minds, a more considered, slow-burn approach has to be welcomed.
What becomes clear as you step into Sevastopol's ominous corridors is that the team has knocked the look and feel out of the park and into orbit. Isolation will surely be the most faithful Alien game made yet. It really is like stepping back in time and onto the set: The chunky plastic buttons, the beige vinyl seats, the flickering green screen terminals–it's a chance to wander around in the golden age of dystopian lo-fi sci-fi, and for a horror nerd that alone is probably enough to secure your interest.
Better still is the sound. Trust me, when awards season rolls around Isolation's audio designers aren't going to have much room left on their mantelpieces. The constant thrum of industrial clangs and whirs, coupled with the menacing bleep-bleep-bleep of your motion tracker and the occasional snippets of eerie public information films, is menacing enough, but when you're under imminent threat there's this terrifying swell of atonal string music that's punctuated by the alien's unearthly screeeees and hisssses. It's absolutely horrible and quite brilliant.
As is the alien itself. The first time I see it, it uncurls itself from a ceiling vent and drops to the floor amidst flickering light and steam, about the width of a swimming pool away from me. The moment immediately feels memorable, which is remarkable given how dulled by familiarity the creature has become. Several E3s ago I was shown an early demo of Isolation, and my concern was whether a single monster—especially one that has been so over-exposed—could be scary enough to carry a whole game. But again, with judicious lighting and super detailed animation, they've nailed it.