“On October 7th no one will hear you scream!”
The Xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror /sci-fi master piece Alien, initially designed by the late H.R. Giger, has become an iconic antagonist and one of the most recognisable, mimicked and celebrated creature designs in cinematic history.
The terrifying nature of the Alien Xenomorph, from its face hugger parasite, to the creature’s overly dramatic and horrific chest bursting grand entrances, to its pure killing machine with acid for blood final phase, has been the thing of nightmares for almost 35 years.
However more recently the video games themselves have traumatised fans of the Alien Universe far more than a Xenomorph under the bed. Games that have often left gamers wanting a little mouth to end their suffering at the hands of awful A.I., poor graphics, clunky game mechanics and uninspired, dull and some downright dumb story lines.
In 1996 the transition to 32-bit was in full flow and Probe Entertainment, published by Acclaim, delivered the tense, atmospheric and highly rated FPS Alien Trilogy. Although the game was no revolution to the genre its solid game play and claustrophobic feel took advantage of the new gens hardware to produce a more mature gaming experience, with the player holding their breath each time the motion detector made its iconic blip.
Alien Trilogy was received well by critics with 77.5% for the Playstation port, gamers had been giving an eerie chill from the atmosphere that 32-bit systems could deliver, and the game is still remembered fondly to this day.
However fans were not to receive a follow up to it and console gamers would experience long waits for constant disappointment.
The first Alien franchise game to hit the market (PC/Mobile/Handheld saw a slurry of licensed games of varying genres but we are sticking to consoles and also discounting strategy games) after Alien Trilogy was a game based upon the unpopular fourth motion picture instalment, 1997’s Alien Resurrection.
Initially the developers had set out to drop a 3rd person survival horror Resident Evil clone in time to be synchronised with the release of the film. However this plan was dropped and an FPS was rushed out in 2000. The game suffered as it was too late to capitalise on any tie in with the films cinematic run and too generic to cause a stampede down to the store.
Then in 2001 Aliens fans were expectantly awaiting the imminent release of Check Six’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, however the project failed to materialise and one of video gaming’s most drawn out production hells began.
Aliens: Colonial Marines turbulent development gives Duke Nukem Forever’s horrifically botched creation a run for its money in any “top 10 video game development disasters” list. Interestingly both games involved Gearbox Software, we will come back to that.
So while the debacle of Aliens: Colonial Marines ensued, over at Rebellion Developments things were moving ahead on their release into the Alien game linage.
Aliens vs Predator, a follow up to Rebellion’s 1999 PC game Aliens versus Predator, dropped in 2010 and hit number one in the UK charts and while the reviews were mostly leaning towards the positive around the 60-70% mark, the game was already feeling dated by its release.
There was plenty of graphic ultraviolent fun to be had in multiplayer online mode, nothing is more satisfying than tearing your best friend’s spine from his avatar and talking smack while doing it. However in a year that saw Battlefield: Bad Company 2, CoD: Black Ops, BioShock 2, CoD: Modern Warfare 2 and Borderlands released, AvP was more of a fun play than an innovative classic affair.
So once more Alien fans were left to wonder when their robust AAA gaming experience was going to finally finish its seemingly endless gestation period and burst out with gory glory all over their consoles!
Well they didn’t have to wait long as 2013 saw the highly anticipated long wait over! Finally the gaming community was presented with the masterpiece, the epic, the in depth game that all gamers would and probably did trade in their own mothers to get a hold of! Yep GTA:V was great! Oh yeah and Gearbox Software finally launched Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Even though the game shifted 1.31 million copies those sales could probably be attributed mostly to such a long build up that the rush to purchase was faster than reviewers could type, mostly! Thus many a gamer was already skipping happily home full of glee unaware that they were clutching tightly to a bag of FML.
Not only does Aliens: Colonial Marines have a development back story that is similar to Duke Nukem Forever, it also shared a similar reaction from critics and gamers alike.
It would seem that Gearbox was about as impressed with going on a bug hunt as Hudson, since they just left them all in the game; so much so that shortly after release probably more videos ended up on YouTube showing off hilarious glitches than actual serious gameplay. With A.I. that should be let out of school early to safely make it to the short bus and graphics that must have been gathering dust for 8 years before being blown on and shoved into the game, Aliens: Colonial Marines was far from the level that had been expected. Had the game shipped in 2007, around the time that early screen shots began to appear, then it would have been acceptable. No wonder what with games such as The Last of Us, CoD: Ghosts, BioShock Infinite and Battlefield 4 also emerging in 2013, Aliens: Colonial Marines received reviews as low as 2.5/10, with a rough average of 4.5/10.
So how can such a vast universe of memorable characters, some of Sci-Fi’s greatest weapons, phenomenal set design and epic creatures; that is full of cannon and holds true iconic status persistently be the subject matter of below average games?
Well in 2014 all that may change!
The Creative Assembly have gone back to the roots of Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien and the initial Alien Resurrection game plan to bring gamers an intensely “isolated” nerve racking survival horror offering. Replacing run and gun with sneak, hide, think fast and smart, oh and if that fails just RUN!!!
So the premise of the game attempts to slot into the Alien movie cannon by taking place between Alien and Aliens. However unlike Aliens: Colonial Marine’s Cpl Hicks arc, it doesn’t require some serious suspension of disbelief to accept it. Even though one could argue that there is the potential for a small inconsistency or lack of true tension, as if this is viewed as Alien 1.5 then Aliens kind of gives an insight into the stories outcome. However since the scene I am thinking of is only in the Directors Cut of Aliens I guess I can let it slide, plus having not played the game yet I cannot pass too much comment without knowing the ending.
So what does this game promise us gamers?
“How will you survive?”
“Discover the true meaning of fear in Alien: Isolation, a survival horror set in an atmosphere of constant dread and mortal danger. Fifteen years after the events of Alien, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda enters a desperate battle for survival, on a mission to unravel the truth behind her mother’s disappearance.
As Amanda, you will navigate through an increasingly volatile world as you find yourself confronted on all sides by a panicked, desperate population and an unpredictable, ruthless Alien.
Underpowered and underprepared, you must scavenge resources, improvise solutions and use your wits, not just to succeed in your mission, but simply to stay alive.”
Al Hope Creative Lead states that the concept of the game was born from the simple fact that no game thus far had encapsulated the original films blend of survival horror and the scariest element, that of being alone throughout one’s desperate bid to stay alive and one step ahead of your hunter.
Alien: Isolation has been conceived and developed over the past three years by fans of the franchise.
Working along the original theme that this is a haunted house in space situation the game aims to take players back to the core of Alien 1979 and fully immerse them in the atmosphere and design of the first movie. This Lo-Fi Sci-Fi style, according to Jude Bond, aims to authentically recreate the style and mood of Ridley Scott’s film, and this guiding principle has formed the foundation for all aspects of design from settings, objects, tech and characters. The aspiration was to give everything a tactile rich look, using mechanical design in place of the more recent trend of digital holographic interfaces etc that appear in modern Sci-Fi games and films. Nothing in the game has been designed if it could not have been available on set to Ridley Scott in 1979. There’s a certain weighty elegance in seeing the future portrayed with late 20th Century tech. I guess not only is it nostalgic and takes you back to an era that provided some of the best cinematography ever, but also seeing the interface that you are relying upon for survival having to boot up adds tension, plus a future run on DOS is scary enough without a Xenomorph to contend with!
The decision to maintain the VHS/ static used in the trailers already has the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. In order to achieve this distorted retro tech look the development team did not take the easy route and use programmes to recreate the fuzzy, jittering of a damaged VHS tape. The team got hands on and transferred their video to actual VHS tapes and literally damaged them for authenticity. There’s no doubting that if a team is getting this creative and obsessed with authenticity then surely this cannot fail to impress gamers?!
However replicating the look of something else a master piece does not always make, so other than a retro blast from the past what will be the gamer experience? Since games can’t just end up being a film and are expected to generate an experience from interaction.
Gary Napper involved with design states that the ultimate goal of Alien: Isolation is to “create an experience that is terrifying” for the gamer and to have the gamer on the edge of their seat in fear. This is not a game designed to be an adrenaline rush in the traditional sense like that of a CoD. Alien: Isolation aims to deliver its heart pumping adrenaline in bursts built upon genuine fear. This should be achieved through generating excessive amounts of dread and worry within the gamer, keeping them fixated so intensely on the screen so that even the toughest of players would leap onto the ceiling and shriek like a scream queen if their phone rang! Game play of this nature aims to utilise the traditional horror method of creating an experience that is actually unpleasant yet keeps us coming back.
That’s the level of engagement and immersion this game is intent on delivering.
Full of slow pacing, unsettlingly quiet ambient noise, then add in the iconic strobe lighting effects of the Alien series that will have the player constantly seeing things that aren’t there is a recipe I like the look of. Taking inspiration from original set design and key scenes from Alien the player will almost certainly find themselves running for cover from what turns out to be nothing more than a buddle of tubes and conduits.
Alien: Isolation should at last give fans their dream Alien experience as this is a work of passion from the team at The Creative Assembly. However non fan gamers will get a potentially revolutionary experience thanks to the games advanced A.I. One of the biggest issues that plagued gamers experience with Aliens: Colonial Marines was NPC and enemy A.I., as previously mentioned, with some hilarious and deeply “fuck you” frustrating results.
Alien: Isolation in order to maintain a consistent fear factor has created a reactive A.I. enemy in the Xenomorph that will not provide encounters in the traditional Mega Man style boss battle whereby once you have the pattern down through trial and error the player will be able to breeze through stages. The Xenomorph will react to what you as the payer do and will not repeat a pattern if you re-attempt a section of the game. This is not Edge of Tomorrow where by you can get further and more proficient with each respawn. Alien: Isolation sets up that this is real life survival not virtual land try until you get it right. Clive Lindop of design states that this creature is not following a programmed path, this creature is hunting YOU!
Weapons are available to you in the game through the usual way of finding them also through salvaging. The game features a crafting system to allow players to make weapons from seemingly innocuous items. However gamers should be careful as and when weapons are discharged for fear of giving your position away! Also the environment acts as your defence, by hacking into interfaces in game actions allow the player to open and block routes.
So as Amanda you will find yourself up against the truest version of the Xenomorph ever to be in a video game and armed predominantly only with your own wits. Of course the motion sensor features as it is an Alien game, however the developers have deliberately given this the 1979 design style and just like the first mobile phones, this is a chunky lump and the player will be forced to choose between a few extra feet of environmental data or being armed and ready.
So that is just my initial thoughts and first look Alien: Isolation, if you hadn’t have guess by now I am a massive fan of the Alien universe. I will be monitoring all announcements coming out of The Creative Assembly and looking at them objectively and subjectively in equal measure. I am genuinely excited about this game and have full faith that it will live up to everything the development team say it will.
So keep checking back for more news and views on this upcoming game.
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