Not too long ago, the gaming community was arguing over the status of the Survival Horror genre. Did games like Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6 nearly destroy it? Was the "survival" aspect soon to be a distant memory? Ever since the announcement of SEGA's Alien: Isolation, it's fairly safe to say that Survival Horror still has some gusto.
Alien Isolation aims to be the most unique video game entry in the Alien franchise in that it doesn't pit you in the shoes of some gun-toting marine or Ellen Ripley. Rather, you play Ripley's daughter, Amanda, in a prequel to James Cameron's Aliens. Long gone are the days of pulse rifles and grenade launchers; now are the days of hiding while your heart races until it's safe to come out.
As Amanda, you don't strap on the latest space marine weaponry. If you're lucky, you'll come across a blow torch or a motion detector that will help you survive your little game of cat and mouse. In Isolation, you're the mouse being stalked by a monstrous xenomorph.
What, exactly, will be the true driving force to Alien: Isolation? The history of the Alien video game franchise has not been a pleasant one, but SEGA stands to change that. With so many standout features in this new Alien title, it may be best to isolate (get it?) those with the highest potential.
If there is one universal truth about Ridley Scott's Alien, it's that the sound design helped turn it from a simple Sci-Fi Thriller into a full blown horror flick. The xenomorph was a terrifying brute, but the subtle background sounds of the Nostromo created an atmosphere that was uncomfortable and terrifying all on its own. Alien: Isolation aims to create uncomfortable situations with a space station that is just as haunting as the bleak Nostromo.
Dead Space is widely popular for its use of effective sound design, utilizing the normal creaks and quirks of your environment to have you question every step. SEGA will step this aspect up tenfold to create a sort of Haunted House simulator where every noise could mean impending death. Is that hissing in the distance a sign of lost pressure or is your pursuer mere feet ahead of you, stalking you from the shadows?
First-Person perspective is often reserved for shooters, but there's no reason why it wouldn't work for a horror title. In fact, the limited view is more terrifying. Not only can you not see what's sneaking up behind you, but your left and ride sides are blind spots as well. In a game that has you trying to sneak around for survival, any blind spot is a massive disadvantage, especially when your foe can literally spring out from the walls.
It seems that stealth games aremarketed towards a very specific market. Early Splinter Cell games were regarded as impossibly difficult at times due to its strict focus on stealth, so what makes SEGA think that such a forced mechanic will work for Alien: Isolation? For your answer, let's look at a game called Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth. In the early levels of this title, you're forced to sneak around the townspeople of Innsmouth to avoid instant death. Splinter Cell was just as unforgiving with its stealth implementation, but it was wildly frustrating because you could feasibly still escape your enemy had the game let you. Your position in Dark Corners left you completely unarmed and helpless, making it plausible that one wrong move would mean your demise, a fact that you can come to terms with rather than get angry over.
Jump to Alien: Isolation, where the foe you're trying to escape from is fast, strong, and outfitted with all sorts of nasty claws and talons. There's no way you'd be able to escape if this creature catches sight of you, and knowing that going in makes the stealth experience justifiable and all-the-more terrifying.
Alien games were very big on trying to recreate the tension and amaze of the Alien sequel, but few were able to capture it at all. SEGA isn't going to try, focusing rather on delivering an experience closer to the original movie. How does one do this? By going back in time, bridging the gap between Alien and Aliens.
In the beginning of Aliens, we get a glimpse of a little known fact - Ellen Ripley has a daughter, Amanda. By the time Ripley awakes from her cryogenic sleep, her daughter has already passed away. What happened to her? What did she do with her life? It may be such an inconsequential detail, but it's one that can create its own experience. Alien: Isolation features Amanda, who is on a desperate search for her mother, and will have already gone toe-to-toe with the universe's greatest threat.
The thought and consideration put into Isolation's narrative is already refreshing, and the game hasn't even released yet.
Finally, an Alien game that gets what the original trilogy was really all about. Many people forget that, amidst the action scenes in Aliens, there was plenty of tension, and this aspect of the films is something that no Alien title has even bothered to touch on (save for, maybe, Alien: Trilogy and Alien: Resurrection, but they were awful anyway). To see that Alien: Isolation features that long lost horror aspect is refreshing and easily raises the anticipation bar quite high.