Note: This is the same preview I wrote up for the A:Isolation forum.
Before I start with this little written preview I want you to keep in mind a few factors
regarding my experience:
•With horror games I get easily immersed in but have never played games like Outlast or Amnesia (Basically games where you are powerless to fight back)
•My headset for the preview was REALLY loud and I couldn’t hear anything other than the game which I believe was to my advantage but scared the hell out of me at times maybe when it shouldn't have. The 3 others that I went with said that the headset wasn’t loud enough and they could hear all the noise from the other stalls. Bonus for me I guess because it allowed for full immersion.
•My time with Alien: Isolation was on the PC but with a Xbox 360 pad.
•I've never had to write a preview of a game before so please be gentle Razz
I'll begin with my time with the game. It begins with a briefing (which I assume was just for the event) and its going through the tools at my disposal and giving me a little advice on how to stay alive. Starting with the Motion Tracker it explains how the marker at the top of the tracker is my objective and that I need to follow it and then moves on to how to track the Alien which was pretty obvious stuff really. The video looks like its playing on an old VHS really hitting home with the LO-FI feeling in Alien: Isolation. The voice is giving me some tips about running and how it will attract the Alien with the noise it generates as well as not being able to fight it either so I should sneak and try and obscure its view where ever I can.
Now the game begins with some text at first about how you volunteered for this mission, you haven’t heard from your mother in 15 years and that your name is Amanda Ripley. The demo is the same as the journalists got to play so I knew a little about what was going to happen but it honestly doesn't make any difference. You start in the darkened corridor from the footage we’ve seen with the lights turning on coming towards you and you can see dust particles in the light as they turn on with a clunk.
I approached the door and walked out into a large area with a window where you can see some of the space station. I had a little look around here at the textures and little things that were lying around and I have to say that CA have really gone to town with making the game look authentic to the original film and it looked believable. I don’t know how to explain it other than its how I would expect a space station to look in the Alien universe.
I moved through the area rather slowly trying to take a good look around (or at least that was my intention) until I heard clattering above my head and the pinging of my motion tracker! That was it for the relaxed tour, from now until I came face to face with the Alien it was tension building which was still a while away for me but I found the door I needed to go through but I need to weld the panel off to open it and I was instructed to find a blowtorch. Following my trusty motion tracker I went to go and find it in what looked like the dining area from the Nostromo. This area has some interesting things to look at but as soon as I touched the blowtorch there was an explosion. The lights go out and I'm already on edge and I let out a quiet expletive while the on screen tip is telling me about my torch which is the Y button.
Now the torch can be adjusted but I do have a gripe with it. You cant fine tune it, left on the D-Pad gives you a wide beam which fills the screen but doesn’t penetrate far and the the right D-Pad makes it a narrow beam which does penetrate to the opposite end of the corridor but you can hardly see anything. The best way for you to know what I'm talking about is to get a small coin like a two pence piece and hold it at arms length in front of you towards you're monitor. I felt as though It would have been better being able to adjust to how I wanted it because you cant see the middle ground at all with the torch. Its either close or far but maybe that’s a design decision to add a fear of the areas you couldn’t really see in the middle ground and if that’s the case it works.
Proceeding back to the sealed door where I need to use the blowtorch I'm instructed to press and hold the Right Trigger and it burns through the hatch for you, sorry I didn’t find any interactivity during that part which is a shame but who knows, in the final version it might be possible? After this I enter a room with a ladder in it which looks just like the Nostromo's ladders where Ripley is creeping up trying to get to the Narcissus, its funny how you recognize things like this but it's pretty cool. I climb down and take a look at my map, now its obvious which way I should go because the Motion Tracker tells you but you can clearly see that although it appears to be linear in the way of go here do this you still have multiple paths that you can choose. Your map also clearly marks where you need to go.
I pull the motion tracker up after checking my map and slowly exit the door crouched focusing on the MT. You can change your focus between the tracker and your surroundings which we already knew but I didn’t realise just how well it worked! I was looking at my MT so much that when I walked out of the door I saw something that resembled an Alien head upside down and my initial thought was that I was dead but after switching the focus I realised that it was just some pipes in the ceiling! Keep in mind that I didn’t know when the Alien would appear, as far as I knew it was already after me which is why the clattering noises earlier were so effective at building tension.
Walking down towards my objective I can see numerous featureless synthetics on the floor which had been torn asunder. I almost didn’t want to get too close to them in fear of them not being quite as dead as they looked, Ash and Bishop were pretty hard to kill after all. As I proceed down the dark hallway with flickering lights I pick up movement again on my tracker and see a shadow moving in front of a window so I quickly duck for cover and hope it doesn’t come out of the room. I eventually pluck up some courage to look into the window and I can see that something has disturbed the items in the room and toys (motion activated I think) are moving and my heart is already pounding with the tension that’s been building up the entire time.
Once I finally reached my objective I have to play a little hacking mini game, all your doing is using one of the sticks on the controller to get a signal to the device and then using the other to pick the matching images on screen eliminating them one by one using the RB to enter the shapes into the hacking tool. I recall myself running out of time in the first one not being 100% sure what I was meant to do but I cracked it on my second attempt which triggered a scripted event.
With more clunking and clattering before my very eyes the Alien drops from the ceiling and my character ducks, takes a sneaky look at our antagonist and the Alien whips around and your character gasps and quickly dives under the desk. Now I will point out a little attention to detail that I liked here which was chewing gum stuck under the desk (tangent, lol) which again gives you the feeling of Sevastopol being lived in, the station isn’t a clean new environment it does in fact look used. I'm not sure if it jumps onto the desk that I'm under but there's a big thud and its tail appears next to my leg giving me flashbacks of poor Lambert.
The Alien in my opinion looks fantastic and it towers over you as the player, I would hazard a guess and say when your crouched you probably come up to around its knee or maybe just above? The animations seem fluid and it moves with deadly intent but eventually it leaves and I get the control back after the scripted event. Looking at my tracker I can see the Alien moving away so I decide that I should move out my my hiding spot and try and get to the exit on my map. I took a good look at the different ways out and decided to go for the shortest route, all good so far!
Upon moving out and with my route set I approached the door but my motion tracker begins pinging and stops me in my tracks. Its coming back to the room that It just left and I quickly head back under the desk. Now I don’t know if its because my headset was so loud but I could hear it before I could see it. You can hear its weight pounding on the metallic floor and making noises while its hunting you, I manage to get a glimpse of it leaving the room again and it has to crouch slightly to exit the door which gives you an idea of just how big the Alien is. I got lucky here because I actually got stuck on the desk! Not a bug or anything I was just an idiot that wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings and if it would have turned left instead of through the door I would have been dead. I didn’t dare move anyway I was like a rabbit in headlights. These moments are really intense and I cant describe it well enough with words, its something you need to do yourself to truly understand how scary this is.
Now that the Alien has gone I start to move out again very timidly and I hear clanking again and I spin around to see the tracker going again and its coming right at me. Its in the vents! I just sit in a corner watching the MT intently on which way its coming at me and it eventually passes over me. It drops down at the other side of the wall I'm taking cover behind and I have a doors at either side of me and a window right in front of me. “I'm screwed” is all I keep saying to myself and slowly back away from the window to see it passing by. Fortunately for me it didn’t glance into the room through the window because I would have been dead apparently which is nice to know. I managed to back out of the other door and make my way to the objective which I believe was where I entered this area. After pulling the lever to open it the gravity shuts off followed by an explosion with a voice through the comms telling me that I cant go that way any more I have to get to the airlock to escape.
Where's the airlock? Right back where I just came from of course! Unbelievably I managed to get to the airlock somewhat unhindered but my heart was racing because I was absolutely terrified, my hands were trembling with the stress I was being put under and at no point did I feel safe or in control of scenario I was playing. I felt powerless against the Alien and didn’t doubt for a second that If it saw me that I would be dead.
Pressing the lever the airlock began to cycle with flashing red lights and a siren basically announcing my position. I took a quick look at my tracker again and there were two directions it could come at me so I picked the area where I had some cover. Now this bit scared the hell out of me, I decided to peek at the alien using the B button and the left thumb stick. I could see the Alien investigating the lever that I pulled and as soon as I peeked over the cover to get a good look at him (stupid mistake) it obviously saw something move because it snapped its attention directly at me.
He moved at me swiftly and was making a lot of noise, almost growling knowing that he saw something but not sure what or where it had gone. Now my heart was going a mile a minute and I don’t know how it coped. Now if you can imagine playing tiggy as a child moving around a car so the person who’s it cant get you or something along those lines well that’s what I was doing with the Alien. It wouldn’t leave me alone! We were both moving anti-clockwise around this piece of machinery (I think it was machinery) And I had to keep swapping between the tracker and my normal view so I could keep track of it because I kept losing sight of it. This felt as though it went on for a long time even though it was probably 15 seconds. Again I felt lucky to be in one piece.
Eventually after another grunt he moved off and back towards the airlock and you could see that it was still curious as to what made all the racket and the door open. I crept over to the airlock and decided on sprinting the rest of the way and I made it! Survived it without getting killed! This bit enters a scripted sequence which we’ve all seen from the footage where the door closes just before the Alien gets to you and you get sucked out of the airlock.
So that concludes my game time. I was so glad it was over, was it an enjoyable experience? Hell no! Do I want to buy the game for more? I certainly do. Creative Assembly have done a great job with the atmospherics in this game. I quite enjoyed hearing some of the Alien music score in parts and the music works amazingly and almost toys with your emotions as your playing. The music certainly adds to this game and I was really impressed with how it went from lulls to highs. The sound that the Alien made were also really good from the noises in the vents to where its on the ground trying to hunt you down to punch a hole in your face. Like I said my headset was really loud and the game sound was helping contribute to everything that I felt. I recommend playing it with a loud headset!
Graphics were very nice on the PC version and it appeared to be well textured. I really have no complaints in this department at all it really did look gorgeous and with the assets that CA have been so keen to keep grounded in the 70's it not only looks believable but it appears very authentic but that’s of course my opinion. The section I played is very dark in places but the lighting is great and again it really adds to the atmosphere which of course goes hand in hand with immersion.
The Alien well I think I went through a lot of that really in my play through but it seems to have a “weight” to it but in the sense that you know its powerful. The Alien in this game is no joke and speaking to Nee I'm in the minority because I actually survived the entire demo. One of my friends didn’t even manage to finish the demo because the Alien just kept getting the drop on him. You really do feel powerless against it, at no point did I feel that I could outrun or outsmart him unless I hid. Unfortunately I didn’t get to climb into a locker and hide from it to see how that worked.
Controls, now I was really hoping for a mouse and keyboard because I'm really not used to using a pad and sometimes I really fumbled with the controls. I didn’t get to look into the controls to see if you could redefine them but I know you can invert the axis if your that kind of guy that presses down to look up on a pad. I may have gotten some of these wrong and I apologise if I have. Please CA mods alter them if I have made a mistake, thanks.•RT on the pad was a melee attack with what looked like a wrench? (hold) Also functioned as the use blowtorch button in the demo for the panel you need to get into.
•RB (hold) was the Motion tracker although I kept pressing RT and hitting things with the wrench. I wonder if this would have worked as a distraction if used on say a pipe? It also keyed in the symbols on the hacking tool.
•LB I think was focus between the tracker and your normal view which blurs the tracker
•LT didn’t appear to do anything
•Y was your torch
•X was reload although I didn’t have a gun
•A seemed to be primarily used to interact with things and to collect crafting items.
•B was your peek button. You hold B behind cover and move your left thumb stick to look around cover but it almost cost my my life!
•Left on the D pad widened your torch beam and became close with minimal depth penetration.
•Right on the D pad narrowed it giving you better penetration of the darkness by sacrificing a wider field of view.
Overall I really enjoyed my experience even though I thought at times I couldn’t go on. I was genuinely frightened to the point where my hands were shaking when I went out of the room and my legs felt like jelly. But I'm easily immersed in horror games and others may not find it scary compared to how I felt. My only real gripe is the torch, I really don’t like how it works but its something rather minor in the grand scheme of things. I also think that the Motion Tracker giving you a sense of direction may be a little too easy? But I don't know what difficulty I was playing on and this might even disappear on the harder settings who knows! The interface was very subtle and unobtrusive as well which was nice. Nothing on the screen except to help you out except on the tools that you bring into view by pushing buttons.
Very excited for more and I hope you found some of this a little informative and at least readable :PThat staff that I met and spoke to we're very friendly as well and it was a great day out!
Note: Although I didn't notice it during my play time it has been mentioned on the A:I forum that the motion tracker doesn't seem to pick up motion from things such as fans and doors opening.