Fear and tension are difficult reactions to provoke in fiction. In real life, sure, you just need a sharp thing to point at someone, but in entertainment creating sustained fear requires those making it to be at the very top of their game.
Sitting down to play a small slice of Alien: Isolation, the tension built instantly. Developers Creative Assembly may have sci-fi cinema's greatest horror series to work from, but successfully recreating the atmosphere and tone of Ridley Scott's original film and not just cheaply imitating it takes a real skill that was apparent in spades.
Dropping down from a ceiling vent, the player – as Ellen Ripley's daughter Amanda, on the hunt for her mother (Sigourney Weaver in the films) – immediately finds themselves in a room doused in darkness. There are unknowns from the off, and as you bring up the game's handheld motion tracker, and the game world beyond you falls out of focus, the tension is sustained by the first terrifying blip.
You'll become accustomed to that blip, and will regularly check it. In the first part of our demo it marks the sole alien Xenomorph of Creative's game. Instantly you move slowly, bringing up the tracker and using the outer square of its screen to find the direction of your objective.
Before long I've made it through a crew quarters, hastily hidden in a locker a few times (despite no sign of the alien) and made my way toward the objective. The door that needs opening requires a key, and in that same room I find a safe key. I missed where the safe was for some time, so began wandering back through the environment.
At this stage I noticed there wasn't much to be frightened of. At this early stage the Xenomorph is never actually in the same area as you, but rather scuttling above you in vents. According to a rep if you stand under a vent for too long the beast can leap down, but this never happened to me.
Eventually I find the key and move on to part two of the demo, and the introduction of human foes.
For fans of Alien games still sceptical following Sega's disastrous Alien: Colonial Marines, the addition of humans and guns is an uncomfortable one.
I discovered quickly that these fellow survivors aboard the space station Sevastopol were pretty trigger happy, and that using my own weapons (a revolver and a flame-thrower found early on) would only draw the alien, and instant death.
Stealth, not combat, is the answer, so I delved into another crucial part of the game being introduced - a crafting system. Using items found throughout the station - ethanol, batteries, explosives, containers, blade, gel, scrap and adhesive – bringing up a menu by holding the left bumper allows you to craft items as the game continues in the background.
Crafting takes time as well, continuing to build the sense of danger. Using these items it is possible to make revolver ammo, medkits, flares, EMP mines, Molotov cocktails and noise makers, the latter of which being the only item I ever felt the need to make.
The addition of humans does little to break the tension, in fact it builds upon it, giving players more than one threat to keep tabs on as they dart through the dark environment. Finding a locked door I was told that - naturally – it could only be opened by a terminal on the other side of the area.
On my way to this area two human survivors stood in my path, and it was here I used my noise maker to draw the alien and dispose of the humans. Perhaps a callous move from Amanda's perspective, but for the player it's not one without consequence. There's a substantial risk involved in beckoning the beast, but I was fortunate enough to get away.
The terminal stood inactive in a room, requiring me to chug two generators into life. Doing so awakened a primitive "Working Joe" android, which in true Alien style attempted to kill me. This was a boss fight of sorts, but one with a simple solution. My weapons disposed of him easily but initially I didn't want to draw the alien and sought other methods.
Eventually however I just decided to shoot it, learning then that the alien was apparently locked out of the room.
With the terminal hacked and faraway door opened a simple stroll awaited me... except for the alien now stood between me and escape. Now, the beast was in the same environment as me, and my heart was almost beating out of my chest.
CA have promised an intelligent creature, and his movements certainly seemed to be random, making it seem as if it was genuinely searching the area. However there were times when it really should have been able to see me but didn't.
It wasn't long after this that some survivors roused the alien's attention in a seemingly unscripted event. Seeing my chance I made a move.
The final stretch was unbearably tense, and a showcase of what Alien: Isolation can be. The issue however is how well balanced the final game is when it arrives in October. As with any horror, success comes from a measured approach – not showing the threat too often, building highs and lows into the experience.
The addition of human and android enemies could hamstring the game if used too often, but on the evidence of this pulsating demo their inclusion only helps serve CA's ultimate goal – which is to make a pant-s**tingly scary game.
Alien: Isolation will be released on 7 October 2014 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.