Released in two weeks, Alien Isolation is a survival horror that evokes Ridley Scott's timeless 70s classic, putting a lone, towering alien on your tail and given you none of the tools to kill it, creating unbelievable tension.
You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, who fifteen years after the events of the first film heads into deep space, and the Sevastopol space station to find out more about her mother's disappearance.
At EGX 2014 at London's Earls Court I spoke to the game's creative lead Al Hope about the game...
The majority of Alien games to date have borrowed largely from James Cameron's action-focused Aliens, which is understandable to an extent, but even so it seems ludicrous that a game like Isolation hasn't been made sooner. Is that the reason Creative Assembly took on the project?
I think it's the fact that this is the Alien game we've always wanted to play, and as you say no one's ever really created that experience before, a game in which encountering just one alien can be really meaningful. It really felt that this creature was so interesting and special that there had to be an alternative interaction the player could have it rather than it being at the end of your pulse rifle as a bullet sponge. Our game asks what it would be like to actually survive against this thing, and that's where we started.
For a long time these aliens haven't been all that scary in the films and games they've been in, and yet - and I'm not afraid to admit this - I still sometimes have nightmares about them because the design is so strong. Is a goal of Isolation to bring back the alien of people's nightmares rather than the ones they've become?
The role of the alien over the rest of the films changes and in some ways has possibly diminished. I think the treatment of the alien in that first film is very unique, and games hadn't really presented that previously. That first alien is really special in that it's mysterious, otherworldly and unknowable. We're trying to restore that, sort of re-alien the alien.
When you announced Isolation survival horror games were out of fashion, but now thanks largely to the success of PT, Silent Hills and your game they're back in video game vogue, you must be excited about the genre's new-found popularity, not to mention the timing...
Yeah, it's certainly interesting, because when we started this project about four years ago I think survival horror was going in a certain action-orientated direction, which wasn't a direction that we wanted to go in. It's pretty much coincidence now that we're releasing during a sort of renaissance in survival horror games, which is great to see.
What has surprised you most when watching people play the game? What's the best reaction you've seen?
We love coming to events like EGX, PAX and SDCC. We've been working on this game for so long and weren't able to talk about it for so long that to actually put it in people's hands has made everything all worthwhile. Seeing people have emotional, physical reactions, shrinking in their seat, making themselves smaller... we've seen people hold the controller up in their face, at Rezzed we had somebody run out then sheepishly come back in to collect their stuff. It's really fun to see people throw their headphones of as well, it's almost like an eject button to get out of the experience, then you see them smiling and beaming away, put the headphones back on and then go again. It's been great, really fantastic.
The enjoyment and success of the game boils down to the Alien and its AI. If it's too good at tracking you down then you don't have a chance, too bad and it appears dumb. How difficult was it striking a balance?
Creating the alien has been a really interesting creative challenge which has required a huge amount of work from a range of disciplines to come together. Constant iteration and play-testing helped us refine the creature. We wanted it to feel fair, so you always understand why you've been killed, but we never wanted to make an easy game because that would undermine our goals, however there are different levels of difficulty so players are able to find their sweet spot.
The humans aboard seem very authentic in that their reaction to seeing you is to warn you off rather than shoot on sight. Is this always the case, or will you come across other humans in the gameplay that are more helpful?
The humans aboard are in the same situation as you. There's not many of them but like you they're desperate to survive and they run under the same core AI as the alien, which makes them unpredictable. Sometimes they are helpful to the player, sometimes they're aggressive and as you say they warn you off, so if you back away then so do they and there's no conflict. Really they're another interesting thing for the player to be conscious and cautious of. It's very unscripted and natural, so one minute you might be in control then suddenly it can break down into a gun fight and total chaos.
The game is incredibly tense, but being exposed to that level of tension is something that wouldn't work for long sustained periods. How have you gone about pacing the game and varying what the player does?
For me Isolation can't be X number of hours of just unrelenting pressure, that wouldn't be fun. So the game needs to be about tension and release, so we'll allow you breathe again, take stock and gather your thoughts before embarking again into the unknown. Really we try and stay as hands off as possible, there's a structure of course from the story but what happens in between is down to the player.
You've stuck closely to the look and feel of original film in Isolation. If you were lucky enough to make a sequel, would you want to be more expressive as a team, in terms of setting for example?
We're really proud to have added a new chapter to the Alien story that we're really passionate about. It's been a privilege to do that and take on those characters, so we've already made our mark and now we're focused on DLC – there's much more to come.