Sometimes I’m not sure what’s scarier: the implacably murderous Alien in Ridley Scott’s film, or the fact that the groundbreaking science-fiction movie debuted 35 years ago. Yikes!
To celebrate, of sorts, Fox and Sega have collaborated on Alien Isolation, a videogame debuting today that lovingly recreates the grungy, lived-in look of the original movie alongside plenty of creepy jolts and chills of its own. It’s all plunked down in a new setting that would be a fantastic sequel (hint, hint) were Sir Ridley ever to be so disposed. If you can handle the game’s gut-churning suspense, it’s available for PCs and Sony and Microsoft videogame consoles of the two most recent generations. I highly recommend it for those with durable stomach linings and an inclination to have the bejeezus scared out of them.
It’s part of a gamer genre called “survival horror,” and that phrase nicely covers the experience of Isolation. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley from the original film. The character itself is not a game designer confabulation; it was pulled from Scott’s Director’s Cut of the film, says Alistair Hope, creative lead on the game for Sega studio Creative Assembly.
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Isolation is set 15 years after the movie, in 2137. Seeking closure after her mother’s disappearance, Amanda Ripley has joined a small team traveling to the Sevastapol, a decommissioning space station with lots of problems, to investigate a black box recorder from the Nostromo, the space tug that took on a certain very unfriendly hitchhiker.
What happens after that is pretty damned creepy, I have to say.
If you’re successful, you’ll spend somewhere between 15 and 25 hours navigating the Sevastopol, dealing with scared survivors, rogue security guards, pugnacious synthetics and, oh yeah, that one very murderous Alien.
The alien, it turns out, is hunting you as much as you’re trying to avoid it. When it drops out of a vent into a hallway near you, it’s listening, and reacting, to what you do. The strategies you use determine whether you’ll survive each encounter.
Throw a flare, and it likely will go and investigate. Do that too many times, and it won’t bother. It’ll go look for who threw the flare. The monster particularly sensitive to sound, so running is a bad idea. So is using your scarce ammunition to finish off an aggressive synthetic. A flashlight may be useful in navigating the crippled station, but, “it’s a huge beacon,” too, Hope said. Really, figuring out ways to hide and distract all the bad actors roaming the Sevastopol is your only chance to make it through.
“There is no magic weapon that will be there to save you,” says Hope, of UK-based Sega studio Creative Assembly. “This is a game about survival, not killing.”
In fact, you can’t really kill the monster, a shift from previous Alien-related games, which often, as Hope puts it, served as “bullet sponges.”
Those first-person shooter games, facing off the beast and Space Marines, are really based more on Jim Cameron‘s Aliens sequel from 1986, or even the equally implacable Predator alien killer, after the studio mashed up the two film franchises in Paul W.S. Anderson‘s AVP: Alien vs. Predator.
Creative Assembly labored to replicate the original film’s experience, with the same gritty feel and emotion-charging background music, and I have to say they’ve largely succeeded. One of the subtle yet groundbreaking design decisions of Scott’s film was to envision a future where things aren’t antiseptic and perfect (as opposed to, say, Stanley Kubrick‘s shiny white sets in 2001: A Space Odyssey a decade earlier).
In Scott’s universe, things are grungy, a little dirty on the edges. Oh, and like that pre-Mac/Windows world of Scott’s, the technology interfaces in this game are decidedly retro and non-GUI. That’s the way we imagined the future in 1979, disconcerting as it is to ponder in these days of touch-screen interfaces on our tiny mobile devices.
“If you’re a massive fan of the universe, you get it,” Hope said, when I asked about those throwback computer screens and other design touches.
People who bought the game ahead of today’s launch also get access to a scenario that allows them to play as Weaver’s character, and two others, making their way through the Nostromo. It’s the first time Weaver has allowed her likeness to be captured and used in a video game, according to Fox representatives.
Weaver’s Ripley also will be surfacing on toys created by NECA that will be available this holiday season, alongside a Blu-Ray version of the original film, part of Fox Consumer Products’ efforts to mark a big anniversary without a big new film.
Absent a true sequel (Scott’s 2012 Prometheus proved an unsatisfying prequel for many fans), the game suggests a way the story might truly move ahead, separately from the shoot-’em-up pleasures of Aliens. Regardless, the game itself proves that a simple premise, a great franchise and some deeply disturbing sound design can make for an extraordinary, and extraordinarily terrifying, experience, whatever the medium.
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