There's plenty going on with the Alien franchise these days. Ridley Scott is prepping the a follow-up movie to Prometheus, Dark Horse is relaunching its Aliens comic book line, and Titan Books is publishing a trilogy of novels that take place in between Alien and Aliens. On the video game front is Alien: Isolation, a game that's currently in development at Creative Assembly and will be published by Sega in October of this year.
News of Isolation's development came on the heels of Aliens: Colonial Marines, a first-person shooter that was released in 2013 and was widely panned by critics and fans alike. The Alien saga has had a dodgy history with video games, so the plans for Isolation to put a significant focus on horror over gunplay has many fans wondering if the new game will live up to the demanding standards of its namesake. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.
Isolation takes place 15 years after Alien, and Weyland-Yutani has contacted Ellen Ripley's daughter Amanda about a mission that would solve the mystery of her mother's unexplained disappearance. The mission requires Amanda to go to a space station named Sevastopol to retrieve the flight recorder from the Nostromo. What Weyland-Yutani doesn't tell her is that there is something else on the station--an eight-foot tall Xenomorph that has been terrorizing the crew of the Sevastopol.
I think that the game has an interesting plot and the developers are doing everything they can to recapture the look and feel of Ridley Scott's original 1979 space shocker. The interiors of Sevastopol adhere to the bulky, "low-fi" look of the Nostromo, but the major change between Isolation and previous Aliens games is in the Xenomorph itself. Players will not have any weapons with which to fight the Xenomorph and the developers are programming the Xenomorph with A.I. behavior that allow it to "hunt" the players. Thus, the players will have to use their wits to stay alive on the Sevastopol long enough to find the flight recorder and escape before the Xenomorph catches up to them. As one player puts it in an Isolation preview video, the temptation to sneak a look at the Xenomorph is tempered by the realization that if you can see it, it can see you and can kill you that much faster.
The preview videos of I've seen of Isolation so far have largely confirmed my suspicions about the previous Aliens video games: that developers have been using the action-adventure elements of the Aliens movie as an excuse to deliver forgettable, formulaic shooter games in line with Doom and Quake instead of putting in the effort to provide genuinely terrifying experiences set in the Alien universe. Sure, I have enjoyed a few of the shooter games (mostly the Aliens vs. Predator games by Rebellion), but H.R. Giger's classic biomechanoid monstrosity inevitably loses its sense of menace when it becomes nothing more than a swarming pop-up target in a shooting gallery. Further deluding the Xenomorph's threat were the games' fast-and-loose rules with the creature's acid blood. In the movies, the blood could eat through three or more layers of metal; in the games, the blood provides some damage but not enough to permanently cripple the player or even melt the flimsiest of metals.
On the other hand, the developers' dedication to the look and feel of the original Alien movie may become a drawback for the Isolation game itself. As long as the Xenomorph presents a compelling challenge and the players have limited resources with which to protect themselves, then it shouldn't matter how closely the game matches the appearance of Alien. Besides, each of the settings in the saga provided great opportunities for survival horror (even the slick, holographic environments in Prometheus) so there's no reason why the developers have to limit their frame of reference to just the first movie when creating Isolation.
Nevertheless, I hope that Isolation succeeds in what it sets out to do and that its success will encourage future video game developers to think outside of the ammo box when creating more Alien games. The dark, sinister world of Weyland-Yutani, the Engineers and the Xenomorphs has so much more to offer than pulse rifles and space marines, and its about time that video games start taking advantage of such tantalizing potential. But don't just take my word for it--check out this teaser video from IGN: