I never return to games at expos. Time is too precious, and queues are too long. But Alien: Isolation was so good the first time I played it. It was equally good the second time. And it was beyond amazing the third time. Each demo was short – 10 minutes max. And yet the half an hour I played of the latest Alien game made one thing very clear: this is going to be one of the greatest games this year.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: yes, Alien: Isolation is quite scary, and very intense. It’s made very clear that any attempt to shoot or kill the alien will fail. Your only bet is to hide and sneak past it. Unlike previous Alien games, Isolation fully understands the themes of Ridley Scott’s movie: fear and constant threat, rather than action.
The demo had a simple objective: escape the area as quickly as possible. You’re given a flamethrower, but you only have two shots and using it can draw attention to yourself, so I ignored it. On my first play through I prioritised speed, sprinting through the atmospheric and dark spaceship. Bad decision. My predator found me very quickly, and suddenly I was met with a claw protruding from my stomach. Game over.
It was clear my tactics needed to change, so I took the stealth approach that the game encourages. Sneaking my way through the level made me instantly realise how perfect Isolation is. Walking forward, watching the motion sensor when a dot appears to the left. Turning your head and seeing the large creature in the distance, coming towards you. All you can do is hide under a desk. You see the dot move closer. You just about make out the alien’s feet. It comes directly towards the table, and then it’s so close that you’re holding your breath in fear. Then it jumps on top of the desk. Oh god. It’s tail swings in front of your face. At this point you’re terrified. But you’ve evaded it. It walks off in the other direction. And…breathe.
Moments like this were extremely common in the demo. Other highlights were desperately trying to turn on a generator before the alien saw you (I failed) and finally making it to the exit on one playthrough – a hugely satisfying moment that incites genuine relief. The genius sound design coupled with atmospheric, brooding visuals all contribute to a feeling of pure terror, and that’s refreshing to see in a game. Amnesia and Outlast achieve similarly, but Isolation reaches a whole new level of polish.
My time with the demo was beyond superb, and if this brief playthrough was anything to go by, the final game will be equally excellent. Turn the lights off, put your headphones on and enter the terrifying world of Alien.