Why you can complete Alien: Isolation without killing anyone
Getting to see a bit more of Alien: Isolation is a double-edged experience. On one hand, you get to get to grips with more of what is looking like it could well be an excellent game, sneaking about a beautifully-realised world and soaking in that thick, Alien-y atmosphere.
On the other hand, it’s absolutely terrifying. Being stalked by that eight-foot-tall perfect killing machine isn’t pleasant – and now we’ve seen the human (and synthetic) enemies you have to face off against, or avoid if you like. It could well be overwhelming.
But at the same time it’s just three types of threat – won’t it be boring eventually? Gary Napper, lead designer on Isolation, says no: “I think the thing we face mostly on this is when we explain the core idea of ‘It’s you versus the alien’, people go ‘that’ll be amazing! But I’m going to be bored after three hours’…
“If you can extrapolate from at the beginning having nothing and it’s just you hiding from the alien, to come up to what [we’ve shown so far] – and then extend that out for another while – there’s actually a hell of a lot we do with the game that’s really interesting. And obviously we like to mix it up a bit as well.”
Another way in which Isolation aims to keep players interested is its emergent nature. Sitting in a room among a dozen other journalists, we were witness to more than a dozen subtly different ways of tackling a challenge. It’s something Napper and the team are very proud of.
“The mission structure is something we built around the idea of the station being a real place. There are too many games where it’s a linear experience and, for example, you walk through a door, it closes behind you and you can’t go back through it. Why is that?
“As you progress through the station and unlock more areas you can always go back to the areas you’ve been through. A big part of that was making sure that when you go back there’s still things going on, so it didn’t feel like ‘I’ve done this area, I’ll be fine’ – the alien can actually be anywhere… It’s very much a Metroidvania style of unlocking things.”
The introduction of human/human-ish enemies was cause for concern with many, however, fearing Isolation could drop its survival horror trappings and go full-on shooter.
Not so, as Napper said: “You can get through the entire game without killing someone. It’s something that was, not so much a challenge, but something I felt was what the character would do. We’re talking about a member of the Ripley family – they’re not like characters in games that gun down civilians because they’re in the way to get to the switch.”
To get by without killing everyone, Isolation has Ripley using some delightfully retro-futuristic tech. It’s useful, and you will die without the motion tracker, but there are no magic bullets or all-seeing eyes.
“It’s only 2D,” Napper said of the iconic (shoddy) radar device. “It’s those kinds of things that give you a lot of gameplay – you’re tracking the alien or a human or whatever, they could be on the floor below you, they could be in the ducts above you, they could be behind the wall – you’re never totally sure where these things are.”
Rather than a cheap technique to scare you more, it’s an aesthetic element that makes total sense – and in turn makes the game that bit more panic-inducing.
Whatever our feeling on Alien: Isolation so far (spoiler: it’s looking great), there’s an undeniable truth about its development – those making it are having fun.
Napper agreed: “It’s definitely an opportunity – how often do you get to make that game you’ve always wanted to play? People can go their entire career without doing that. Everyone’s been really happy to join this team and get a chance to be a part of it.”