Baked in the Past: The Lo-Fi Sci-Fi of Alien: Isolation

Technology won't save you.

It may be true that in space, no one can hear you scream. But if you're playing Alien: Isolation in a crowded room, people most definitely can hear you scream. I found this out last night when, after I shrieked "Oh god, no!" as the alien spotted me and charged, someone came by to ask if I was OK.

So, yes, as Mark Walton wrote after playing the game in January, being hunted in Alien: Isolation is truly terrifying. It's clear that the team at Creative Assembly has steeped itself in the look and the feeling of Ridley Scott's original film. This isn't what creative director Al Hope referred to during a presentation at Tuesday night's event as the "Vietnam in space" of James Cameron's Aliens, the film most games set in the universe have taken their cues from. This is the haunted house of Alien, more classic horror film than war film: one relentless, unstoppable killer stalking helpless prey. Because the dynamic is so different, the fear I felt as I played was of an altogether different breed than what I've experienced in sci-fi horror games like Dead Space, which still give you a fighting chance against your grotesque adversaries.

As a huge fan of Ridley Scott's film, I found the experience of being hunted by this legendary predator all the more exhilarating due to the meticulous way in which the team at Creative Assembly has sought to duplicate the film's production design. Alien presents a vision of the future, but as Hope said, that vision was "baked in the past." He referred to it as "lo-fi sci-fi." Ridley Scott, Hope said, took inspiration from Stanley Kubrick's 2001, but filtered that film's clean, 1960s concept of the future through a disillusioned 1970s lens, making it feel worn, everyday, and mundane. In the film Alien, technology reflects the technology that existed when the film was made, and this carries over to Alien: Isolation. Keyboards I saw on desks in the game resembled the hefty keyboards of computer terminals in the '70s rather than the sleeker keypads of today, and fonts on screens had the square, pixelated look of text on readouts in the film.

As Hope said, this future is "CRT, not LCD." He talked about how production designers on films like Alien would "kit bash," taking parts from pieces of existing technology and combining them to create the "futuristic" items used in the film. In creating the items present in the game, Hope and his team took the same approach, limiting their reference material to objects that existed in 1979. And when creating some of the in-game video assets, the team used tech that was available at the time, recording those assets onto VHS tapes, playing them back through old portable TVs, filming the screen, and manually distorting the signal to give the footage the fuzziness that displays have in the future of Ridley Scott's Alien.

The motion tracker reveals important information, but it also feels like a hefty, clunky piece of technology.

The clunkiness of tech in Isolation extends beyond the way it looks and into the way it functions. Unlike readouts in so many games that give you information about your surroundings, the motion tracker in Isolation is not a UI element. Your character holds it in her hand and needs to be aiming it toward the alien to get the most information about his current position. There's a trade-off to using the motion tracker: when the device's readout comes into focus, the background goes out of focus with a wonderfully grainy, cinematic effect, so you're sacrificing visual information from your surroundings for the visual information from the tracker. As a result, even though the information the motion tracker provides might save your life, it also contributes to a feeling of vulnerability and fear, letting you know just how close you are to the possibility of a sudden, merciless death.

And that's what made my time with Alien: Isolation so terrifying. Technology wasn't going to save me. I couldn't fill the alien with bullets from an assault rifle or blast its limbs off with a repurposed mining tool. All I could do was look at my handheld motion tracker, try to stay out of the alien's sight, hold my breath, and pray.

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Discussion

58 comments
Algearond
Algearond

REALLY looking forward to this one

beatlejuice66
beatlejuice66

The detail inside looks incredible. My only thing is the movement on the Alien is wrong following the first movie. The only time I remember the alien walking, it was done on all fours with its back to the ground and the hands as the back legs. This creature moves around in a more upright, less freaky way. 


That being said I hope this game finally comes through and deliver a deserving game to the franchise.

drewrobertson
drewrobertson

looks amazing! Lets hope that this dosent follow suit to what happened with colonial marines....


Best of Luck!

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

"Technology wasn't going to save me. I couldn't fill the alien with bullets from an assault rifle or blast its limbs off with a repurposed mining tool."

Funny how fear goes hand in hand with not being overpowered.  Maybe, just maybe, we're turning the corner and real survival horror is making a full comeback, with a lot more Dead Space and a lot less Dead Space 3.

DanZillaUK
DanZillaUK

I know a lot of us online have at one time or another wished a game to be horrid, just for the sake of it. But I'm sure 90% if not more of us, really want this game to be everything we've been told so far and do the Alien name justice.

vadagar1
vadagar1

finally a GOOD alien game

Boddicker
Boddicker

I hope it turns out good........

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

To be fair, they did copy Routine a bit. Just sayin'...

Shouoken4Peace
Shouoken4Peace

I want to sit Randy Pitchford down and stare at him blankly while he plays this game.

NTM23
NTM23

I should also say, I think there is, or can be a story reason behind why the tech looks 'old'. You also have to take into account how the Prometheus had tech that looked way more futuristic, but other than simply saying it's due to the film being made all these years after and reflects what we currently see in the future, you can take into consideration that the ship is made with the very latest and best equipment, for an important mission. 


While the Nostromo and what have you are less important to them, as well as what it's meant for, so it doesn't need the tech. I don't think it's entirely unrealistic to think that space ships of the likes that's seen in Alien and Aliens could be exactly that some day, well, that is if we ever have space ships. I just think an explanation can go just beyond what they're saying, and won't have anyone not have an answer if the question is asked about why it makes sense to have it look as it does.


This is also interesting that I just found, which kind of touches on what I kind of said above.


http://alienseries.wordpress.com/series-f-a-q/

NTM23
NTM23

I really like the xenomorph, and its story behind it is interesting, but honestly for me, the horror aspect was second to what I love about the Alien films, which is the sci-fi atmospheric setting. This game can be scary, and that'd be great, but from the looks of it, it also looks like it represents the great setting I love, and is what I hope is brought into the game. I want to explore the place. I also really like the characters (at least in Alien; Aliens, and few in Prometheus), so I hope we become attached to these characters in some way. It's looking good so far. I currently have an Alien Isolation wallpaper on my background.

ferna1234
ferna1234

oculus rift should come with a nose plug for virtual reality smell.

Pyro77
Pyro77

Oculus Rift support?  That would be sick.

brandonmshanks
brandonmshanks

I love the Alien franchise and I really want this game to be good. Please dont let them Sh*t the bed on this one like what was done with colonial marines. 

Nickolai1979
Nickolai1979

The looks of this game... my god. So good. Look at those screenshots! Ok, ok I'm trying to manage my expectations but goddamn!

deadpen
deadpen

how long will it take before they are sued for something being in the game and it is put on hold

GOGOHeadray
GOGOHeadray

I hope this is better than the last aliens game; I remember the hype trailer that had for that one and what we got.

CR00K
CR00K

GIVE ME THIS WITH THE VR HEADSET AND MY SURROUND SOUND HEADPHONES!  

Fartman7998
Fartman7998

Finally, a legit 'Alien' game.  Kinda makes me wonder why it took so long for anyone to get it right.  Funny though, my father is a huge Alien fan from way back in the day, and he loved "Colonial Marines".  He said it was awesome.  

notsonegi
notsonegi

I can't wait to play this. I really have faith it will make up for previous failings of the Alien license

FLEEBS
FLEEBS

It would be really nice if ANYONE could make a decent Aliens game.

freedom01
freedom01 moderator moderator

I'm excited for the game, but I cannot bring myself to pre-order this, even though its developed by a different team. Aliens Colonial Marines was promised deep storyline, intense survival horror, follows the movie plot,yada yada yada...look how that turned out to be, all of it was a BIG FAT LIE. There was literary a stage where you just run all the way to the goal without firing a single shot or killing an enemy and beating that stage. And the last boss was a complete joke. 


This game DOES look promising, even the gameplay trailer was great, BUT thats not the final product and was a small demo, that can change in an instant just like Aliens Colonial Marines, but that one didnt have a gameplay demo, instead it was a trailer, which was far off different from the game itself. I will wait for reviews for this game.

SteamyPotatoes
SteamyPotatoes

 Aliens: Colonial Marines was the final betrayal  

roganth
roganth

'after I shrieked "Oh god, no!" as the alien spotted me and charged, someone came by to ask if I was OK.'


They thought you must have been reading the comments under your reviews.

eBentl
eBentl

@xsonicchaos  

I think it's kinda difficult to make a claim like that when the game is based so strongly on the film. I'd more say that both Routine and this game have borrowed from the original Alien movie

mbchfdh2
mbchfdh2

@Shouoken4Peace  I want to sit Randy Pitchford down and throw the contents of a cutlery-drawer at him.



TitanPolaris
TitanPolaris

@NTM23 What made the first 2 movies so scary to me when I first saw Aliens when I was 5 years old, was how real it was compared to Prometheus, because of it's overdoing of CGI effects that made it look like Avatar instead of an Alien movie. The first two had to have the xenomorph costumes custom made for tall people to wear and the movie set were converted out of old industrial plants that were abandoned to make it look like the real thing. Now it is all CGI for cost savings when making these kind of movies like Star Wars and other science fiction flicks like Alien and Blade Runner because all you need is a computer for building the set instead of getting the material props and labor for building or tweaking a set and renting or buying up the locations for your movie shoots like the abandoned power plant they used in the UK of Aliens for one. Avatar changed the game for movie makers to cheapen the product while making the same overall feeling for the movies you will see in real life, but to me it is not the same thing as the real and never will be, call me old school.

Asseen0nTV
Asseen0nTV

@koutb8 Funny how quickly some of my posts get deleted, yet obvious malicious links are alright.

icekula
icekula

@TitanPolaris @NTM23My feelings exactly! when has anyone seen a 4 star movie in the past 10 years? Its because they don't exist anymore. Not since the introduction of CGI and the loss of real sets, props and actual models. Even Avatar only got 3 1/2 stars, not to mention Cameron used Sigourney Weaver (Ripley) as a supporting character and he still could not make the movie perfect.

NTM23
NTM23

@TitanPolaris What you said doesn't really have much to do with what I was talking about, but yeah, I love the old way they went about it as well, though if done right, I like the new as well.

Coren_Larken
Coren_Larken

@TitanPolaris @NTM23  Oh CGI. I miss animatronics and good old-fashioned built sets...I like the idea of mimicking the setting of the original film in the game.

rene9ade520
rene9ade520

@tonytones21 @ferna1234  It is...though, its been talked about a lot in the past. They actually considered it with the release of these new "next gen" consoles. 

stev69
stev69

@tonytones21 @ferna1234  And its actually not as far fetched as some might think. I read an article recently on how scientists had replicated the sensation of flavour using electronic stimulus of taste receptors I assume the same thing could be achieved with smell as well.

deadpen
deadpen

@Nickolai1979 it is a trend of the gaming industry right now, games that are not out yet to games that have been out for a few years.

Nickolai1979
Nickolai1979

@deadpen @Nickolai1979  OH! Like what happened to Aliens: Colonial Marines? Previews of the 'the game' are not indicative or not even close to the finished/shipped product?