E3 2014: How Alien: Isolation Helped Me Overcome My Greatest Cinematic Shame

Never too late.

As of a few weeks ago, I had never seen a single one of the Alien movies. We all have our great cinematic failings, and this was one of mine. Well, this and the fact that I'm still able to enjoy Point Break without the slightest trace of irony. But, nevertheless, imagine my surprise when I sat down to play Alien: Isolation a little while back and managed to have a rather enjoyable time with it despite my shameful lack of familiarity with the source material.

Part of it, I think, is that Alien: Isolation feels so different. It's a first-person survival horror game that actively discourages combat. You're constantly on the run from an alien as you crawl through the gloomy remains of the Sevastapol space station. That alien hunts you by sound, so even hurried footsteps--let alone a gunshot--are enough to give away your position.

And so, you sneak. I hesitate to call it a stealth game, because in my head, I associate that genre with breaking into certain places--Shadow Moses as Solid Snake, half the foreign embassies in the world as Sam Fisher. No, Isolation is about getting the hell out. The Sevastapol has gone to pieces, and you're just trying to make it out alive as you look at that blip on your motion tracker and hope a grisly death isn't on its way.

It's different from most survival horror games, too. The fact that you aren't encountering a series of enemies but rather one persistent one who haunts you everywhere you go makes it all feel like a prolonged game of cat and mouse. Even as I encountered other humans during the game--survivors with a screw loose and an itchy trigger finger--my first thought was to sneak on by them so as to avoid conversation and the noise it would produce.

You feel uncomfortable and generally powerless, a condition that stems largely from the atmosphere. The interplay of light and shadow, the creaking of metal around you, the derelict yet lived-in condition of the place--it all adds up to a very impressive level of ambiance. But what surprised me most was the way it managed to be so creepy while still feeling like a movie from the 1970s. It's this odd case of modern video game software attempting to convey a dated idea of what the future might look like. There's the clunky CRT screen on your motion tracker, or the quintessentially 1970s brown vinyl seating of an employee dining area. Even the in-game item screen employs a retro, lo-fi choice of fonts. It's an aesthetic that really transports you back to a specific moment in cinematic history.

I was impressed. Over the years, so much of my exposure to the Alien franchise has come from first-person shooters where a gun was always your best means of survival. With its offbeat gameplay and gorgeous atmospherics, Isolation took my conceptions of the IP and turned them on their head. And so I used this as an incentive to do what any reasonable person would have done years ago: I finally watched Alien. Well, that and Aliens--just not any of the others. I'm not a madman.

And boy I'm glad that I did. Watching those two films gave me a newfound appreciation for what Creative Assembly is trying to pull off here. In a very basic way, I understood a lot more of what was going on in the story. An example: at one point toward the end of the demo, I had a tense confrontation with a synthetic whom I had awoken from a sleep state while activating a computer terminal. With his glowing eyes and measured speech strongly discouraging me from pursuing my current task, this synthetic struck a creepy chord--but he felt a little out of place. Now, having seen what happens between Ripley and Ash, I get the undercurrent of tension between humans and synthetics and the role the latter serve in the overall story.

But on a broader level, I appreciate the deviation that Creative Assembly is taking here. The developers are moving away from years of Colonial Marine power fantasies toward something that focuses on a more desperate, helpless kind of story. That said, I can already tell that this is going to be a polarizing game. The things I appreciate about a slow, measured pace and the omnipresent threat of an immediate death are the same things other people will find tedious and punishing. But I do find Alien: Isolation to be an interesting new entry in the world of licensed games. No matter how it turns out, I'm happy that this is the direction Creative Assembly is headed.

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56 comments
cynicritic
cynicritic

You never missed out on much. The Alien saga uses ugly Xenomorph designs and is full of plot holes.
They're using the outdated and lame original Xenomorph design instead of the badass one from AVP in this game.

The TRUE Xenomorph is the one shown in AVP. You're better of watching those. They're the only ones that count.

The true canon is thus:

Predator.
Predator 2
AVP.
AVPR
Predators.

That is all. 

The Xenomorph is merely another creature the Predators hunt.

Everything based in the ALIEN Universe is terrible and makes no sense. Just look at Colonial Marines and Alien 3...

djseebee
djseebee

this is what i am waiting for


Foppe
Foppe

I feel ashamed of even using GameSpot now...

DrKill09
DrKill09

HOW could you not have seen any Alien movie before?  The first two were amazing.  3 was mediocre, but it wasn't Fincher's fault.  It had production issues out the ass.  Resurrection sucked hard, though.

DrKill09
DrKill09

This game's looking good.  Thankfully more like AVP 2010, and less like that smelly turd Aliens Colonial Marines.

jonmar
jonmar

Great article Shaun. I was interested in the game but now I am really looking forward to it. Finally a what looks to be an excellent Alien game. It's funny how you were noticing the lived in conditions and the retro-future style of the world before you saw the movies because that's exactly one of the things that was awesome about the first Alien film. The setting and people weren't anything like what every other sci-fi movie at the time had. They were much more real. Truckers in space FTW!

Johny_47
Johny_47

Those androids or whatever they are look just as creepy as the Alien. I have many doubts about this, I'll just wait and see.

Hillsy_
Hillsy_

Next time Gamespot get somebody who has seen the movies to play this.  I'm more interested in how the Alien moves in the game compared to the films.  How it captures the atmosphere of the film and how the Alien uses the environment around it.  The Alien after all is the star of the movies.

hitomo
hitomo

can I get a bag of Money too, for watching a movie from teh 80s? I will write a positive and game related article after that, deal?

alaannn
alaannn

they should do jurrassic park next,bassically take far cry 3 take out the animals and put in dinasours 

bubba_1988
bubba_1988

Technically I have watched the original Star Wars trilogy, but they were either on TV where the commercials made me leave, at a friends house where we did not pay attention or at school in which case the movie was never finish. I could not tell you specific plot details of any of the movies. I also have no seen Casino or the Godfather trilogy.

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

I have a ton of cinematic failings.  I've never seen any of the Star Wars movies, never seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, never seen a superhero movie past 2002's Spider-Man, never seen any of the Alien movies... the list really goes on and on.  Saw and Terminator are the two franchises that really pushed me to see all of them... Saw because of the overarching plot and the brilliance of the finale of the first movie and hoping for more moments like that, and Terminator because of the world they've created.  In fairness Saw is over and Terminator's fading on me since the 4th movie... I liked the third movie for the record.

berserker66666
berserker66666

Can't wait for this game to come out. 2014-2015 is be one of the best years for gaming.

plm3d_basic
plm3d_basic

This game has some of the best graphics in any game.  It looks almost like movie quality cgi. 

Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

It's almost amazing that anyone could get to play this without having that notion of 'wow, this looks so much like the movie' in their head. I'm not  even sure how that would feel...if it was anything like the first time I watched the film, which hopefully it was, then it's no wonder you got sucked in.

spenta
spenta

Another big brain decision from Gamespot.  Let's send the kid to cover that new Alien game who's never seen a single movie and won't be able to relate to the story line in anyway.  

Psycold
Psycold

How could you not have seen Alien? That was the first unedited horror movie I ever saw that wasn't on T.V. It was probably 1995, I was sleeping over for a friends b-day party and his dad gave us all 3 Alien movies to watch...the first one scared the sh!t outta me, the 2nd one was just badass and the 3rd one was still good but by then it was almost morning and I was falling asleep. After going back and watching them all at 30 years old, Alien is still by far one of the best films ever made, they actually made us watch it in film school.  

americancheeze
americancheeze

@Hillsy_ Did you read the article? He says he decided to watch them after playing and then gave us a breakdown of how watching the movies helped him appreciate certain aspects of the game and what the makers are doing with it. We literally got the perspective of a completely newb to the series and of someone who had a fresh memory of the movies to compare to it, AND who has a history with the games. There is nothing to complain about here.

Pupchu
Pupchu

@alaannn  there was a Jurassic Park game called Trespasser released some time back that could remind of a dino-themed FarCry. but, it was unfortantly not a good game. :(

alaannn
alaannn

@bubba_1988 out of all them you mention you didnt see if you do start to watch them the godfather should be first

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

@spenta If you have to see the movies to relate to the story then the game has failed to stand on its own merits.  That's part of the problem with a lot of these movie-to-game releases, none of them want to stand on their own and are just cashing in on the franchise.

Carpetfluff
Carpetfluff

@spenta Hey, if the game works for someone who doesn't know the source material, that's probably a good sign. Okay, they might not spot anything that's out of place for the franchise, but I'd say it's a positive thing overall.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@Psycold Alien is one of the greatest Sci-fi films ever. I could say of all films ever, but I'm a huge sci-fi fan. It's my go to genre, so saying it's one of the greatest films ever is a given. I may be able to squeeze it into my top five, but it definitly makes my top ten.



My favorite film of all time is, oddly, 'How to Train Your Dragon.' :/   Not kidding.

Hillsy_
Hillsy_

@americancheeze To watch only the first two movies after playing the game I feel is disrespectful to the saga.  If he had watched Alien 3 for example, he would have seen one moment of brilliance, possibly even two.

bubba_1988
bubba_1988

@alaannn @bubba_1988 The Godfather is different, I have had plenty of chances to watch the movie, but I want it to be special you know. Like a re release in theatres with my GF who hasn't yet seen it yet. I remember watching 2001 on my PS3 with a small tv, and just felt kind of disappointing. I should have watched that on the big screen as my first viewing.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@alaannn @bubba_1988 The original Star Wars trilogy is far more consistant in brilliance than the Godfather films though. The Godfather part one is amazing. Apart from the sequences involving the history of Don Corleno -which are equally brilliant- part two has to be the most overated film ever. I like part three, which is underated, but on the whole you can forget about them after the credits roll on part one. The original Star Wars Trilogy on the other hand is amazing from beginning to end. 

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

@Williams0907 @jinzo9988 I'm not into the whole swords and shields thing when it comes to movies.  When it comes to RPGs, sure, I don't mind that.  Star Wars was spoiled for me and I got sick of it before I even had the chance to watch the movies... the references, the quotes, the toys, the video games, the re-releases, the constant mention of it everywhere you go just nauseates me to the point where I have no interest in seeing the movies.  It's almost a source of pride to me because I love the reaction it gets when it happens to come up in a conversation.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@bubba_1988 @alaannn My advise for 2001 is that you read the novel. The ending makes so much sense once you've read part one Arthur C Clarke's magnum opus.

alaannn
alaannn

@The-Neon-Seal i liked the godfather 1 and 2 still not sure what the godfather 3 was about dont really rember that one,as for star wars it probley was more impressive back when it was released i like it but alot of it nothing interesting is happening 

bubba_1988
bubba_1988

@The-Neon-Seal I'm sure I will enjoy them, it is just a matter of sitting down and watching them. I just a hope a lot of the magic is not nostalgia from a child's perspective.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@jinzo9988 @Williams0907 I was brought up on Star Wars so I saw the original trilogy -in the early ninties- before I could even understand most of the references in other stuff.

bubba_1988
bubba_1988

@jinzo9988 @Williams0907 I always thought of Star Wars as a fantasy/adventure rather than sc-fi. It swords and shields in space with the force essentially being the magic/spells side of it. I much rather prefer sc-fi, one of the reasons I have not gotten into star wars.

bubba_1988
bubba_1988

@alaannn @bubba_1988 lol too late dude. It was a downloaded copy on a 27inch ><. I do have the blu ray (not opened) now as well as a big screen with speakers but I'm just not interested at the moment (its like 3hrs)

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@bubba_1988 @jinzo9988 @Williams0907 Star Wars is actually a cross genre called Science Fantasy -which doesn't get mentioned alot, but is way more interesting than the two alone. Another example of Science Fantasy would be Doctor Who. Destiny looks to be the same.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@bubba_1988 @alaannn I would suggest the books -can't suggest them enough, they are my favorite novels. They are one epic read and make more sense. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. When I first read them though, I read 2001, and 3001 first, which, thankfully, worked, as 3001 is as much a sequal to 2001 and as it is to the middle two, and there is a sort of time travel element so the events of 10 and 61 are related as history to the main character. 

bubba_1988
bubba_1988

@The-Neon-Seal I will definitely do that, seems right up my alley. Just started Stephen King's 'The Stand' so it will be a nice departure from that.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

@bubba_1988 @The-Neon-Seal Watch them before you watch the new three -for risk it will kill it for you. The next trilogy should be good though. It's J. J. Abrams and he gets all that Speilberg era of childrens films.

The-Neon-Seal
The-Neon-Seal

What consoles do you play on? I would like to add somebody with an equal love of literature to my friends list, lol.