The ALIEN: ISOLATION Game Trailer Has No Guns In It

Thank Christ for that.

Most games bearing the Alien brand are based on Aliens. They put a pulse rifle in your hands and tell you to blast innumerable holes into innumerable xenomorphs, and that’s the extent of the gameplay. The opening level of the 1999 Aliens vs Predator stands as a shining example of how scary an Alien game can be, but apart from that, games from Fox’s sci-fi/horror franchise tend ever towards the shitty, reaching a spectacular nadir in last year’s Aliens: Colonial Marines. Entropy always wins.

The problem is that games require action on the part of the player. In many cases the easy or obvious solution is to use the shooter model - where the only meaningful way you can interact with the world is by putting bullets in it. This tired mechanic is a plague on the games industry: see Bioshock Infinite for a potentially interesting game hobbled by the constant need for gun violence. And although squads of ultimate badasses fit perfectly with Aliens, it sure ain’t Alien. We have never seen a game truly based on that first film.

Which is why Alien: Isolation, from West Sussex developers Creative Assembly, looks so promising. Everything in the announcement trailer* screams “player disempowerment,” imperative to recreating the simple dread of the Ridley Scott Alien. (That is: the first Ridley Scott Alien.)

Isolation places you in the spaceboots of female protagonist (hooray!) Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley, investigating her mother’s disappearance in a move so closely associated with bad sequels it almost seems like satire. They delayed the return of her mother's business trip. Now she’s out for revenge.

But that revenge won’t be achieved through violence, oh no. The developers make no secret of their distaste for convenient caches of overpowered shooty-guns. Rather, you’ll use your wits and your environment to survive in the utilitarian, dimly-lit space station Sevastopol. (Hopefully more Crimean War references are still to come, but I’m not holding my breath.) Crafting - like the improvised tools and weaponry featured in the film - will form a significant part of it. There’s even only one alien in the whole game, which could strike at any time - you’ll likely spend most of your time peeking around corners, gawping in horror at your motion tracker, and hiding. That’s good. Hiding is fun.

PC Gamer got a hands-on* with part of the game, revealing this tantalising note:

Scripted sequences will likely be part and parcel of the experience, but this is a systems-driven game at its heart. It's an alien simulator, and that's why it's so exciting. Like Amnesia, it's the kind of game that has the power to generate anecdotes. Creative Assembly say that after your first encounter with the alien, it won't simply spring into each level at a pre-scripted moment. It'll show up if you make too much noise or give yourself away in other ways, making this a game-long hunt in addition to a stage-by-stage one.

So the alien is a game system rather than a scripted character. This is fantastic news. It suggests the story won’t be defined 100 percent by the alien. Monster stories tend to be better when there’s something else going on - just look at Alien’s duplicitous android, or The Host’s politics and family drama. The monster-driven A-story is there to ramp up the stakes in the character-driven B-story. Here’s hoping Creative Assembly craft a strong narrative to keep things moving.

A systemically-driven alien also suggests unpredictable alien behavior, and thus unpredictable gameplay. It’s easy to get lulled into comforting patterns by the pacing in heavily-scripted games - even horror games - so genuinely not knowing when or where the alien will strike, while scurrying about doing in-game tasks, is a terrifying prospect.

I’m going to spend a lot of time cowering under tables.

Sega have also put out a behind-the-scenes fluff piece*, entitled Alien: Isolation: Origins: Colon, if you want to listen to serene British voices predict how scared you’ll be in some months’ time. Also: check out how clunky all the machinery and tech in the game looks! Seventies used-future aesthetic preserved!*

Maybe there’s hope for a good Alien game yet. Maybe. If not, Frictional Games’ Soma should sort things out.

* Despite how good this all looks, remember that trailers, developer interviews, statements of “honoring the original” and even pre-release demos have been unreliable indications of quality before. The specter of Colonial Marines hangs ever in the air. As does its actual physical scent.