They say that man is the most dangerous game to hunt, but I don’t think they considered an Alien xenomorph being the hunter. Alien: Isolation, a new title (with Oculus Rift support) based on the famous franchise, traps you helplessly in a claustrophobic space with one of sci-fi’s most frightening monsters. The experience is terribly frightening.
Donning the DK2, I was incredibly impressed with the detail of the environment. It wasn’t clear if I was on a spaceship or in a futuristic building, but it was dark and dingy, with steam, sparks, and a beast lurking somewhere within. This is the kind of game that makes me think to myself, “Why did I think that playing this was a good idea… why am I electing to scare the crap out of myself?”
Fans of Alien will be familiar with the tracker, a handheld motion detector which shows the location of the xenomorph (the alien beast that is hunting you). It’s the only tool I ever got in the Alien: Isolation Oculus Rift demo (unless you consider a locker a tool, being that you can cower inside of it in an attempt to avoid the creature). Using a button on the controller pulls up the tracker to your left. To get a good view you need to actually look over at it. The tracker itself is the quintessential representation from the films—analogue green look, with a flickering screen that seems like it might run out of batteries at any minute.
The set up of the game is very much like Slender—your only hope is to run and hide. The environment is incredibly detailed and true to what you’d expect out of an Alien film. At one point while playing I was trying to avoid the creature and suddenly the environment started shaking and the power went out for several seconds. I just stood completely still, hoping that the lights would come back on. When they did I was relieved… until I saw the blip appear on my tracker.
The dynamic lighting in the scene adds immensely to the atmosphere and immersion of the experience with the Oculus Rift. At one point I was about to round a corner, until I saw the shadow of the alien being cast right before me. I stopped, terrified of what that shadow represented… and waited for it to pass.
As I continued to try to make my way to the objective, marked on my tracker, I climbed through some crawl spaces hoping to avoid the beast. But that only got me so far. I knew I’d have to move through the wide open to get to where I needed to go. Naturally, the alien was between me and my goal. I tried to find an alternate way around, but with the tracker only showing a small slice of the area in front of me, I ended up heading dangerously close to the thing I wanted to avoid most. I saw the silhouette of the alien heading toward me. It hadn’t seen me yet… I knew I needed to hide, but I didn’t have much time.
I crouched down behind a box, hoping the alien would pass by me without seeing, but it was fairly bright where I was hunkered down. My heart started to race. The alien was coming right for me… “Will it see me here? Should I make a run for it?” I thought to myself.
I decided to stay.
It was a mistake.
As the creature rounded the box, it felt like it caught me in its peripheral vision. It quickly whipped in my direction and dove right at me, taking me to the ground. I unconsciously jumped back in fear. As it opened its mouth and extended its creepy inner mouth, I knew it was over for me. As it lunged for me, the screen went black. Like many marine fodder from the Alien series before me, I was dead.
And yes, there are several ways you can die, including being attacked from behind where you’re held in place while you look down at a giant tail-spike impaling your chest. You can see that delightfully gruesome experience in some gameplay footage here:
Though this is but a snippet of what the full game, it was lots of fun. I’m very impressed with the atmosphere that the developers, Creative Assembly, have created thus far. VR is the perfect medium to make you feel like you’re being hunted by one of the most terrifying creatures from the sci-fi realm.
When I asked Palmer Luckey about having not showed horror games at the Oculus VR booth prior to Alien: Isolation, he told me it was because many prior games relied on jump scares. Alien: Isolation, according to Luckey, does VR horror right. Instead of things jumping out at your face, it’s all about tension, atmosphere, and fear. Or as I like to call it: tatmosfear.
I’m a huge fan of horror games and I can’t wait for Alien: Isolation as a full experience. There’s much to be done to expand the gameplay, but if the team at Creative Assembly can maintain this level of polish and suspense, they will absolutely succeed in making a great virtual reality horror game.