Alien: Isolation… Not on the Oculus Rift

A few weeks ago I wrote about the experience of playing Alien: Isolation on the Oculus Rift. It is, without a doubt, incredible.

However, it is a bit of a hassle, and as awesome as the Rift is, it’s still pre-production and lacks the sort of seamlessness I hope to find in the final product.

So I switched over and started playing Alien on my regular gaming rig: A 102-inch screen and 5.1 surround system. So this is about the game. Because it’s worth talking about.

First of all, developer Creative Assembly nailed the look of this game. You feel like you’re walking around the Nostromo, or at least something of the same in-universe era (the game takes place 15 years after the first movie). The sounds, the look, they're spot on. It’s like you’re walking around in the first movie.

I think the most shocking thing, switching to a normal screen without head tracking, is how well the suspense and terror translates over to a more traditional gaming setup. This is a marvelously terrifying game. I don’t mean that in the sense of stuff jumping out at you all the time to scare you. That happens occasionally, but that’s not the main source of elevated anxiety.

Instead, it's a consistent level of ill-ease, peppered with moments of terror. For one thing, you’re only given, to start, ineffectual weapons. Many of the enemies you encounter early on, you can't kill. This is a suspense/horror game, not specifically an "action" game like most first-person shooters. So there’s a lot of tension-building as you walk around poorly lit corridors and rooms.

Perhaps the strangest things that adds to the tension are the aspects I would traditionally say were negatives: considerations for consoles/controllers. Checkpoint saves, normally something that drives me batty, here add to the tension, since it might be a long way back. Instead of crouching and climbing into an air vent (which automatically iris open), you have to press a button, and an animation runs of you getting into the vent. The same happens when you want to hide in a locker. This is actually rather brilliant. By taking the action out of your hands, you’re helpless. Did you hit the button fast enough to hide from the alien? Probably not, but you don’t know! Clever.

Then there’s the best part of all: sound as weapon. From the station creaking, to things clanking in the distance, to the score disappearing to let you walk around in creepy near-silence, this is some of the best sound design in a game I’ve heard in ages.

Which is to say, I highly recommend Alien: Isolation. It’s one of the only games I’ve ever played where I thought, several times “OK, no more playing this at night…”