So. SEGA could not help itself. After the critical mediocrity of 2013’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, SEGA felt it necessary to publish another game set in the Alien universe. According to VGChartz, SEGA’s disappointing shooter – at the time of writing – has managed to sell 1.11 million units across all three platforms (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC). Whether this total is seen as a success or not is up to the company’s Board. Nevertheless, why would SEGA want to pump out another game set in the Alien franchise in such a short period of time since the last one, which disappointed many anticipating consumers. It is quite simple really: This is not the same team who made Aliens: Colonial Marines. The gameplay is reminiscent of a different genre and we have already seen the main concept of Alien: Isolation work successfully.
Gearbox Software is not the development studio behind Alien: Isolation – neither is any other development studio rumoured to have been working on Colonial Marines. Do not get me wrong, I have nothing against Gearbox making games, it just happened to be the team which created a not so stellar entry in a beloved franchise. As a consumer, knowing that this new game is being created from a fresh palette and through new eyes is welcoming. While the memories of Aliens: Colonial Marines will still linger in the back of my mind, I have more optimism for Alien: Isolation because it is in the hands of different people.
With that being said, Creative Assembly – the new guys – have little experience outside of the strategy genre. Browsing the studio’s official website, the team has only made two games that are not Total War strategy games. Spartan: Total Warrior and Viking: Battle for Asgard were hack-‘n’-slash games released in 2005 and 2008, respectively. That is at least six years since Creative Assembly has dwelled in anything but strategy games. Could it be that the team has been forced out of its comfort zone, or is this a project Creative Assembly has always wanted to work on? Nevertheless, it is not unusual for a developer to delve into a different genre and have success. After all, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Furthermore, Creative Assembly has not been developing Alien: Isolation for six years. Rather, Joystiq reports that, according to UI Art & Design Lead Jon McKellan, the game has been in development “for just over three years.” By the time the game releases later this year, it will probably be about four years since development started, but under a year since it was announced. This time-frame appears to be consistent with the development of most other new IPs, and is unlike Colonial Marines‘ six or seven year development process. Providing there are no hiccups in the development process, Alien: Isolation will not have been in development for an alarming amount of time; the same cannot be said for its predecessor.
Alien: Isolation‘s gameplay will be based on the survival horror genre. Unlike Colonial Marines which was focused on the first person shooter formula. Perhaps there are two reasons for this. Firstly, as evident with Colonial Marines, it is difficult to make the player feel the tense atmosphere symbolic of the Alien film franchise when they are given a wide range of weapons to shred through poorly designed A.I. Xenomorphs. Of course, Colonial Marines suffered from other implications that prevented the creation of tension, such as predictable, boring encounters and a dramatic score that happened to start playing immediately before enemies appeared. So, rather than trying to rectify the failed attempt of Colonial Marines, SEGA and Creative Assembly have played the right card by choosing a complete genre switch. That’s probably not the main reason why the survival horror genre was chosen though.
The new entry into the Alien franchise is based on Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, Alien. This is yet another area in which it differs from Aliens: Colonial Marines which was based on James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens. Alien was largely a horror film, but Aliens was more of an action film with horror elements. Therefore, it was an obvious choice for Creative Assembly to choose the survival-horror genre to base its Alien game.
In a trailer for Alien: Isolation, Creative Lead Al Hope comments, “No one had made the game that we wanted to play. A game which really captured the spirit of the original movie.” Or, perhaps, the Alien film was chosen to deviate the game from the shooter genre? Either way, the genre and, subsequently, movie – or vice versa – have changed. So, have faith, Creative Assembly is taking the franchise back to its roots.
Will a survival horror Alien game work? Thankfully, one particular section of Aliens: Colonial Marines makes me believe it can. Two to three hours into the campaign, you find yourself trapped in a sewer system with nothing. No gun, no motion tracker. Nothing. Unfortunately, there are aliens down in the sewers. Lots of aliens. As the player cautiously makes their way through the sewer, they must navigate silently in hopes of avoiding the surrounding aliens. Otherwise, it’s game over man, game over (sorry, I had to).
For once in Aliens: Colonial Marines, I felt scared. I was isolated. I had no way to defend myself. I was outnumbered. That particular section of gameplay is one of the more positive sections of an otherwise average experience. If there had not been a dramatic score playing in the background, the atmosphere would have been much more tense. Any tiny noise had me jumping and turning around to see what happened. When I finally made it to the end of the sewer I felt reprieve. My heart was fluttering and I was having difficulty stopping my mouse from shaking. It was a great feeling. That small section is what’s so great about the Alien franchise; it’s this idea of surviving against the odds. While in the moment it’s terrifying, knowing you made it through is extremely satisfying.
That tiny slice of gameplay is why you should not count out Alien: Isolation. The game appears to be exactly the same premise the whole way through – at least from the first trailer. The aforementioned segment from Aliens: Colonial Marines has proven that disempowering the player works over a space of 10-20 minutes – with a little improvement required. Moreover, games like Slender and Outlast have shown it can work over an extended period of time. Hopefully the team at Creative Assembly can take the positives from all of these games and create something worthy of the Alien name.
There is always a chance of failure – Aliens: Colonial Marines looked like a promising game in trailers too – but with a new team, a genre choice that takes the franchise back to its horror roots, and a gameplay style that showed promise in a mediocre game, you should not count out Alien: Isolation.
Nathan Manning is an Xbox Editor for AnalogAddiction. He is only critical on the Xbox brand because he has a loyalty to it. You can tell him how wrong or right he is on Twitter. You can find AnalogAddiction there as well.