20th Century Fox and Sega Get Alien: Isolation Ready for Launch
A few weeks ago, I did an update post about the Alien franchise that listed new projects that are currently in development: comic books, a trilogy of novels, and a video game. The video game in question, Alien: Isolation, got a significant push forward this week in terms of media publicity, with a few articles, interviews, video clips, and an official Web site and Facebook page. According to the new information, Isolation should be ready for release by the end of this year. Read on for additional details about Isolation and what it could mean to the future of the franchise's video game titles.
I've never developed a video game before so I have no idea how long it takes to produce a game of decent quality. I've heard that some games flopped because they were rushed into production and then released with serious technical problems; on the flip side, some games have started development but then were put into limbo for years due to complicating issues (e.g., game developer bankruptcy). The development of Isolation's predecessor, Aliens: Colonial Marines, officially began in 2008 and it wasn't released until February 2013 (almost a year ago), yet all that time in development still didn't prevent the myriad of problems that caused it to bomb. I suspect that 20th Century Fox and Sega have set the release date of Isolation at the end of this year as a form of damage control to compensate for Colonial Marines, to prove to both critics and fans alike that Alien is still a viable franchise with a profitable future in video gaming.
Isolation is set 15 years after Alien and it will focus on Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley. According to the latest news, the story of Isolation involves Weyland-Yutani approaching Amanda to help find her mother by retrieving the Nostromo's flight recorder that was somehow retrieved by the crew of the space station Sevastopol. However, when Amanda arrives at the station, its crew are fighting among themselves and an 8-foot tall Alien is stalking the station's halls, vents and crawlspaces to find fresh human prey.
From what I've seen of the game footage, the game's developers at Creative Assembly have gone out of their way to recreate the look and feel of Ridley Scott's 1978 movie. The space station's exterior looks similar to the ore refinery that the Nostromo was transporting, and the technology and build of the station's interior match the gritty, "low-fi" feel of the first film's sets. Players won't have pulse rifles, smart guns or other military-grade weapons to use, but they will have a motion detector that looks like something in between the bulky motion detector that Dallas used in Alien to the smaller, sleeker version in Aliens. Like the original film, the title creature is sleek, stealthy and extremely intimidating; according to the developers, much AI programming is being done for the creature's behavior in order to keep players on their toes.
Even though using Ripley's daughter as the main character may cause some fans to complain about the game's desperation to find a link between the game and the movie series, casting Amanda as the game's lead makes plenty of sense. Not only would she have a motive to search for her missing mother, but her extremely brief appearance in Aliens means that no major retcon of the events in the movies has to happen in order to fit Isolation into franchise continuity (as opposed to Colonel Hicks in Colonial Marines). So far, nothing has been said if Isolation will have any narrative connections to Prometheus or the upcoming Alien novels and comic books.
One thing I've noticed about the coverage of Isolation is the frequent accusation of how the Alien as a monster used to be scary but is not anymore. To paraphrase Nora Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, the Alien has always been scary--it’s the video games that featured the Alien that got timid. Looking back, most '90s era Aliens and Aliens vs. Predator games were designed to capitalize on the then-popular first-person shooter games such as Operation Wolf, Doom and Quake, and that association between shooters and the Alien franchise stuck for years afterwards. Video game developers inevitably became lazy with the Alien license, since it was easier and cheaper to make run-and-gun games with multiple, easy-to-kill targets than to create an engrossing and terrifying survival horror game. Given the ample amount of weapons that players could choose from in Colonial Marines, those programmers were obviously thinking more along the lines of games such as Call of Duty than games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and such thinking isn't going to create a worthwhile horror game.
I have high expectations for Alien: Isolation and that at the very least it will encourage future game developers to approach the Alien franchise from a survival horror perspective. I'm just hoping that the new release date won't compromise the quality of the finished product.