How Alien: Isolation Almost Made Me Poop Myself

Your default speed is 'walk'. It's one of the first things I noticed when I started playing Alien: Isolation. It felt important. The second thing I noticed was how tall I felt. Uncomfortably tall. Might bump my head on the ceiling tall. That also felt important.

The third important thing I only realised in hindsight: In my two hours with Alien: Isolation I didn't fire a single shot. Probably because I spent 80% of my time cowering in the corner of rooms, hiding under tables, sneaking into lockers. At one point I literally jumped out of my chair. Literally. There's no other polite way of putting it: I almost shit myself. This is a preview of Alien: Isolation, but it's really the story of how a video game made me almost shit myself.

But back to the walking. Let's start there. It felt important.

"If you were running around at 15 mph that would break that credibility," explains Al Hope. "If you sprint you're going to make a whole lot of noise and the Alien is going to come and find you."

Al Hope: the creative lead on Alien: Isolation. Like a responsibly dressed Bond villain, Al was watching me play, drumming his fingers sadistically. I played in a dark room. At various points during the demo he would slowly lurch behind me, past me to point out escape routes. He would whisper, he would tiptoe -- almost as if making noise in real life might attract the attention of the Alien. Almost as if he himself was afraid of the Alien.

Later I would ask him what it felt like to watch a human being almost shit themselves whilst playing a video game he helped create. But first let's explain precisely why I almost shit myself.

The moment occurred about 20 minutes into my playthrough. I watched the Alien slink out of an air vent like an otherworldly liquid. As the accompanying music hit my eardrums I cowered in a corner, peeking intermittently. I was already on edge at this point. It's difficult to explain why.

Part of me believes my brain is just primed that way. This is the great advantage Alien: Isolation has over almost every other video game ever made: it has the Alien as its antagonist. An enemy we are already afraid of. We've seen the movie, it's part of our cultural consciousness. I was afraid from the moment it appeared on the screen.

So I cowered. I had an objective, an area I wanted to move towards, but the Alien was crawling all over that space.

Here's the thing: in most stealth games enemies have some sort of pattern. You have a vague idea of where they're going to walk when. If disturbed, of course, that pattern will change, but there's something comforting in the fact that you have some sort of idea how things will behave. Alien: Isolation does away with that completely.

"The fact that the Alien isn't scripted means that you can't predict what's going to happen," says Al.

You don't bloody say.

10 minutes later I would literally jump out of my seat in terror.

I waited. I waited for a long bloody time. I waited to see where the Alien would move next, to try and get an idea of his behaviour, what would startle him, what would attract him. To get an idea of just how much noise I could make, how much he had to see of me before he came charging. Pure tension. I crept from hiding space to hiding space, cowering. At one point, underneath a hospital bed, I sat crouched, completely still, as the Alien slowly walked past. I could see his tail, I could see his feet. I could hear his feet. An oppressive 'thump'. 'thump'. 'thump'. Always with the 'thump'. 'thump'. 'thump'.

Then I saw my objective. An ID card on the pre-mauled body of some sort of health practitioner. It was now or never. I slowly crept towards it. The Alien had moved to another room. I sped my crawl to a brisk walk. I was going to make it. Almost there! I snuck into the tiny, claustrophobic space. I picked up the card. Finally. Safety. I felt perfectly safe. Exhale.

I swung the camera round and there, one foot away from my face was the Alien.

Death.

That was the moment I physically leapt out of my chair. That's the closest a video game has ever come to making me shit myself.

I asked Al Hope to talk me through that moment. What he was thinking, as an outsider, as the creator of this experience, as he watched me get torn limb from limb?

"I think just before you got caught you thought you had achieved some sort of small victory," he says. "You had managed to get somewhere that you felt was safe. You had let your guard down. You were breathing a sigh of relief. You had stopped paying attention. The creature had obviously seen you and just quietly came up and got you. That's completely natural -- you felt like you had gained the upper hand but you put down your guard."

At the precise moment when I was caught I remember thinking, this must just be part of some cinematic cut-scene. I've reached this point of the game and this is the twist. As soon as you get the ID card the Alien spots you. It must have been scripted, it was too perfect. Too Hollywood to be the end result of an organic, emergent experience.

But no. This was the end result of my own behaviour. The Alien simply reacted to what I was doing, hunted me down, and killed me.

"How it happened to you was one of the magical things for me," says Al. "Thousands of people play the game and everyone has a different story like yours. It's infinitely different. The angle you were looking at when you got attacked was spectacularly perfect. You swept your camera and BAM! It got you."

It got me.

The second time it got me. I was in a room -- again rigid underneath a table. I crawled out and, through a glass window, I saw the Alien. I saw its eyes look back at me. That's the strangest thing to say about a collection of polygons and artificial intelligence, but I literally felt like I was staring into the eyes of a creature who wanted to kill me.

This time it was different. I knew the Alien had seen me. I knew he was coming. But I was trapped. There were lockers I could hide in but in that specific moment I felt frozen in fear. Overwhelmed with indecision, I just stood there. I didn't move. I stood there and waited for death.

"You were a rabbit in the headlights," says Al. And he was right.

After my demo I spoke to Al about my experiences, convinced that my playthrough was the best one, the most dramatic. I was certain it was part of some carefully crafted PR demo. The moments were too intense, my experience too… cinematic? I know it's the wrong word, but I'm struggling to find the correct one. It all felt a little too conveniently staged, but it wasn't. What had happened to me has already happened to others, and it will happen to more people when the game is finally released -- all with subtle variations.

"That moment you just had was so powerful because it happened to you," explains Al. "It's your story."

Yep. My story. The story of how a video game almost made me poop in my pants.


Comments

    A lot of talk of people shitting their pants on Kotaku today.
    Definitely a lot more than normal at least.

    I can't wait for this game to come out so I can watch other people play it because there is no way in hell I ever will.

      Amen! I will be peering tearfully over my 16 year old son's shoulder and wimpering...

    Sounds amazing, just thank god you didn't play on Oculus rift.. could have gotten a lot more messy.

    '“The fact that the Alien isn’t scripted means that you can’t predict what’s going to happen,” says Al.'

    This is good news... but I guess there will still be scripted events in other places, presumably as part of the plot to escape.

      Or it is an intelligent AI and Skynet is just around the corner...Let me be the first to say All Hail Skynet!

    This is the kind of honesty we require in games reviews

    I kept reading that guy's name as "A.I" rather than Al. Because the A.I. in this sounds incredible.

    The Alien has eyes now?? #fanboinitpick :)

      yup. It's got a skull with eyes under the dome. http://toyhq.co.uk/product/alien-big-chap/

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_(creature_in_Alien_franchise)

        Vision for the Aliens has always been a hot topic of discussion. The "underskull" in that version of the Alien has only been used a couple of times. The rest clearly have no eyes.

          I'd say that Giger was the last word on it and his had the skull, but the original plates from his Necronomicon book showed the flat, translucent carapace with the ribbed design underneath, but no skull shape at the front:

          http://www.wallsave.com/wallpapers/1920x1080/alien/292393/alien-aliens-hr-giger-art-hd-292393.jpg

          The more pressing issue is the fingers. How many fingers does this alien have? This is important for My Immersion!

    My only fear is that dying over and over will completely ruin the atmosphere and excitement. I'm not a big fan of scary games but I recently played Outlast, really enjoyed it aside from the bits you could actually die- because dying made you do it all over again and it stopped being scary and just became "a game".

      Judging by the amount of hours/days/weeks/months @markserrels has spent in Dark Souls, dying in a game over and over again is normal for him :P

    I crawled out and, through a glass window, I saw the Alien. I saw its eyes look back at me.

    From what I recall from the movies, the alien doesn't actually HAVE eyes?

    But yeah... this sounds great. Definitely one I'm keeping an eye on.

    Alien: Isolation - Spare pants Edition

    Coming soon... pre-order now

    Hmmm.... Okay this is sounding pretty good. What's your impression of it control wise, does it feel good to move around, any clunkiness to the user interface? Anything feel off at all?

    The Alien having eyes or not Varies from Movie to Movie and also dependent on the host.
    The movie Alien is the only Alien to have eyes that are visible in the models. However, I can't remember being able to see the eyes in the movie as the shots of the Alien were always quick and scarce, however the eyes are part of Gigers original design of the Alien.

    So Mark, is this it? Is this THE Alien game people have waited for since 1979?
    Is this the game to wipe away the shame of Gearbox's "efforts"?
    Can Sega finally be happy? Can WE finally be happy?

    I don't think my heart is strong enough for this.

    They should issue a special edition with bonus brown underpants.

    Didn't get round to finishing the game but my alien collection has grown some http://www.retroandcollectables.co.uk/alien-memorabilia

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