E3 2014: ‘Alien: Isolation’ invents powerful heroine in Amanda Ripley

June 10, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
The alien is an "unstoppable force" in "Alien: Isolation." (Creative Assembly / Sega)

The alien is an “unstoppable force” in “Alien: Isolation.” (Creative Assembly / Sega)

There was one primary rule given to players who settled in for a demo of Sega’s upcoming game “Alien: Isolation”: Do not try to kill the alien.

“Alien: Isolation,” due this October for most major consoles, takes its inspiration directly from Ridley Scott’s 1979 landmark space film, which introduced audiences to the menacing, H.R. Giger-designed creature. The ultimate goal of the game, its writers and designers say, is simply to stay one step ahead of the monster, which cannot be outrun or eliminated.

“What we have thought throughout the project is that this is an homage to the original movie, where the alien is unstoppable,” said Will Porter, one of the writers on the game being developed by Creative Assembly. “The alien is death. From that, that’s where the game play comes from. That’s where the tension comes from. It gives it a different feeling from everything else out there.”

On display at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which runs through Thursday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, “Alien: Isolation” dials down on the action and the gadgets that dominate most blockbuster games.

Set 15 years after the events of “Alien” and decades before those of James Cameron’s 1986 film “Aliens,” the game centers on Amanda Ripley, the daughter of the character made famous by actress Sigourney Weaver in the film series, who finds herself tangling with an alien aboard a decommissioned space station.

“When the game starts, no one knows about the alien or how the alien works,” said Porter. “Basically, Amanda has searched most of her life for answers about what happened to her mother aboard the [spaceship] Nostromo and has always come up empty.”

In writing Amanda, who learns of the alien only after tracking down the Nostromo’s flight recorder, Porter and the team used Weaver’s character as a guide.

Creating a back story for Amanda has been a “refreshing” task, said Porter, in part because she’s an overlooked part of the “Alien” lore. She’s also the rare female lead in a mainstream video game.

Amanda Ripley as depicted in "Alien Isolation." (Creative Assembly / Sega)

Amanda Ripley in “Alien: Isolation.” (Creative Assembly / Sega)

“It’s great to be writing someone who’s a no-nonsense, surge-ahead, bloody-minded female character,” he said. “The traits that we see in Amanda are very much the traits you see in her mother in the original movie. Fans will see those mirrors. I don’t think anyone would be disappointed in the way we’re portraying Amanda. She’s an emotionally powerful heroine, but we’re putting her in a situation where she is physically under-powered in the face of the alien, as is everyone.”

In a short demo shown to journalists in advance of E3 in May, Amanda was let loose in a medical bay aboard a space station. To find a way out, she had to dodge a handful of thieves who were raiding the station for supplies, but also restore power. The latter task, however, instantly draws the alien to Amanda’s location.

Lurking in the shadows was generally the safest tactic — though not always a viable strategy — as Amanda is outfitted with little more than a motion tracker, a rather large handmade-feeling device (the game’s technology aims to mirror that of the ’79 film). She can find items to use around the medical bay — including a flame thrower — but sometimes she’s forced to break equipment to distract the alien.

But Porter noted that the creature won’t be fooled for long.

The technology in "Alien: Isolation" is meant to evoke 1979 more than the future. (Creative Assembly / Sega)

The technology in “Alien: Isolation” is meant to recall the same equipment featured in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film. (Creative Assembly / Sega)

“The alien will see and anticipate the different tactics that you use, so you cannot rely on one single way,” he said. “You can’t distract, distract, distract, because it will get the measure of you sooner or later.”

In short, it’s a long way removed from the action-heavy “Alien: Colonial Marines,” the poorly received “Alien” game developed by “Borderlands” creator Gearbox Software and published by Sega last year.

“A pulse rifle is not going to come anywhere near this project,” Porter said. “There is no automated turret sequence. This is not that kind of game. There is a such a degree of separation between us and the other games. In a lot of people’s heads, the James Cameron, Vietnam-in-space angle was more instantly transferable into the way video games are, but there’s plenty of different sorts of video games.”

– Todd Martens| @toddmartens | @LATHeroComplex

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