It's easy to underestimate the humble door. You open it, you go through. Sometimes, you must find the key first, and for many games, that's the whole extent of the player's interactions with doors. They're something to get past, something that cordons off one bit from the next bit. A simple structural element, of special interest to level designers, but not the ones who turn the knobs.
A school gym in England, mid-'90s, and two local rugby players await orders. One is small and wide and called Adrian, and one is tall and weighs about 20 stone. He's Big Dave. Adrian has been getting flattened by Big Dave all day but he keeps getting back up. It's the rugby training in him: you bloody well get back up if you're knocked down. But this instinct is starting to annoy the people he's in the school gym for, the people making the sports game. They're trying to motion-capture for a rugby game and would rather Adrian lay still. They should be careful what they wish for.
Happy New Year to you! Having had a little time to recover, I hope your head's all fine and dandy - we're still druuuuuuuuuuuuunk, but that's pretty standard for a Friday morning.
Right now we're still working on delivering a full-face off of Alien: Isolation - including coverage of the PC game - but an initial hands-on with the first few hours of the game on PS4 and Xbox One turns out to be quite revealing. Graphical quality is generally excellent on both console platforms as we explore the terrorised Sevastopol space station, but it's clear that performance is the clear differentiating factor.
The first few hours in Alien: Isolation are slow-burning, featuring little interaction with the titular xenomorph, but the game works beautifully in generating a foreboding atmosphere, with an escalating sense of horror as things quickly start to fall apart. The use of ambient sound, dynamic lighting and layers of post-processing including depth of field, motion blur, chromatic aberration and film grain, all help to replicate the gritty aesthetic of the first Alien movie, generating an air of uneasiness when exploring new locations.
This heady combination also provides some great scares, too: the rumble of falling objects in the distance, screams of people suffering a horrifying death, and the brief flashes of shadows cast by emergency lighting are distinctly unnerving when the threat of the Alien is never far away.
Sega is cutting cheques for consumers who felt Aliens: Colonial Marines was wildly different to the marketing videos used to promote it, but while that particular battle is over, the war of words between the publisher and Gearbox Software, which developed the game, certainly isn't. This week brings fresh squabbling to light. The respective parties presumably wish they could just dust off and nuke the whole sorry episode from orbit.
Alien: Isolation has impressed every time we've seen it since its reveal, but this time it's different. This isn't some staged demo, or bustling press event. This is me, one my own, with a build of Alien: Isolation. The lights are off. The headphones are on. I'm entirely alone. And, yes, I'm bricking it.
In Alien Isolation, the first-person survival horror game from Creative Assembly, you end up carrying a revolver - at one point you can even pick up a flamethrower - and as you're exploring the giant, decommissioned trading space station Sevastopol, slowly, as silently as possible, you bump into other humans. That's what happens to me when I play the game's newest playable level, lifted from a section set further into the game than those previously shown. As I skulk around the ruined corridors of the spaceship, all of a sudden I find myself face to face with a man.
Peel away the snapping jaws and acid blood of the Alien franchise, and you'll find that what really drives this enduring saga is something far more primal. The ticking clock of pregnancy, the knowledge of something growing, incubating, preparing to burst into the world, is what gives the xenomorph its true power. It's a feeling that Al Hope, console lead at Creative Assembly, is all too familiar with.
There's something lurking in the corner of the room; something big, ugly and grotesque. It's stalking the shadows, sizing up its prey, and everybody's in fear of the havoc it's wreaked - yet no-one's willing to look it in the eye. Instead, during the first chance to play Alien: Isolation, The Creative Assembly's not-so-secret horror spin on the licence that Sega picked up in 2006 and has been fumbling with ever since, the focus is on the single xenomorph that stalks the game's corridors. And understandably so - it's quite the creation.