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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Great moments in PC gaming: Meeting the xenomorph in Alien Isolation

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Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Alien: Isolation

Year: 2011
Developer: Creative Assembly

I started playing Alien Isolation in 2014. I have not finished playing Alien Isolation. I genuinely think I will—one day. I just need to rip out the part of my brain that’s absolutely terrified of it. I was so excited at first, and then I saw the xenomorph for the first time and knew I was kidding myself if I thought I’d see the credits. It was perfect, and that’s why I’ve been too scared to go back. 

Alien is probably my favourite horror movie of all time—a claustrophobic nightmare that I put myself through time and time again. I love it. But, it turns out, I don’t want to be in it. Being trapped in space with a ruthless alien killing machine is not in my top 10 dream holidays. 

With most horror games, I can power through. I recently finished Resident Evil 7, despite expecting it to wear me down, and I’m really glad I swallowed my fear. Apart from the boat bit, which is shit. But I’m a lot more scared of xenomorphs than I am of rednecks, even if the latter is far more likely to kill me in real life. Giger’s elegant, hideous monster if the first place my mind goes when I think of horror, and it’s so ingrained that even rubbish like Colonial Marines, which made them a joke, hasn’t changed that. 

So yeah, when I saw that menacing tail and disturbing silhouette, I started audibly whimpering. Alien Isolation smartly holds back its proper xenomorph reveal until it’s built up the tension for as long as possible, so you’re taut enough to snap when it finally happens. 

While the xenomorph is such an impressive videogame monster because of its dynamism, this first encounter is a scripted cutscene. You’re focused on a keyboard when it pops out of a vent, sending you ducking for cover as you pray you’re not spotted. Its tail dangles perilously close to you, and slithers like it has a life of its own, and then it’s gone. You’re safe. For now. 

The timing, animation, and the feeling that you’re definitely going to be spotted at any moment combine to create a sequence that’s stuck in my brain. And while the xenomorph doesn’t see you, knowing how close it is, how it can appear at any time, is actually more distressing. It emphasises that Alien Isolation is not a game about fighting an alien; it’s a game about hiding from one. 

I actually did get further, maybe playing through a quarter of it before the stress finally got to me, but I still tell people it’s one of my favourite horror games. It’s too scary for me to finish—of course it belongs on the list.

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