In 1979 audiences were terrified by a man in a latex suit. That man was Bolaji Badejo and that suit was the now-unmistakable Xenomorph, a grotesque, deadly creature that went on to become the star of 1979’s Alien. It’s now 2014 and, just like rubber sharks, Badejo in a latex suit doesn’t prove quite as scary any more. In fact, it takes a lot more to disturb the modern, desensitised audience. So how does a franchise such as Alien stay relevant? By adapting, evolving and continuing to offer new ways to bring that classic horror to a more demanding audience. It’s been a bumpy road for the series of late but, with Alien: Isolation and its prototype Oculus Rift support, it might have just 2014’s equivalent of the latex suit.
The VR demo for The Creative Assembly’s anticipated sci-fi horror title was shown once more last week at EGX in Earls Court, London. In this short minigame-esque piece players must escape an area of the Sevastopol, a space station that now doubles as a hunting ground for another Xenomorph. Using the Oculus Rift’s second development kit (DK2), players must slip past the beast, checking their motion scanner for his location and hiding in cupboards and lockers as it stalks the corridors.
In the packed out halls of an expedition centre it can be tough to maintain a horror atmosphere, even with earphones. This gives you a certain sense of confidence as you lean round corners to check for any signs of your pursuer. That misplaced confidence soon turns to sheer panic. It doesn’t take much for the Xenomorph to spot you and once it does the nail is pretty much already in the coffin. You can try and escape, helplessly scrambling to put some distance between you and your enemy but it will all be in vein. Sooner or later you’ll be greeted to a tail through your chest, wriggling around happily as Amanda’s breathing slows. It’s much more effective than layers latex and an actor.
In fact, death is strangely one of the most convincing and enjoyable parts of Alien: Isolation’s VR demo. Yes, it raises the heart beat as you try and escape, but there’s some fun to be had in failure. Looking down to see the Xenomorph tail protrude from your chest is an unnerving experience that brilliantly takes your mind off of what’s in front of you for a split second. Look up, and you’ll jump at the site of the monster’s scaly hand grabbing your face.
Another death recalls the particularly memorable scene from the movie, in which we see that deeply unsettling second mouth of sorts emerge from the Xenomorph’s jaw. Experiencing this is arguably the standout moment of the demo; an effective update of that haunting scene that helps give fresh audiences a taste of just how terrifying it would have been to experience it in cinemas back then.
It’s funny, then, that death proves to be the most effective part of Alien: Isolation’s VR demo. Obviously it’s the goal of almost any videogame to avoid death at all costs, but here it brings players closer to the Alien experience than ever before. Earlier in the week VRFocus speculated as to if this prototype will ever evolve into full support for the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus and playing it again only raises hopes that it will. The title is out on 7th October 2014 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One and Xbox 360. VRFocus will continue to follow the title’s VR support, reporting back with any updates.