Let’s Play Alien: Isolation – Part 3: Stuck Together

As we enter the San Cristobol medical facility, we find ourselves in an interesting environment through which to test our recently acquired motion-tracking skills.  Not to mention our first real bout of quality time with the alien itself. 

Well, I can’t say I wasn’t expecting this…

So far our experiences with the xenomorph had been rather limited.  In part 1 the alien first killed Axel, then the armed refugees, but largely ignored me as I headed for Seegson Communications. Meanwhile, in part 2 we spent much of our time training ourselves to use the motion tracker, but this was against the Working Joe’s.  Sooner or later, there would come a point where we would have to deal with the alien directly.  It had taken three to four hours, but we had finally reached that point: the San Cristobal medical wing.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WSfE7GyJO4[/embedyt]

The San-Cristobal Medical Wing

The medical wing was rather interesting in that the gameplay environment is designed largely to make the experience rather difficult.  After a rather brief discussion with a gentleman explaining that I need to grab a particular keycard such that I can then get medical aid for my colleague.  We start with the need to navigate through an air vent to get into the main medical area; immediately reminding us of the limitations of the motion tracker as static and erroneous signals are presented.

Once we enter the locked off area, the alien makes its presence known not long after: an alarm is tripped that forces us out into an open area and the alien crawls out from an air vent.  At this point instinct kicks in: moving as quickly as possible towards a hiding spot.  It’s presence is creepy and unsettling, given how it evokes much of the original Ridley Scott design: it’s slimy exterior shining in the artificial light, the unsettling noise of its body squirming and twisting out of the air vent and its slow, steady, calculated movement.  We’re now in the first real circumstance that we are trapped with the alien in a confined environment; forcing us to learn a little more abouts its actual AI behaviour, with much of this driven by the design of the area itself.

Full credit to Attila Delmont who produced this guide/map of San Cristobal.

The San Cristobal medical wing is interesting in that you can break it up into multiple segments where the game is forcing you through new and uncomfortable experiences.  These not only place us within close proximity of the alien, but require the player to plan their movement as the alien essentially funnels you through tight corridors and rooms.

Having explored the map, I found there to be three particular ‘zones’ of the map I was being funnelled through, which I have annotated on the image above.  We subsequently needed to carve a path through this space to reach a particular ID card lying in one of the rooms in the ward, before doubling back on ourselves.  As we moved through each zone, it felt like the game was using the xenomorph not only to help guide my gameplay experience but to train me on how to work around the creature.

[pullquote]Given these spaces are so constrained, the line-of-sight is constantly being broken and reminds us of the value of the motion tracker.[/pullquote]

In the first zone, which is where the alien first appears, we’re dealing with a large, relatively circular room, with a meeting room in the middle.  There are a number of interesting features in this first area:

  1. The environment is littered with hospital beds to hide under in the main circular area, which gives us cover to hide under if the alien is close.
  2. We can use the middle room to avoid the alien as it paces around, although we need to be mindful of the windows.  I never did figure out whether it could see me through them, I was too scared to pop my head up.
  3. The door to the next ‘zone’ I have identified is locked, meaning we need to time attempting to open the door given the alien is continuing to move around.
  4. Lastly, while the door to the next area is locked, we learn pretty quickly that the alien can access that part of the map by crawling back up through the air vent it originally appeared from.

Arguably the most useful part of this is that given we are trapped in the same room as the xenomorph, I become increasingly more comfortable in its presence.  Sure, I’m not actually feeling comfortable in its presence, but we are at least not as freaked out as we once were.  If anything, it’s the opportunity to acknowledge that the xenomorph is actually not that bright: unless I make some sort of noise to antagonise it, the alien generally doesn’t know I’m around.  I hide underneath tables for long periods while it continues to pace around this limited space.  It never once stops to check underneath the tables to see if I’m hiding nearby.

Hiding within proximity of the alien for several minutes help highlight its limited intelligence.
Hiding within proximity of the alien for several minutes help highlight its limited intelligence.

As we move on, we push into the second zone marked on the map earlier.  This proves to be a real issue, given it’s a very tight space with limited visibility and only a handful of hiding spaces.  As a result, we need to keep moving given that the alien is prone to funnelling us down corridors.  We can continue to adopt the approach of hiding underneath the tables and it seems none the wiser.  This proves to be a bit more of an effort as we enter some really tight corridors, leaving us with very limited windows to move between hiding spaces.  Given that these spaces are rather constrained, the line-of-sight is constantly being broken and reminds us of the value of the motion tracker. But the one thing that is becoming increasingly apparent, is that the alien seems to be following me. [pullquote]The one thing that is increasingly apparent, is that the alien seems to be following me.[/pullquote]

Now that last statement does not make any sense: how would the creature be following me, when it will automatically kill me once it knows where I am?  However, this initial observation continues to prove accurate.  While the alien is not always within close proximity, it won’t stray too far from my current position.  As I enter the final area to pick up the keycard, it never returns back to the first area.  Instead it seems to lurk back in the second zone and will quickly rush back to the third zone in case it missed something important.  It’s beginning to feel like the alien is being guided by a managing AI system: it’s telling it roughly where I am and to patrol in that vicinity.  That way it ensures that the gameplay does not become too easy, but subsequently means the alien is never too far away which can prove a little frustrating.  Surely if it was that smart, it would have figured out where I am by now.  However, it doesn’t really need that level of intelligence, given it seems reliant on me making mistakes as I finally die by making too much noise in its proximity.

We pick this up in Part 4, as we not only race to get out of the San Cristobal facility, but also begin to entertain an interesting theory: how long can I stay under an air vent before the alien races back to kill me?

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Tommy Thompson Written by:

Tommy is the writer and producer of AI and Games. He's a senior lecturer in computer science and researcher in artificial intelligence with applications in video games. He's also an indie video game developer with Table Flip Games. Because y'know... fella's gotta keep himself busy.