By Brendan Caldwell on July 7th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.
Imagine the Xenomorph from Alien is in the room with you right now. Where exactly? You don’t know. But you do know it’s in there. You lean a little forward, peeping over that stack of empty pizza boxes. Meat feast. You have been meaning to tidy those away. You peer into the gloom. You hear something above you. Something scuttling. Something dark. You look up! But it is too late. You have been eaten. Well done, imagination!
Of course, it is looking possible you will not need your imagination to enjoy these scenarios anymore because the folks making Alien: Isolation at Creative Assembley and SEGA have been tinkering with the Oculus Rift development kits and have shown us their deliciously scary ‘prototype’.
They are calling it a ‘prototype’ because they haven’t precisely decided what to do with it yet. There are currently no plans, or possibly there are too many plans. What I was shown is closer to a proof of concept than anything else. But, oh man, what a concept.
Basically, I put on the Oculus Rift and was in a room with the Alien. Or less a room than a collection of corridors littered with boxes, piles of pipes and hissing ventilation shafts. The controller in my hand was there only for movement and to bring up the motion tracker (and to re-calibrate the headset’s vision if it got squiffy).
The only other game I have played on Oculus Rift is EVE: Valkyrie’s fighter pilot demo, so my first reaction was one of novelty. Being able to walk around and appreciate an environment was very different from playing what is essentially a dog-fighting sim with added neck-swivelling (even if it is a pretty cool dog-fighting sim). Fear of the Alien only came when I saw the beast brazenly sprinting past the doorway in front of me. From that moment, I was pretty much trapped inside a game. It was like TRON. Only, obviously, it was good.
Hiding behind a stack of pipes I was told to lean out to take a look. But the PR whispering this in my ear didn’t mean press the button to lean, as in the main game. He meant for me to actually lean. I kind of squatted up and raised myself out of the chair and sure enough, I started to glance over the top of the pipes. Leaning left or right in my chair meant my view leant in those directions too. But perhaps the most noticeable (and intelligent) thing was that, when I got out the motion tracker, I had to look down to read it. I mean looking down to where my crotch would be, not simply a little glance downward. This meant I really could only keep my eyes on one thing at a time – the space around me, or the Bleeps of Horror as the alien approached. I died four times.
For me the best moment was when, threatened with exposure, I discovered a vent and crawled inside – its horrible metal sphincter opening to receive me. It was just a short, cramped passageway between corridors, so I paused inside to catch my breath. I looked around. Then I looked up. Above me was a 2-metre high passage where the vents branched out in either direction. The sensation of depth really captured me here.
Obviously, I was not safe. If the Alien’s hands had appeared at this moment, clawing and crawling his way around that bend in the vents above me, I would have been frozen to the spot. Partly in sheer delightful horror but mostly because part of me would have unconsciously wanted to re-enact the iconic ventilation scene from the first movie. I also would have taken off the headset, turned to the PR beside me and knocked him out cold, in order to steal all SEGA’s VR equipment in a seizure of excitement. It is probably for the best that the Xenomorph did not appear.
Like I say, it’s unclear what the developers plan to do with all this. It’s likely they are still in the process of having feverish meetings full of gleeful ideas-men, all high on the drug of Possibility. I asked whether the long-term plan was to calibrate the full game so that it could work this well on Oculus Rift or if they wanted to limit it to a ‘game mode’ – a simple ‘get out of the room with the alien’ thing – something like this prototype that would be easy to attach as a bonus. I was told “feel free to speculate” which is a dangerous thing to tell any newspaperman. So, here are my speculations:
- 1. Alien: Isolation is very late in development. It is due for release in early October. Unless the boys and girls on the dev team have been secretly working on something concrete for VR it is unlikely that they have factored in the Oculus Rift’s functions for the entire game. Short of a hasty reverse-engineering to apply the hardware (as has been done to Skyrim with the help of many, many mods) they probably won’t try to incorporate the whole thing.
- 2. Oculus Rift isn’t even properly available to consumers. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Since it isn’t even on the shelves and isn’t expected to be for another year or two, what would be the point of investing loads of time, effort and money in including even a ‘game mode’ using the headset? None of your customers are even going to see it. At least not at release. It is much more likely Creative Assembly are playing with the dev kits with a sequel or follow-up in mind that could include these features, years from now.
- 3. Tech demos are journo bait. I mean, look at me, dribbling from the mouth like a Labrador with a stick. It is perfectly possible the PR team saw their boys playing around with the Oculus, thought to themselves (quite reasonably) “this is damn cool” and then sent up a flare to bring our attention Alienwards. Regardless of what they plan to do with the tech, it was worth showing off. It got them this 1000 words, right? Well played, SEGA. Well played.
- 4. Speculation is fun. This is great. I can literally write whatever I want and, because it is speculation, nobody can say otherwise and by the time the thing has come to pass nobody will remember it. I speculate that Creative Assembly are in league with an ancient evil that has lain forgotten for millennia. It will rise many moons from now, thirsty for blood and silver. Hark! Hark! The bloodtimes cometh. Axetime, woundtime. Hear the wolf roar.
So there you have it. Alien: Isolation on the Oculus Rift? Or something like it in the future? Possible. Possible. Keep your eyes on Alec’s fortnightly VR column for more stuff on the fabulously unavailable headset. Until then, if you want to tango with the Xenomorph in a fully 3D environment, you’ll just have to go back to using your imagination.
Want to know more about Alien: Isolation? Read our hands-on preview from E3.