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Alien: Isolation PC Port Early Impressions

Alien: Isolation has been out on PC for a grand total of five hours (at the time of writing this sentence), and I’ve spent, ooh, about half an hour playing it. We only got review code today, which is why you didn’t see a review pop up on Friday as with every other site on the internet.

As such, I’m not going to offer any opinions of the game. I haven’t played it for long enough to form any opinions on how well it works, and whether it’s scary, and how many times I’ve had to change my trousers. I will say that it’s mildly creeping me out already, but then I’m mildly creeped out by butterflies so you probably shouldn’t take that as any sort of actual opinion as to effective horror. I will also say that it opens with the final lines from Alien, which is just plain wonderful for setting the scene.

Anyway: what I can talk about is how the port appears to be holding up. Let’s start with the most important thing, which is “how many graphical fiddly things are there?”

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There’s a second page of graphical fiddly things, for what it’s worth, offering another nine options. They range from planar reflections to chromatic aberration, which probably means something to somebody.

There are lots of graphical fiddly things. The game has defaulted to having absolutely everything at maximum, and it seems to be running rather smoothly. For what it’s worth I’m running Alien: Isolation on an i7-3820 with 16GB of RAM and a GeForce GTX 670, which may or may not help you figure out how the game is likely to run on your personal wonder of technology.

Now, something a bit shocking: I said it “seems to be running rather smoothly.” After writing the bulk of this article I went back and tested the actual framerate by firing up FRAPS, turning on the framerate overlay, disabling VSync in the game, and then walking around looking at stuff for a minute.

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The cutscenes do look a little bit lovely.

It averaged about 120FPS, and the lowest it hit was 110. Which is… quite a thing. Obviously there was nothing going on in these scenes, as it was just me wandering around a fairly static area, but that’s still significantly better than I expected on absolute maximum settings. Unless there are some visually ludicrous setpieces later on, I really can’t see Alien: Isolation dropping to an unplayable framerate at any point.

And so far, it looks… nice. It doesn’t have a jaw-dropping level of graphical fidelity, but this isn’t the sort of game that needs it – it’s going to rely more on atmosphere and effects than raw texture resolution, and I suspect that once things get dark and creepy and Xenomorph-y, the general atmosphere will improve immeasurably.

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I get REMEMBER CITADEL vibes from this scene. On a note slightly more related to Alien: Isolation, I’m genuinely impressed by the lighting.

Speaking of which, I’ve already seen some really lovely environmental effects as far as lighting and smoke go, and in terms of design it’s got that same clean, built-for-efficiency look as the source material. The computer screens and technology is all built around the 70s/80s vision of the future, with four-colour LCD monitors, so it’s all very authentic to the films. And yes, this bit of the presentation ties into everything else too; reading logs on computer has them as green-on-green, the PDA/map screen thing has VHS-style distortion, and even the icon indicating that the game is saving is a little cassette tape.

(Young people: cassettes are what we stored music on after LPs, but before CDs. They were little plastic rectangles containing magnetic tape that moved between two spools, and… Jesus Christ, I’m in my 20s and I’m feeling the need to explain archaic technology. Too old.)

(Younger people: CDs are what we had before MP3s. Also, you’re too probably young for this game. Get out.)

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That honestly seems slightly too clean and legible for an old terminal screen, but then again this is a future version of an old terminal screen, so…

One thing worth a bit more discussion is the FOV slider, though. This defaults to 45, which is unacceptable for anyone who’s ever played a game on the PC, or in fact anyone with working eyes. Sliding it to the left (for some reason) ramps it up to a grand total of 75, which is far nearer to “acceptable”, although probably still too low for some. I’ve taken a couple of screenshots showing the exact same scene at both extremes of the FOV slider, with absolutely no camera movement in-between. It’s… quite something. (Oh, and the “PLEASE SIGN IN” text blinks on and off, which is why you can’t see it in the second shot. That’s not some sort of absurdly close pop-in or anything.)

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The FOV at 47.

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The exact same shot, in the exact same place, with the only difference being the FOV is set to 75.

There’s also a film grain slider, and I’ve yet to see this make any difference at all. It might be relegated purely to things like the aforementioned map screen, but I can’t see any in-game difference. Again, two screenshots below at opposite extremes of the scale – and no, I have no idea which one is which. Perhaps this’ll be more noticeable in the dark, but Mass Effect‘s film grain filter was really obvious at all times, so…

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Control-wise, things seem pretty PC. There’s nothing hugely out-of-the-ordinary for a first-person PC game here – WASD to move, C to crouch, E to use, etc. – although it’s maybe of note that there’s a radial menu (which, I think, can largely be ignored by using the number keys) and a Lean modifier button, the latter of which defaults to CTRL.

The mouse feels a tiny bit floaty, but this could either be down to the FOV or to my needing to calibrate the sensitivity a bit more. It’s not something I’m hugely worried about, though. I managed to get through the opening segment without my brain itching from inexplicable wrongness, which tends to indicate that I’ll get used to it very, very quickly.

Slightly more bizarre are some of the character models, which appear to be coated in sweat for no apparent reason. I’m guessing that this is because if they turn up later they will have reason to have sweat dripping down their faces, but it still gives me the impression that these people have just gotten out of the shower. Still, one of those characters was Ripley – who was welding, and thus had an excuse to sweat – and another was a Weyland-Yutani executive, who I’m assuming is automatically evil and therefore might just be sweating from lies and evil.

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He’s definitely evil. Also, seriously, does this ship need better air conditioning or something? These people are dripping.

It’s a little immersion-breaking that the in-game lip-synching is of the Muppet variety, with mouths flapping up and down with basically no respect for how humans make different sounds… but again, I’m guessing that this is because there will be very few non-cutscene, in-game, in-person conversations past the opening 10 minutes. Probably not worth spending awhile on careful lip-synching when you’re only going to use it for two or three short segments.

Incidentally, I reserve the right to bitch about the lack of attention to lip-synching if it turns out that there are loads of in-person conversations, or if it’s really distracting later on.

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AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH

A few final notes. Firstly, a few people are reporting that they can’t change the graphical options; this might be a bug, or this might be something to do with permissions and the game being unable to write to the config file. Either way, be warned that this is apparently an issue for some. Secondly, indications on the forums are that Alien: Isolation apparently has native support for SLI cards. I have only one graphics card and the game is flying along so this means nothing to me, but there you are. Third, there doesn’t appear to be a way to turn off the “glow” on items that you can pick up or use, which I know is going to bug the hell out of some of you.

So, early impressions are that it’s a stunningly well optimised port that doesn’t feel overly “console”. I’m not as massively impressed as I was with Shadow of Mordor, but as that’s one of the best ports I’ve seen in a long time that’s really not a complaint, and my initial impressions of this haven’t made me recoil in horror (well, not from the port quality, at least). Indeed, I’m really rather impressed.

My actual opinions of the game will hopefully be appearing a little later this week, but if you’re certain you want to play Alien: Isolation , I daresay you’ll be happy with the port job.



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