[Editor’s Note] – This article was previously published on November 23, 2016, but has been republished today to coincide with our latest article here about the Alien: Isolation VR mod. It now has support for both Oculus Rift CV1 and the HTC Vive directly through SteamVR. Now this is one of the best VR horror games that you totally can play again!
VR and horror are a match made in Heaven (or Hell, depending on who you ask). I’m a horror fanatic, and always have been ever since I played the first Resident Evil on the original PlayStation. It was always that sense of atmosphere, immersion and fear of the unknown that kept bringing me back for more. So naturally the first thing I did when I started experimenting in VR was look for some great horror experiences.
Dreadhalls, and Lost in the Rift were the first VR horror games that made me realize the potential there was for scaring the crap out of people in VR. As simple as those games are, they still scared me more than any other horror game I’d ever played at that point.
The full potential of the genre was realized when Sega released Alien Isolation on October 7th, 2014 and a few weeks later I had eagerly modded a couple of lines of code in the config file unlocking an “experimental” VR build of the game. Sega used the VR version of the game to help promote the 2D version during E3, and it worked as many a reporters came away scared silly by their first horror experience in VR. Luckily for us Oculus Rift DK2 owners at the time, Sega left the VR build intact in the final retail release.
Alien Isolation is still, to this day, the premiere showcase for what can be achieved when a AAA horror game is given the VR treatment. Since it’s still early for many big game developers to commit big budgets to VR projects, most recent horror games have so far been created by small indie teams and they generally feature simplistic game mechanics, low production values, and often rely on cheap jump scares to get a reaction out of people. Alien Isolation is able to leverage these AAA production values and create a game that can instead focus on world building, suspense, story, atmosphere, and gameplay.
VR surrounds you with visuals and sound in full 360 environments, providing the ultimate sense of immersion, and when the developer meticulously replaces your world with one of their design, the results in the case of Alien Isolation are remarkable. Developer Creative Assembly has taken the essence of the first Alien movie, and has captured the atmosphere, the 80’s stylistic future tech-noir, pumping music, high-quality visuals, and used it all to faithfully recreate that feeling in the game. The authenticity of the world is a big reason why this game works so well in VR. It’s a fully fleshed out, darkly beautiful world that can be fully explored and interacted with.
I played a good portion of Alien Isolation on my tri-monitor surround setup in 2D and the transition to VR was far beyond what I’d thought the experience would add. Playing Alien Isolation in VR felt more like a dream now that I think about it. I can still clearly remember exact level layouts. I can remember walking the halls, and corridors of the Sevastopol – like I was there in person, more like a memory of being somewhere than just playing through a video game.
The sense of scale can only be realized through the power of VR, and it really is essential to achieving the sense of presence that the game can elicit. Presence is the holy grail of the VR experience, and Alien Isolation was one of the few games ever to make me feel like I was “really” someplace else. You feel like you’ve walked the entire space station, multiple times, and can truly appreciate all the detail that went into the game’s great level design, and overall aesthetic. The atmosphere is genuinely terrifying and leaves your senses completely consumed. After experiencing Alien Isolation VR, I felt like a survivor, like I’d been a part of one of the best horror games ever made.
All that being said, he highlights of the experience are undoubtedly the Alien encounters. Each moment is a suspenseful game of cat and mouse. Instead of just holding a button to peak out around a corner, or from behind a desk, or from under a bed, trying to spot the Alien from the other side of a TV screen,you are actually using your head and your body movements to try and keep your foe in visible range. Being finally discovered by the Alien in VR, really is something that made my heart skip a beat (or two) and the fact that as I ran I could actually turn my head and look behind me as the Alien was bearing down on me is something that could never be experienced in standard flat 2D gaming. The sense of fear is much more palatable in VR, and it’s really difficult to separate yourself from the horror unfolding around you.
Horror is a genre that people either love, hate, or love to hate. I sometimes ask myself why I want to put myself in such traumatic situations and I believe it’s the feeling of being alive, that fight or flight response, that really makes me come back for more. VR takes that fear to a new level, and with games like Alien Isolation it’s possible to get completely immersed and scared like never before. You live the horror around you, and there is no looking away (closing your eyes is cheating!)
The future looks very promising for horror VR with games like Resident Evil 7, Alison Road, Stifled, and Narcosis all coming soon. Anyone who has played the Resident Evil 7 Kitchen demo will be sure to tell you that Capcom is not concerned with easing the potential millions of PS VR players into the awesome world of AAA VR horror.
With Sega recently confirming that they are in fact working on VR titles, the prospect of a fully-featured and more complete version of Alien Isolation running inside virtual reality headsets could be more likely than you think.