I’ve stopped running. Why have I stopped running? I look down towards my stomach and see the dark, blade-like tail of a Xenomorph sticking out from a gouge in my mid-section. Oh shit. I look back up just in time to see the spindly hand of the alien closing in on my face. I’m dead.
This might sound like some kind of awful, Stilton-fuelled nightmare, but it’s real. Ish. Let’s rewind a few minutes. I’m playing Alien Isolation using Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset that has thrust me into the horrific heart of the Sevastopol space station. As the developer gingerly pushes the goggles onto my head, and places noise-cancelling earphones over the top, I’m essentially transported inside the game. I am Amanda Ripley. And I’m scared.
My mission is simple: reach the exit. In between the exit and my starting location is a massive, blood-thirsty Xenomorph that’s hunting me with all its finely tuned senses. I scan my environment by… well, just looking around. I crouch behind a crate, and I’m able to use my actual head-movements to peer over and round it. I pull out the motion tracker, and physically look down at it in my hand and… oh shit. It’s beeping.
The alien is… somewhere. I can’t see it, and I start looking around in a panicked way, craning my neck to get a better look down oppressively empty corridors. I inch forward using the controller, all the while scanning my environment. Back in the real world, I’m pretty sure the developers are laughing at my twitchy head movements. Not that I’d know--this is total immersion, and it’s an utterly amazing experience.
There’s a split in the corridor--I can go left or right. As I’m making my decision the lights start to go out. Thud, thud, thud-- the silence is punctured as a wave of darkness sweeps towards me. I pull up the motion tracker again. The alien is to my right. Probably. I peer around the corner and… yup, it’s there. And yup, it’s seen me. Shit.
I panic, and run into a small room that offers nowhere to hide. I’m going to die. I look down at the motion tracker again and… nothing. Did I lose the alien? I use my head again to peep around the doorway. Nothing. I sigh. Suddenly there’s a crash, and I’m thrown to the floor, as the alien explodes out of a vent behind me and tackles me to the ground. The slavering jaws speed towards me and… darkness. I survived for about 2 minutes, and I’m actually shaking a little.
Keen to stay terrified, I restart the demo and plunge myself back into the nightmare. I’m a little bolder this time--I want to reach the exit before backing myself into an easily-killed corner. I reach the junction and cautiously head left this time (because hey, maybe the alien AI is a creature of habit) without even looking. I round the corner and there it is--looking straight at me. And then I run. I sprint wildly away from the alien desperate to break its line of sight. Then I stop running…