You thought that all that E3 talk about Alien: Isolation was sounding good? You suspected that this thing was actually sounding like the Alien game the fans have been praying for all along? Is there anything – anything possible – that could push your excitement levels over the edge for good?
How about a bonus mission set during Ridley Scott’s film featuring Ripley, Dallas, Parker, Lambert and Ash? With the original cast returning to reprise their roles? I know. I already grabbed the bucket, friends.
Now what if I told you that this mission, which could possibly make the game a must-buy in and of itself, was only available as a pre-order bonus? A Gamestop-exclusive preorder bonus, at that? Because that’s exactly what Sega have done, announcing that pre-orders of Creative Assembly’s immensely promising-looking survival horror game will be awarded with two missions starring the original cast., called “Crew Expendable’ and ‘Last Survivor’. The official description says that players will portray Ripley, Dallas, and Parker as they hunt the Alien while being coordinated by Lambert and Ash. A pretty vague summary, but the lack of mention of John Hurt and the non-inclusion of Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett as a playable character suggests that the missions will take place after the deaths of those characters. The latter title in particular raises the possibility that we will be recreating Ripley’s desperate, strobe-drenched race to the escape shuttle at the end of the film, which just by itself is positively mouth-watering bearing in mind the impressive lighting and stealth mechanics we’ve seen in the coverage of the game thus far.
Then the imagination just keeps on ticking: the chance of maybe hearing Veronica Cartwright’s famous/infamous screaming skills once more. The chance to play as Parker (Christ Sega, just call the thing Yaphet Kotto Simulator 2014 and win the Internet for life already). The biggest draw, however, has to be the chance to hear Sigourney Weaver reprise the role that made her a star.
“It was eerie how quickly it happened” Weaver said recently in an interview with The Associated Press, “I had to start with this sort of sign-off. ‘This is Lieutenant Ripley of the starship Nostromo’, you know, that paragraph. It felt like no time had passed… If anything, it was more affecting to me to read it again 35 years later.”.
It’s hard to disagree that this all sounds amazing, and makes an even sweeter prospect of an already hugely promising game. Having said that, it also seems like a much bigger deal than your average pre-order bonus, the kind of thing that one would expect to to be included in the game proper. While Sega has made no indication as to whether it will be made available as DLC further down the track, one has to wonder if this is a healthy move for consumers in the long run. Pre-order bonuses have so far made their existence more palatable by at least providing fairly inconsequential additions that throw a bit of garnish onto the gameplay experience rather than lock off an important part of that experience to people who prefer to buy on or after release, and it feels like these missions are skewing the balance in the wrong direction.
While it makes sense to give people a strong incentive to pre-order given the fact that October is even at this point looking dangerously crowded with major releases (And hopefully that’s the reason, and not that the game will suck) we’re talking about something that is going to form a huge part of the experience of the game. While the campaign was already looking great, who wants to play an Alien game and miss out on the chance to play part of the original movie with the cast reprising their roles? Nobody, that’s who. you can call it a bonus, but to a lot of people these missions are going to be as important a part of playing Isolation as the story mode, and while this is just an insanely appealing sweetener for a game I was already pretty sure I was going to buy, I can’t help but worry that Sega may be setting an intensely worrying precedent that will start blurring the barriers between what content should be considered a core part of a game, and what can be doled out piecemeal to consumer so they hand their money over sight unseen.
UPDATE 10/7: Sega have issued a press release confirming that “We do plan to release both Crew Expendable and Last Survivor at a later date and we’ll have more details for you guys shortly”. No indication of pricing has been given, but it’ll come as a shock to precisely nobody that Sega would want to avoid losing out on a post-release moneyspinner. The cast can’t have come cheap, and somehow I can’t see any of them being keen to sign on for a section of the game that only a small segment of the audience who thought to pay in advance would ever get to see. Tom Skerritt gotta eat, you know. So to those of you who are planning to not feed the pre-order beast, rest assured that everyone will get the chance to roll with Ripley and co. at some point.