One day, a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of checking out Alien: Isolation's newest mode: Salvage — while playing on a couch seated next to the game's creative director, Al Hope. I'm something of a fan of Alien: Isolation, but prior to this, I'd only really dabbled with previous DLC.
Salvage mode has players clear a series of challenges under a two hour time limit, with a point system encouraging swift, smart play. I started out in a "safe" room, where I chose my next step from a terminal. From there, I had to make my way to my objective, complete it, and get back to the safe room, all under the threat of the creature popping out and ruining my day.
Successfully completing missions means you get enough points to save — but you have to trade them in for the chance. You can keep going for a better score — but, as always, one wrong move means certain death. Sometimes, you don't even need to make that wrong move in the first place.
It's another bold design decision for a game that revels in making the player feel uneasy, and it works well in this context. Salvage mode is meant to be a stiff challenge, and it works best for experienced players who are familiar with the alien's telltale audio cues and general patterns. Newbies will probably be toast.
Just as in the main game, you'll prevail if you have patience and a cool head. I happily made it through my first few objectives, including several surprise run-ins with the creature, only to totally panic and ruin it for myself when I first encountered some unfriendly humans. That's just how it goes on Sevastopol.
Sitting next to Hope while playing was a particular treat. He chatted a bit about the game's development as I played, and he seemed just as shocked as I was when the alien showed up in an unexpected corridor. I apologized for screaming when I was spooked, and he let me know it was ok — a lot of the dev team does the same thing.
That's how good the alien AI is — and Salvage mode provides a fantastic highlight for it. All of the trappings of story mode are stripped away here — there are no cutscenes or prolonged sequences with distractions. Just you, your objectives, and the signature obstacles the Creative Assembly made for the game — humans, androids, and, most importantly, the terrifying alien creature. I've played 30+ hours of this game, and the alien still surprises me. That it does the same for Hope is a testament to how devious — and how terrifyingly effective — it is.
Alien: Isolation's 3rd DLC pack will be available on Jan 13.