Although 2014’s Alien: Isolation was a well-written, beautifully stylish exercise in terror, it failed to sell in large enough quantity for publisher Sega to justify a sequel—something for which we are all lessened, because the game is an exquisitely crafted love letter to the Alien universe. It’s also—as can be attested by numerous Youtube reaction videos—pants-wettingly terrifying.
The game was released just before the consumer versions of the Rift and Vive VR headsets became available, but it had a hidden Rift DK2-compatible gameplay mode that could be enabled by editing a configuration file. The VR mode mostly worked—the camera clips through the player’s body a lot, and folks prone to VR sickness would likely get nauseated within minutes due to the lack of any kind of VR accommodation in the game’s design, but even in its limited unsupported form the VR mode was stunning—and provided an even more terrifying experience than playing on a regular screen.
Unfortunately, the extended screen method by which Isolation’s VR mode functioned made it incompatible with the release versions of the Rift or Vive. The game’s sales figures were too low for Sega to justify bringing the coding team back together to update the feature for consumer headsets, and it would have passed into history as little more than an experimental footnote.
Except, of course, for the fan community—thanks to them, you can once again play Alien: Isolationin VR. Mostly.
Unfortunately, VR makes for terrible screenshots, so here's a non-VR image of Alien: Isolation.
Smooth and by the numbers
Multiple Reddit users—including /u/bo3bber and /u/Nibre—have spent time tackling the problem of reworking Alien: Isolation’s VR mode into something that would be compatible with the current-gen Oculus Rift. The former made significant progress with a VR mod but elected to abandon the project after it became obvious Nibre’s mod would likely be finished first.
And although Nibre’s MotherVR mod isn’t finished-finished, it is downloadable as an alpha release. Installation is simple: you copy a DLL file from the archive into the game folder, and that’s it. Don your headset and start the game.
You'll be greeted with a blank screen while the startup movies play (unless you've deleted or renamed the appropriate files to skip them, which you absolutely should do). The main menu then appears, and it's perfectly usable, with large, friendly text. One oddity is that cutscenes play on what looks like a dynamically created screen that appears in whatever direction your head is facing when the cutscene starts, which means that if you're looking off to the side when a movie begins playing, the movie will play off to that side. It's easy to get used to, but it is a bit of an odd quirk.
Once you've got your options set, it's time to begin.
These things ain’t ants, stupido
Isolation was rightly praised for its lavish attention to detail and note-perfect design. The game is infused with a pervasive late-'70s/early-'80s sci-fi feel, in obvious homage to the movie Alien’s set design and aesthetic. Isolation’s retro-future plays beautifully in VR, and wandering around the Torrens in the game’s tutorial level is an immersive, stunning experience.
VR will become even more awesome when home gaming PCs look like this.
The MotherVR mod works for both controller and mouse & keyboard players, though the only way to recenter the player’s point-of-view if tracking becomes unstuck is via pressing the left and right bumpers on a connected controller (though we didn't need to do this even once in about an hour of playtime). The mod also currently lacks comfort accommodations for players more prone to motion sickness—there’s no “snap” turning yet, for example, and so players might find themselves needing to close their eyes if they feel queasy while adjusting their character’s POV with controller or mouse.
Playing Isolation in VR highlights a major reason why the VR mode was never fully completed by the game's developers—though the game is both beautiful and terrifying, it's not really built with VR in mind. There are scaling issues in VR that aren't quite apparent on a screen—other characters in particular aren't quite right, appearing at times just a bit too tall and at other times just a bit too tiny. Your character's point of view gets automatically jerked around at multiple points (particularly when utilizing save stations or terminals), violating the cardinal rule of VR game design. And there are lots of clipping issues in scripted moments—depending on your head height, you might miss more than you see once a scripted animation starts, as you might find your POV pinned in an un-renderable area.
Everyone's favorite character, Sir Not Appearing In This Game.
But when everything works—which is most of the time—it works wonderfully. The interaction with the motion tracker in particular is surprisingly seamless, for example, and being able to glance at it while creeping is even better in VR than on a screen. Your mouse or controller's vertical look axis is disabled in VR to save you from additional disorientation, so looking up and down is controlled purely by your neck—and it works so well and so naturally that it took me almost ten minutes of playtime to realize that I had (and needed) no vertical axis control. Unfortunately, one major quibble is that your character's "walk" direction is bound with your "look" direction, so it's impossible to look in one way and walk in another without employing your strafe keys.
The good news, though, is that your head is otherwise intelligently coupled to your body, enabling you to not just look all around, but also to peek and even lean around objects without breaking cover. If you move your head far enough you'll step in that direction, but it's more than enough to let you see what's going on around you while you're hiding from hostile androids or biomechanical terrors.
Keep a stack of fresh pants nearby. You'll need them.
Unfortunately, the lack of accommodations and comfort features like snap-turns and short-range "blip" teleporting make it impossible to play the game for long periods of time unless you're one of the lucky folks who doesn't experience nausea when your eyes disagree with your inner ears. I put in about an hour of play time with the mod, skipping around to various levels, and I had to take frequent breaks to keep from getting overly queasy. The exceptions were the sections of the game where the player wears a space helmet, like the flashback mission on the Anesidora—having that unmoving helmet overlay in front of my face prevented even a trace of nausea from appearing. This is likely because of a known physiological phenomena, and it was a nice relief, but the moments where you're wearing a helmet don't come often.
The parts of the game where you're wearing a helmet seem to banish VR nausea. The physiological power of a small overlay is oddly significant.
If you don't mind a bit of queasiness—or if you've got a cast iron virtual stomach—then it's not a problem. If you get a bit green in some VR games, though, be aware that Isolation will probably green you up pretty good.
Not bad for a human
We’re absolutely tickled that Isolation’s VR mode is once again accessible, because even with the hiccups and problems, it’s still a fabulous way to experience terror in VR. The game’s death sequences in particular are unsettling—they are the closest you’ll ever come (hopefully) to watching an eight-foot-tall alien monster hold your head in its hands and chomp your face off.
There are plenty of rough edges that Nibre has yet to file down, and we’re excited about the mod’s continued development, but it’s perfectly playable today—right now. If you have a Rift and a copy of Alien: Isolation, there’s zero reason why you shouldn’t download this immediately (just be prepared to take frequent breaks if you start to feel bad).
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get some new pants… and then get back to playing.