As with the movies, video games set in the Alien universe can be divided into those that became iconic and those that nobody wants to remember. The varying nature of Xenomorphs (I mean, can I kill it by shooting it or not?), different genres, and many other aspects determine whether a given game is to be successful or not. Not to mention the aspects such as the audiovisuals, textures, and the plot.
On multiple occasions have the developers from different studios based their games on the Alien franchise. Sometimes it was just in the attempt to milk the fans with something that had no connection with the movies they fell in love with. Nonetheless, there are such games that live up to the movies and were able to become iconic video games. Let us see what is what.
“Why the hell don't you guys just freeze him?”
Even though the Alien universe is unique and has introduced many new elements into the sci-fi genre with a number of movies, not all of the video games set in this universe lived up to their cinematic masterpieces. The grand failure of Alien: Colonial Marines several years ago is a great example of this issue… but I will return to this matter, later on, do not worry! The history of poor Xenomorph games goes way back to 1984 when Alien was released on Atari 2600. What many hoped to be a prolongation of what they saw in the theatres was actually a poor rip-off of… Pac-Man. Players got to control a human survivor in an attempt to evade Xenomorphs through different layouts of mazes. By no means is that the biggest blooper in the history of that particular franchise.
Over ten years later Alien fans’ patience was once again put to a test with the game titled Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure based on the acclaimed Dark Horse Comics miniseries Aliens: Labyrinth. I have to say, the idea to create a point-and-click adventure game with Xenomorphs lurking behind each and every corner sounds interesting; however, it carries the risk of diverging from the original atmosphere. And this is exactly what happened – even with the solid plot revolving around humans investigating Aliens’ nature at a secret research station (and one of the Xenomorphs getting on the loose), the game’s mechanics were quite frustrating, puzzles too easy, and the grid-based combat didn’t fit anything fans were expecting from the guns/fire blazing nature of Alien encounters.
Back in 2003 Alien Versus Predator: Extinction was released for consoles. This real-time strategy game was bound to succeed if not for one thing… The aforementioned fact that the game was exclusive for PlayStation 2 and Xbox which resulted in the poor adjustment of the RTS formula. Moreover, the game’s AI couldn’t match those features in other games from the same period. Players received a lousy, slow, and unintuitive game they didn’t want to play again.
And now, creme de la creme of all the misfortunes that happened around Alien video games. Something probably all of you have heard of… or even suffered from – Aliens: Colonial Marines. Developed by Gearbox Software (at least on the paper), the game is a canon sequel to Aliens, the second part of the movie franchise. And this is exactly where the fun part ends – the game’s visuals are much worse than what the developers promised on trailers, the enemy Xenomorph units have nothing in common with the original ones from the movies (several bullets – that’s all it takes to kill them), on its premiere the game had more bugs than working sequences, and the multiplayer mode is not at all what the developers and publishers have promised the fans. I sincerely would like to say that something went wrong… when in reality everything went completely wrong. Nonetheless, my fellow Alien fans, shed no more tears, as now we are going to the good part. Let us take a quick look at all the games that actually worked out!
After we have all settled down after the depression resulting from reading the previous part of this feature, allow me to show you certain examples of video games set in an Alien universe that were quite (or even very!) successful. Let us start with a combination of two great universes, where Predator hunts down Aliens, and Space Marines end up right in the middle of this cosmic encounter. Released in 1999, Aliens Versus Predator is a first-person shooter in which players can assume the role of the Alien, the Predator, and a Space Marine – each one offering a different campaign and unique gameplay mechanics. Not to mention different killing methods. No matter which side you chose, you are bound to feel seriously terrified as there are (at least!) two other factions lurking behind every corner to get you. The game is all about learning the enemies’ weaknesses and using them to your advantage.
The next game is a form of confirmation that Alien universe works best in FPS. Alien: Resurrection, released in 2000, is an interesting game in terms of its audiovisuals and controls. Even though the enemy character models look weird and it is difficult to fear them, the game is still a faithful representation of the movie franchise and fans are bound to enjoy playing Alien: Resurrection. The eerie metal corridors and Xenomorphs lurking in the dark live up to what we have seen in theatres quite well.
Now, there is a certain exception to the “Alien FPS rule,” I wrote about above. And I will make one thing clear right here – Alien: Isolation released in 2014 is one of the best Alien video games out there – if not even THE BEST one. It perfectly captures the atmosphere of the original movie with only one enemy as the main antagonist of the game. Why is there only one Xenomorph you ask? Well… Maybe because it’s so difficult for humans to kill it! Just like in the movies! In Isolation, players get to follow the adventures of Amanda Ripley (Ellen’s daughter) as she is trying to escape from the Alien who hunts her down. When talking about this particular Xenomorph, I can’t help myself not to appreciate how great the AI works in this game! The sense of constant fear and uneasiness is what makes this game so great. Not to mention the DLC that allows you to relive the story featured in the first Alien movie, with most of the original cast providing their voices for the characters they portrayed back then.
“It's structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”
After Aliens: Colonial Marines, gamers around the world thought that the fate of the franchise was sealed and no studio would ever attempt to bring it back. The success of Alien: Isolation was a relief, to be sure. And now we all can wait for another studio to announce… What? Someone already did announce another Alien game? Hell yeah!
After Cold Iron Studios had been purchased by FoxNext Games, they immediately announced their plans to work on a game set in the Alien universe. We already know the game will not be a sequel to the successful Isolation – rather it will try to restore the players’ faith after the failure of Colonial Marines. I mean, developers who worked on such titles as DOOM and BioShock: Infinite should know how to make a good first-person shooter. I know, I know… This is exactly what everybody was saying about Gearbox and Colonial Marines… But still…
“Micro changes in air density, my ass.”
For sure, Alien franchise is not dead. Neither in terms of the movies nor video games. Let us just hope that the games that are about to come will follow the success achieved by Alien: Isolation rather than the deceitful marketing strategy employed by whoever worked on Aliens: Colonial Marines.
There are plenty original universes, and I had covered games from some of them in various features throughout the past few months. I wouldn’t like to return to the issue of Alien games and describe it in a similar way I did in the case of Stargate games. This franchise is simply too good for video games to be left to rot as it is right now.